Police chiefs have vowed to continue their commitment to tackling domestic abuse after a fall in the number of prosecutions made over the last year.
Figures, obtained through Freedom of Information, show that in the Durham Constabulary force area, there was a decline of 21% to 589 in the number of people charged with domestic violence offences.
It is rather idealistic or hopeful to assume that we are witnessing a society-wide fall in instances of domestic violenceEmma Pearmaine
In the Cleveland Police area, meanwhile, there was a 5% decrease to 682, with the figures comparing charges between December 2014 and June 2015, and the same period the following year.
Emma Pearmaine, director of family services at solicitors Simpson Millar, is concerned the fall in prosecutions nationwide might not be a positive sign, and more a symptom of a cash-strapped support system.
She said: “For several years we have seen a steady rise in domestic violence prosecutions, which was largely attributed to an increase in public awareness and a change in the attitude within police forces to pro-actively tackle these cases.
“It is rather idealistic or hopeful to assume that we are witnessing a society-wide fall in instances of domestic violence, regardless of how much I wish that was true.
“A cut in the legal aid budget has had a negative impact on the level of access people have to legal advice; this could now be having serious implications for abuse victims.”
Durham Constabulary safeguarding unit manager Helen Murphy said: “Durham Constabulary is committed to tackling domestic abuse.
“In a recent survey where we asked victims of domestic abuse about their experience, the vast majority were happy with the police response, felt they were treated with respect and would call again if they needed to.
“This is because we have provided specialist training for officers who genuinely want to support any victim of domestic abuse and we have effective and robust procedures for tackling abusers and supporting victims and their families.
“We work with a range of agencies, such as Harbour who are a specialist domestic violence charity, as well as local councils, schools and other agencies to raise awareness about domestic abuse, support victims and hold abusers to account.
“Those living in fear of domestic abuse can be reassured that they will receive all the help and support needed if they choose to come forward.
“We understand how difficult it can be to speak up and realise that not everyone feels confident enough to do so. Please do not suffer in silence.”
Call police on the 101 non-emergency number.