Stalking and harassment soared by 35% in England and Wales during lockdown - while other violent crime fell

Charities say the figures likely underestimate the scale of the problem.

Many women found themselves stuck at home with abusers during lockdown.

Stalking and harassment increased by 35% during the last lockdown in England and Wales in spite of other violent crime falling dramatically, new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed.

The data backs up anecdotal evidence that domestic violence and online harassment thrived during lockdown, with charities warning that the figures likely underestimate the true scale of the problem.

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Other violent crimes dropped during lockdown.

At a glance: 5 key points

ONS figures show that 172,190 harassment and stalking offences were recorded in England and Wales between January and March 2021, a 35% rise on the 27,985 recorded during the same period in 2020.

Stalking and harassment is recorded under the umbrella of “violence against the person” crimes and is the only crime under that umbrella to have risen during the third lockdown.

“Violence with injury” crimes, for instance, dropped by 21% during the third lockdown, while death or serious injury due to unlawful driving dropped by 13%.

Domestic abuse charities have seen an increase in referrals throughout lockdown periods as thousands found themselves stuck at home with abusive partners or family members.

Domestic abuse charity Refuge said they’d also seen a rise in the role technology is playing in domestic abuse. Between April 2020 and May 2021, the charity saw a 97% increase on average in the number of complex tech abuse cases requiring specialist support from their Tech Abuse team.

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What’s been said

Lisa King OBE, Refuge director of communications and external relations, said: “Over the course of the pandemic, Refuge has seen a sharp rise in women seeking support from our helpline and other services. Between April 2020 and February 2021, the average number of calls and contacts logged on our database per month was 61% above the January-March 2020 period.

“However, the ONS data on domestic abuse crimes likely doesn’t paint the full picture. At Refuge we know that women face many barriers to reporting domestic abuse to the police, only a quarter of all domestic abuse is ever reported to the police, and the police need to do much more to gain the trust of survivors of abuse.

“Until they do, it’s likely that data does not fully represent the scale of the problem.”

Background

The first lockdown in March 2020 saw charities like Women’s Aid warn that thousands of women could end up trapped indoors with violent partners or family members.

By mid-May 2020, charity Victim Support had seen a 12% increase in the number of domestic abuse cases referred to them.

Partly in response to the rise in incidents, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 came into force on 29 April 2021 and aims to better protect victims of domestic abuse as well as strengthening measures to address the behaviour of perpetrators.

If you have been affected by domestic abuse, please contact Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support.

Alternatively, you can visit http://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/ to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday).

For real time automated guidance on how to secure your personal devices Refuge also has a Tech Safety Tool.