The Family Courts have released statistics showing that the number of domestic violence cases it has seen has increased by 20% in the past year, to reach the highest levels on record.
According to the Government's quarterly family court statistics, there were 36,936 domestic violence cases in 2020-21, up from 30,718 the previous year.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has had a huge impact on levels of domestic violence. The lockdown restrictions seen throughout the course of the last 15 months are likely to have played a significant role in the rise of applications being made through the courts. Domestic abuse charities reported that enquiries made to helplines rose significantly after the UK was placed under lockdown in March 2020. It has exacerbated and exposed what was already one of the greatest social justice issues in our society. Many victims were trapped under the same roof as their abusers for weeks, if not months on end. With schools closed, children would have been exposed to abuse within the home, perhaps for the first time. The inability to shield their children may well have prompted victims to come forward to report abuse and to seek protective orders through the family courts.
Greater awareness of what constitutes abuse in all its forms as well as the support that’s available to victims of domestic violence may also have contributed to the increase in applications. The dialogue that has opened up in recent years has helped people to realise that domestic abuse exists in many forms – it’s not just physical violence. The Domestic Abuse Bill, which passed through Parliament on 29 April, has helped to bring this prominent issue to the fore. Behaviour that might have been tolerated in the past is increasingly no longer going unreported. There is, however, still a long way to go to ensure that abuse in all its forms is recognised and that victims are protected.