Domestic Abuse: the hidden pandemic

Do you know what Reeva Steenkamp and Lana Clarkson have in common? 

I’m sure many of you do but for those of you that don’t, they were both murdered in a domestic setting by famous (now infamous) men. I choose not to repeat the names of the guilty here, it is the victims that we should remember. The story of victims such as these is the reason I joined the police service.

Press interest last week focused on the death in prison of the man that murdered Lana Clarkson and his apparent ‘genius’ for producing music for some of the most successful recording artists of all time.  Thankfully the BBC quickly retracted the initial headline on their digital platforms that read ‘Talented but flawed producer dies aged 81’ (I have removed the name of the man).

The above headline is not a one-off either. It speaks to a lack of appreciation for the endemic nature of Domestic Abuse in society. Here in Cleveland Police over the course of the last month alone (December 2020) we recorded 1,682 domestic abuse cases.

We know nationally that despite the number of incidents we record and attend, that it is a vastly under-reported crime. One of our great local organisations, ‘Foundation’ describe an increase in referrals to the Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs) of 21% between October and the end of December 2020.

It is, as John Sutherland described on Newsnight ‘a disease of pandemic proportion’ and ‘the single greatest cause of harm in society’. I agree with him. Watch below.

The police service do not always get our response to these incidents right. I was humbled to sit with a group of survivors with Foundation in Redcar last month and to hear first-hand from those subjected to Domestic Abuse about the impact on their lives and their children. I was in awe of their bravery.

Some of the feedback I received was outstanding; one victim spoke about the positive impact a wave from the officer that dealt with her some time before as he passed in his police van. The very act of remembering her was comforting. Other survivors spoke of their negative interactions with the police service (some of them Cleveland Police).

If we are committed nationally to further improvement in our response, speaking directly to survivor groups is one important step amongst many. I am delighted that some of the survivors are prepared to spend time with our senior leaders at Cleveland Police to explain how our response could be better. We are committed to that improvement.

I can point to countless improvements in our response to Domestic Abuse over the course of my time here at Cleveland Police including moving from one of the very lowest arrest rates in the country to one of the very highest, the implementation of a dedicated Vulnerability Desk in our Force Control Room to deal with domestic incidents and a vast improvement in the technology we provide officers such as Body Worn Video to accurately capture the scene of incidents which can have a profound impact on the courts many months after the incident.

We have also been very aware that this year’s lockdowns have been particularly challenging for those who live with an abuser, and so created a short film that recognises that for victims of abuse the isolation many of us have experienced may be their ‘normal’ and makes a plea for them to report what is happening. The film – which ran on the ITV Hub, in local news and continues to run on the Force social media channels – acts as a reminder that we are always ready to hear from anyone who is ready to report abuse to us. You can watch the film below:

However, better ‘numbers’ is one thing but ‘quality’ is just as important. It may seem counter-intuitive but we must also commit on a multi-agency basis to working with perpetrators to stem the offending. Prevention is clearly better than cure.

If you are affected in any way by Domestic Abuse we have some outstanding local groups who can help and they include but are not limited to:

Middlesbrough –

Redcar and Cleveland – and 

Stockton –

Hartlepool –

We must all do better and we owe it to countless victims such as Reeva Steenkamp and Lana Clarkson who deserve not just to be remembered but to be honoured with a better response to domestic abuse.

As we say where I’m from, ‘Fe newn ni eu cofio / We will remember them

Richard Lewis

Chief Constable

4 thoughts on “Domestic Abuse: the hidden pandemic

  1. Every little change can only be a positive for the future of DA….. Whole system approach and communication is vital for a victim.
    The damage and impact DA has can not be reversed or erased.


  2. Thank you, and I sincerely hope you can continue seeing positive results reflecting your determination to educate this seriousness of this crime..


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