A top policeman believes a rise in reports of domestic abuse in and around Watford, Rickmansworth and Hemel Hempstead since 2015 is because victims are gaining confidence in reporting it to the police.A Watford Observer Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed the of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour between those aged 16 or over by intimate partners or family members.

The figures cover a variety of offences ranging from assault to criminal damage.

number of sex offences and assault reports made to Hertfordshire Constabulary in Watford, Three Rivers, Hertsmere and Dacorum from August 2015 to July this year.

The Home Office defines domestic abuse as an incident and/or pattern of incidents

But Detective Chief Inspector Ben Wright, who runs the safeguarding unit at Hertfordshire Constabulary, said police do not only focus on physical abuse but also emotional, psychological, sexual and financial abuse – and any incident committed within a domestic setting is classed as domestic abuse by the constabulary.

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DCI Ben Wright. Credit: Herts Police

From August to December in 2015 there were 1,187 reports of sex offences and assaults across the four locality areas. But data that covers the whole of 2016, showed by the end of the year it had increased to 3,481.

This hit a peak, with the number of cases hitting 4,334 cases in 2019. This year’s data, from January to July show that there has been 3,021 reports of domestic abuse.

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The number of domestic abuse cases were also broken down by local authority area. The data shows that in Dacorum from the mid-summer of 2015 to December there were 375 reported cases of domestic abuse. This increased throughout four years and remained higher than the other three authority areas.

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Cultural shift in reporting

DCI Wright said he believes the increase in figures since 2015 is a result of victims feeling more confident about reporting abuse.

He said one of the reasons for this is due to a "cultural shift" in the attitude towards domestic abuse.

He said: "I think hard to reach victims are probably increasing in confidence to disclose abuse.

"As a society we aim to abolish domestic abuse a lot more readily now. I'll be entirely honest - especially when I joined the service - it wasn't taken as seriously. It was a lot more accepting."

He highlighted that improved recording as well as a growth in domestic abuse teams is also another possible factor for the increase.

Increase in reports during lockdown

This year's data only shows 3,020 reported crimes for the four local authority areas. DCI Wright highlighted that this is only a half a year of data and to get a reflective picture of reporting in lockdown there would have to be a full year of figures.

But he said that for the county domestic abuse crimes are actually 7.8 percent up when compared to the same period last year. But said due to changes in national crime recording, meaning the service has had to record a higher number of stalking offences alongside other offences, he believes the figure is roughly four or five per cent.

DCI Wright said during lockdown the force had seen more domestic abuse happening in the presence of children, due to schools being closed.

He said that these reports could have been caused by a "pressure pot" as families come together at "uncertain times" trying to cope with financial stress, as well as work and home schooling.

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He added: "We've been really keen as a partnership to make sure children still have a voice and are protected. Provisions haven't decreased they've actually increased in lockdown."

He also highlighted at the beginning of lockdown there was a reduction in high risk incidents and that there has been more lower level altercations in a family setting.

But said figures are now returning to the "same proportion" of incidents the force saw before the restrictions- although the number of stalking and harassment offences stopped during that time due to criminals struggling to commit that type of offence.

Increase of male victims

Figures also revealed the number of male and female victims (including children and adults). It showed that from mid-summer 2015 the number of female victims stood at 839 and 276 for males.

These figures started to steadily increase, showing a greater number of male victims reporting abuse. The FOI figures show a peak in 2019 where there were 3,097 female victims and 1,128 male victims.

This year's data showed there were 2,159 female victims and 790 male victims.

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When speaking about the FOI figures, DCI Wright said he believes that reporting by men in the county is "hugely underrepresented" and said that charities as well as specialist support has resulted in a wider awareness for men.

He added: "They're more prepared to talk about their experiences, and it gives other men the courage to report it, and it is the same for people experiencing abuse in a same-sex relationships."