The recorded crime count for domestic abuse in Kingston has gone down but remains higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to police data.
The Metropolitan Police’s ‘Hate crime or special crime’ dashboard shows that 1,493 crimes were flagged as domestic abuse in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in 2021. During 2020, they had risen to 1,529, having previously peaked at 1,421 in 2019.
Kavitha Ramakrishnan, Kingston Council’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Reduction Policy officer, said that lockdown measures may have contributed to the rise.
She said: “The lockdown, while successful in helping control the pandemic, added additional risk factors for domestic abuse victims and survivors, means of control [for abusers] and reduced visibility of families who were already at risk of such abuse.”
She said that the Kingston Domestic Violence Hub saw a 50 per cent increase in calls during the first lockdown, while the national domestic violence helpline saw a 60 per cent increase.
However, during 2020 in Kingston the beginning of the first national lockdown in March saw a decrease in crimes flagged as domestic abuse, which continued until numbers rose again in June. The highest count for that year was in July, when most lockdown restrictions were lifted, with the reimposing of restrictions in September coinciding with a sharp decrease.
The count also decreased briefly in early 2021, when the third national lockdown was imposed, but had risen again when the easing of restrictions began in March. As in 2020, July saw the highest figures.
Ramakrishnan said that these trends were probably due to difficulty in accessing services, saying that while services remained available during lockdown and the council used an extensive public information campaign to advertise them, the lockdown itself was likely to have been a barrier to contact with services to seek support.
"It is also likely that where services were accessed, the follow-on and longer term support may have been more difficult given that victim survivors were in lockdown living with those who were being abusive towards them," she said.
Despite the 2021 decrease, since 2013 the number of flagged crimes has risen in Kingston each year. In 2013 police recorded 611 such crimes but by the end of 2018 this number had risen to 1,356.
Ramakrishnan said she had seen a steady increase in the number of flagged crimes in recent years, but that the increase may reflect that victims felt more able to speak up and seek help. Additionally, she said that training had improved police officers' ability to recognise domestic abuse.
However, she added that the majority of domestic abuse-related incidents continue to go unreported and that according to charity SafeLives female victims on average endure 50 incidents and can wait up to three years before seeking help.
Ramakrishnan also highlighted the work of the Kingston Women’s Hub, which was launched in September 2021 and “provides a safe and holistic space for women to access long-term support”. Furthermore, she said that Kingston residents’ confidence in reporting domestic abuse has increased since the council pledged to White Ribbon UK in 2021.
A spokesperson for Hestia, a charity which supports people in crisis in and around London, said that increasing reports may also be due to higher availability of support services and greater awareness around domestic abuse.
The spokesperson said: “It’s always really important to remember that if there is ever an incident where you think, ‘that doesn’t sound right', or something doesn’t sit right with you, then it’s always best to report it.”
Kingston residents experiencing domestic violence can contact the council’s Domestic Violence Hub.