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Alarming levels of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland

Christmas may be a time of joy and happiness for the vast majority of families but for some households, it is a period of heightened fear and anxiety as a result of domestic violence.

On Christmas Day last year, when most of us were enjoying good food and the company of loved ones, the PSNI were dealing with 84 reports of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland.

Those are only the cases that are officially recorded. Many more incidents go unreported, families going through appalling trauma behind closed doors.

It is terrible to think of children being exposed to hostile and frightening behaviour, their home a toxic environment rather than the safe place it should be.

And while incidents of domestic abuse take place all year round, the number rises over the Christmas and New Year period.

On New Year's Day 2018, police received 142 calls for help, which was a similar level to the previous year.

The wider figures in relation to domestic abuse are particularly alarming.

In the year from October 1, 2017, there were more than 31,000 recorded incidents which represents an increase of 5.4 per cent on the previous twelve months.

In simple terms, that translates into police responding to an incident of abuse every 17 minutes.

On the one hand, it means that more victims are coming forward but it also provides an indication of the shocking level of abuse taking place in thousands of homes.

A PSNI campaign launched this week aims to encourage the reporting of incidents and show victims they can take steps to stop abusive behaviour.

Detective Superintendent Ryan Henderson wants to remind victims that they do not have to suffer in silence and that help is available.

''Domestic abuse is a terrifying crime, which can have a long lasting impact and it can affect anyone, and often leaves victims feeling isolated and alone,'' he said.

It is important to acknowledge the seriousness of this issue in Northern Ireland and ensure victims get the support they need to escape from an abusive relationship.

People also need to be aware of the different types of abuse, which can include physical attacks, emotional or sexual abuse, threats and intimidation.

This type of behaviour is all about power and control and anyone in a destructive relationship needs to know where to find help.

Victims of domestic abuse can contact police on 101 or 999 in an emergency. Anyone with concerns about domestic or sexual violence can ring a 24-hour helpline on 0808 802 1414.

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