Hundreds of alleged domestic abusers in Suffolk walk free as victims afraid to press charges

Reported domestic abuse incidents in Suffolk have risen by 28% in the last year. Picture: ANDY ABBOT

Reported domestic abuse incidents in Suffolk have risen by 28% in the last year. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT - Credit: Archant

Just one in seven domestic abuse cases in Suffolk result in a police charge, new figures reveal.

The Suffolk Constabulary headquarters in Martlesham Heath.
Picture: Su Anderson

The Suffolk Constabulary headquarters in Martlesham Heath. Picture: Su Anderson

In the last six months of 2016 Suffolk Constabulary logged 2,403 crimes of this nature, which includes controlling, coercive, threatening and violent behaviour.

Yet during this period only 336 alleged perpetrators were charged, while 100 were given a caution, according to information released following a Freedom of Information request.

A staggering 865 cases were dropped because the victim did not support police action.

Sally Winston, chief executive of Suffolk charity Lighthouse Women’s Aid, said women would often abandon charges out of fear of what could happen to them or their children if they proceeded.

“The perpetrator may have told them that social services knows you are a really bad mother and therefore if I go to prison you will have the children taken away,” she added. “The perpetrator will use power, control and a lot of threats like that.

“Also they may have bad experiences in the past, not necessarily through the police but the whole judicial system that has let them down so he’s been able to come back to the relationship and the abuse has increased as a consequence of that.”

Sally Winston, chief executive of Lighthouse Womens Aid

Sally Winston, chief executive of Lighthouse Womens Aid - Credit: Archant

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Kate Burgess, operational manager at Anglia Care Trust, which runs a domestic abuse outreach service for women and men in Suffolk, said in some circumstances it may be safer and easier for victims to escape harmful relationships without police intervention.

Around 10% of referrals to the charity’s outreach team are for male victims, but Ms Burgess said many men would not tell police about their experiences.

“There’s a lot of stigma attached to male victim support,” she added.

Anglia Care Trust has also seen a rise in the number of people who financially control their partners.

Jane Basham, director of Suffolk Rape Crisis, said the county’s domestic abuse rate was higher than the national average, sitting at one in three women against one in four.

She added: ‘Women are consistently let down by our criminal justice system.

Jane Basham, director of Suffolk Rape Crisis, says perpetrators need to know they will be punished.

Jane Basham, director of Suffolk Rape Crisis, says perpetrators need to know they will be punished. Photo: BARRY ELEY - Credit: Archant

“Rape and sexual violence is common in abusive relationships because a woman’s right to consent is likely to be ignored.

“Perpetrators need to know they will face justice. I’m sure there is much that lies behind these figures but with only one in seven abusers facing charges despite a real commitment by officers and staff at Suffolk police it’s clear there is so much more still to do.”

A spokesman for Suffolk Constabulary said the force had trained more than 800 officers and staff across the county in identifying and dealing with domestic abuse, with particular focus on coercion and control.

“We remain absolutely committed to providing victims with the best possible service regardless of whether they wish to see a case proceed to court,” he added.

“There are a range of protective measures that we and our partners can put in place and we would implore anyone who has or is suffering from domestic abuse to come and speak with us.”

There has been a shift in public attitudes towards domestic abuse in recent years, and that has been reflected in the law.

Suffolk Constabulary released the information following a Freedom of Information request. Graphic: A

Suffolk Constabulary released the information following a Freedom of Information request. Graphic: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Today the Sentencing Council for England and Wales has published new draft guidelines for judges, which state domestic abuse cases should be taken more seriously than non-domestic attacks because they are “rarely a one-off incident” and “may result in death”.

Meanwhile in 2015 coercive control was made a criminal offence.

This introduced a maximum five-year sentence for culprits who persistently torment someone close to them by psychological, emotional, sexual or financial means, but may stop short of assault.

It allows police and prosecutors to consider evidence built up over a period of time, recognising abuse as a pattern of stifling behaviour rather than a single incident of violence.

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