Domestic abuse rising in young relationships in Kirklees

Picture posed by models.
Picture posed by models.

Nearly 30 per cent of women and 17 per cent of men in Kirklees aged 16-59 have experienced a least one incident of domestic violence.

And nine women and two men since 2009 have been murdered as a result.

Nationwide, the shocking statistic that two women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner is becoming more well known.

But what is often ignored is the fact that prevalence of domestic violence is greater among young women under 24. Some people’s typical idea of a domestic violence victim might be a middle-aged woman, perhaps with children, being beaten by a drunken husband.

This is far from always the case – domestic abuse affects people from all communities, genders and people in same sex relationships.

Now Kirklees Council, along with a host of other bodies, has set up of a campaign targeting people aged 16-24 called It’s Never OK.

It’s aim is to raise awareness and educate young people about domestic abuse in all its forms, including emotional control, violence and forced marriage.

The council works with the Pennine Domestic Violence Group, who offer support, advice, information and safe accommodation to anyone that is affected by domestic violence.

Rebecca Hirst, from the group, said a big part of the challenge was changing young people’s perceptions of what is healthy in a relationship.

“If you’ve got two young people not living in the same house then young people often don’t identify that as abuse”, she said.

“But we are becoming more and more aware of abusive relationships in that group.”

Rebecca said that new laws being brought in by the government were helping to change attitudes. In 2013, the definition of domestic abuse was extended to cover 16 and 17-year-olds. “Things like this are having a big impact on how young people view relationships,” said Rebecca.

There is a misconception that an abusive relationship is violent all the time, but abusers often start out using much less obvious methods of control.

“The perpetrator doesn’t do anything that will identify them as a perpetrator initially,” said Rebecca. “It’s mostly done very subtly - it’s a sort of grooming process where they begin by knocking someone’s self-confidence, making that person question themselves.”

Again, the law is trying to combat this problem. Last month, a new domestic abuse offence for “coercive and controlling behaviour” within relationships was announced by the home secretary, Theresa May.

Rebecca said: “Perpetrators must understand that even if they are not using physical violence towards someone they will be sanctioned for their behaviour if they think they have the right to control another person.”

She also stressed that help was available for people who are carrying out abuse, including at the Pennine Domestic Violence Group, which is based in Huddersfield.

This time of year is a busy one for those on the frontline tackling domestic abuse.

Coun Viv Kendrick, Cabinet member for health, wellbeing and communities, said: “The police, the council’s domestic violence support team and Pennine Domestic Violence Group receives more calls in January than at any other time of year once the festivities are over. Victims need to know that abuse is not their fault and they do not have to put up with it. We urge victims to report incidents to enable the right support to be offered for victims and their children.”

Calls to the Pennine Domestic Violence Group rose by 25 per cent from January to March 2014 compared the previous three months.

The Christmas and summer holidays see more young people seek out the group for help. Rebecca said this is because it is a time when Kirklees’ growing student population are away from their studies and have a chance to reflect on their relationships.

And the police are doing their bit to tackle cases of domestic abuse, which can often prove difficult to bring to court. All officers deployed to domestic abuse incidents are fitted with body cameras to make sure all evidence is captured.

Film clips have been produced for the Kirklees website to show just how quickly issues can escalate in young peoples’ relationships and adverts have been put in bus and train stations on buses and in pubs and clubs across the district.

Rebecca said it was crucial to get the message across while people are young.

“If we can’t catch them in this age bracket then it can escalate to becoming a lifetime of being an abuser or being open to abuse,” she added.

“Being subjected to domestic violence and abuse destroys self-confidence and leaves victims feeling lonely and isolated and highly likely to suffer from depression or anxiety, self-harm and sleep problems.

“This multi-agency campaign will encourage young people to re-think their views of what a respectful relationship is and any violent, abusive, controlling and jealous behaviour.”