In Brief

CLAIM: Over 29,000 incidents of domestic violence and abuse took place in Northern Ireland in 2017.

CONCLUSION: Accurate.

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On 9 February 2018, Anthony Harbinson (Head of Community Safety Division, Department of Justice) said: “Over 29,000 incidents of [domestic] violence and abuse took place in our cities, towns and rural areas last year.”

This remark was republished in an ITV News article that announced the joint launch of the ‘Don’t tackle it alone’ campaign by The Irish Football Association, Ulster Gaelic Athletic Association, and Ulster Rugby. Their aim is to encourage more individuals to come forward and report domestic abuse.

What do the statistics tell us?

While the term ‘domestic violence’ is used familiarly, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) use the term ‘domestic abuse incidents and crimes’, to distinguish from those domestic abuse incidents that include a chargeable offence.

The PSNI’s statistics on domestic abuse report that in the twelve months from October 2016 to September 2017, there were 29,404 incidents recorded with a domestic abuse motivation. Of these, 16,810 did not contain a crime (meaning no ‘notifiable offence’ occurred); the remaining 12,594 incidents contained one or more crimes.

Harbinson’s claim is accurate.

How does this compare to the rest of the UK and Ireland?

There were a total of 1,068,020 domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2017, with 46% recorded as domestic abuse-related crimes.

In Scotland, from 2016-17 there were 58,810 incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police and 47% of these incidents included the recording of at least one crime or offence.

In Ireland, the Garda Síochána record domestic abuse incidents without a chargeable crime as ‘domestic abuse – no offence caused’. For domestic abuse incidents that do contain a criminal offence, the Garda Inspectorate noted in a 2014 report that these are not being recorded as a ‘domestic crime’ (and the Inspectorate recommended that they should be). Likewise, the Inspectorate reported that 45% of domestic violence calls to Gardaí were not recorded in the organisation’s Pulse computer system.

This situation has been reported by The Irish Examiner, in an article published on 13 May 2017 (“Gardai’s domestic violence stats ‘not robust’”). Since then, the Central Statistics Office has published some data “under reservation”. We deem the data for domestic violence and abuse in Ireland as unreliable, and we do not include it here.

Country Population (estimate, mid-2016) Domestic abuse reported to the police Instances per capita (per ‘000)
Northern Ireland 1,862,137 29,404 16
England and Wales 58,381,217 1,068,020 18
Scotland 5,404,700 58,810 11

 

Do the statistics tell us everything?

Women’s Aid points out that “women often don’t report or disclose domestic abuse to the police and may under-report domestic abuse in surveys, particularly during face-to-face interviews. In addition, prevalence estimates do not take into account important context and impact information, for example whether the violence caused fear, who experienced multiple incidents and who experienced coercive controlling behaviour.”

Conclusion

We found that the PSNI statistics confirm Anthony Harbinson’s claim that “over 29,000 incidents of violence and abuse took place in our cities, towns and rural areas last year”. When we compared these statistics to the rest of the UK and Ireland, we discovered that England and Wales had the highest level of reported instances of domestic violence and abuse per capita, Scotland had the lowest, and no comparison with Ireland could be made due to unreliable data. It is also worth considering the level of underreporting of domestic abuse as well as its circumstances.