ALMOST 700 children under the age of five were present at domestic violence incidents in Hartlepool last year according to new figures.
Police and charities are calling on perpetrators of domestic abuse to think about the effects of their behaviour on their children after figures revealed 681 under-fives were present when police arrived at emergency call-outs in 2013.
The figures, described as “shocking by Police and Crime Commisioner Barry Coppinger, also show that a total of 414 youngsters aged between six and 18 also witnessed abuse.
Specialist officers and support agencies are urging victims to seek help and take the first steps to break free from these damaging relationships, if not for themselves but the sake of their children.
The figures have been released as part of a national In Focus week which runs until Friday, putting the spotlight on the effects of domestic abuse and the services available to provide victims with support.
Temporary Detective Inspector Simon Walker from Cleveland Police’s Protecting Vulnerable People Unit said: “These figures are stark and provide a glimpse into how domestic abuse ruins many lives. Perpetrators are controlling and manipulative, some do admit their behaviour and work to change but the majority don’t.
“I know victims do try and shelter their children as much as possible from an abusive relationship, but ultimately the only way to prevent emotional and psychological damage is to seek help and break free.
“There are many victims who do leave for the sake of their children, and go on to live safe and happy lives thanks to the support available.
Speaking about the figures, which showed there were more than 3,500 under-fives across the Cleveland Force area who witnessed abuse, Mr Coppinger said: “These figures are completely shocking, but occurrences could be much higher as they only account for times when police have been called.
“We must not forget our vulnerable children who are often the unheard victims of domestic abuse and these statistics show why working with our local charities, support services and partner agencies on this issue is so important.
“We can begin to protect children by addressing the behavior of these abusers, and by empowering victims to take the difficult step to move forward in a more positive environment.”
Mr Coppinger has pledged to continue to support services across the area to provide a voice to many victims and their families. This includes moving forward on the regional strategy to tackle violence against women and girls.
To highlight the problem of domestic violence, Cleveland Police will be taking part in a national ‘tweetathon’ on March 6, sending a tweet every time they are sent to a domestic violence incident over a 24-hour period.
The tweets will not give specific location detail, but it is hoped the idea will raise awareness of the problem. Follow @clevelandpolice for updates and information.