Report shows small increase in domestic violence in Peterborough during coronavirus crisis

A new report has shown there has been a small increase in domestic abuse and sexual violence in Peterborough during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Domestic abuse has increased nationally during the pandemic.
Domestic abuse has increased nationally during the pandemic.

The report, which comes as the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-2021 is passing through Parliament, was presented to members of the city council Adults and Communities Scrutiny Committee at their online meeting last week.

Incidents of domestic abuse and sexual violence in Peterborough were up on average one per cent over the same period last year.

This is in stark contrast to other areas in the country where reported occurrences of domestic abuse and sexual violence are as high as 25 per cent on 2019 figures.

At the beginning of lockdown, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, reported a 700 per cent increase in calls to its helpline in a single day; while the charity, Respect, reported a rise of 16.6 per cent in the number of calls concerning domestic violence by women against men.

Rob Hill, Assistant Director, Community Safety, told the meeting: “The purpose of the report is to update the Committee on the statutory duties expected in advance of the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-2021, which is currently progressing through parliament and has reached a second reading in the House of Lords.“It is anticipated that the Bill will receive Royal assent in time for the Bill to become law in April 2021.

“The key implication here for Peterborough City Council is that the Bill will place a statutory duty on local authorities to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children within refuges and other safe accommodation.

“It will put in place a four-part statutory framework for the delivery of support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in safe accommodation.“For Peterborough, we are recommending that the existing, county-wide Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Board is utilised for this purpose.

“The Bill formerly acknowledges the non-physical attributes of domestic abuse including emotional, coercive or controlling economic abuse.“I would just say that we already offer all of this in Cambridgeshire, but it has not been a statutory requirement up to now.”

Cllr John Howard asked: “Does the statutory requirement to provide accommodation to victims of domestic abuse and/or sexual violence put additional pressures on our budget?”

Mr Hill said: “There is talk of funding for this and we won’t know more until the legislation has completed its journey to becoming law.“But just to stipulate that it’s around the support for those people in accommodation, so it’s a different kind of budgetary requirement.”

Cllr Ikra Yasin asked: “Will we be sharing funding with Cambridgeshire County Council, or do we have completely separate funding for Peterborough?”

Vickie Crompton, Domestic Violence Partnership Manager replied: “I would anticipate that there will be two separate lots of funding for each area, but what we would try to negotiate is that we only have one border, one process so that Peterborough and Cambridge received their fair share of the funding available and used it appropriately.”

Chair, Cllr Nigel Simons asked: “Are we confident that we as a city council are doing everything that we should be – do we have the accommodation ready and available in advance of the April 2021 date when this becomes law?”.Ms Crompton replied: “I don’t think that we should be doing anymore than we are currently doing.

“What they’re asking for is for us to do a needs assessment including a really clear summary of what already exists in our area, but that isn’t required until August 2021.

“As far as accommodation goes, we’re comparable with other local authorities in what we already have, and I can’t imagine that we’ll be required by law to provide additional accommodation at least until the legislation is made fully clear.”

Mr Hill added: “If I can add that I think we’re in good shape for this – we’ve been offering this type of service for quite a good while now in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.

“However, the distinction to draw from this report is that the new Bill will make it statutory – it will be a requirement, going forward, that we must adhere to.“We have a lot of the right things already in place, but by making it statutory it no longer becomes optional for us.”

Cllr Mohammed Jamil said: “Peterborough used to have a women’s centre so there was a focal point where abused persons knew where they could go.“With all the space that we’ve got in terms of council-owned offices, are there any plans to bring back something similar, and if not why not?”

Ms Crompton said: “There aren’t any plans at the moment to bring back a women’s centre, but we do have outreach services in Peterborough that will meet people where convenient and safe.

“Obviously, that was the pre-COVID-19 situation, so group and drop-in sessions are currently not taking place, but we’re looking at alternatives while we work online at the moment.”

The Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-2021, once law in April 2021, will create a statutory definition of domestic abuse, emphasising that domestic abuse is not just physical violence, but can also be emotional, coercive or controlling, and economic abuse.

A Domestic Abuse Commissioner will be appointed to stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness, monitor the response of local authorities, the justice system and other statutory agencies and hold them to account in tackling domestic abuse.

New Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders will be created.

The Bill will place a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation.

The Bill will prohibit perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts in England and Wales.The Bill will create a statutory presumption that victims of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal courts (for example, to enable them to give evidence via a video link).

The Bill will enable domestic abuse offenders to be subject to polygraph testing as a condition of their licence following their release from custody.The Bill will place the guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (“Clare’s law”) on a statutory footing.

The Bill will ensure that where a local authority, for reasons connected with domestic abuse, grants a new secure tenancy to a social tenant who had or has a secure lifetime or assured tenancy (other than an assured shorthold tenancy) this must be a secure lifetime tenancy.

The Bill will extend the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the criminal courts in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to further violent and sexual offences.

The members of the committee noted the report on their future statutory duties once the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Bill 2019-2021 becomes law in April 2021.