Reports of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland have increased by almost 1,200 in six months, police have revealed.
There were 13,558 alleged incidents between April and September compared with 12,364 for the same period last year.
Police believe two factors have contributed to the rise: an increase in abuse rates and a greater willingness among victims to come forward to inform officers about what is a traditionally under-reported crime.
Areas with the highest incidence of domestic abuse are Belfast, Foyle, Craigavon and Lisburn.
In North Belfast there were 1,185 reports in the six-month time-frame this year, compared with 898 between April and September last year.
In Foyle the number increased from 1,122 to 1,211.
The PSNI outlined the figures as it relaunched its domestic abuse advertising campaign to coincide with the Christmas period, a time which typically sees increased domestic violence.
Explaining the rise in incidences, Detective Superintendent Alan Skelton said: “This increase reflects our continued commitment to work in partnership with many organisations to increase reporting and improve our response to victims of domestic abuse.
“Despite the rise in the number of reported incidents, we still believe that a large number of domestic incidents are going unreported. We know from our research that incidents of domestic abuse rise over the festive season. It is a frightening crime which can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender or sexuality. Very often victims are isolated.
“No one should have to endure abuse and I want to encourage all victims of domestic abuse to come forward and report the matter to the police. We take domestic abuse very seriously and have dedicated domestic abuse officers/public protection officers in all districts across Northern Ireland to ensure that all domestic abuse crimes are investigated, as well as providing support and information to victims about police procedures and legal proceedings.”
Police have undertaken initiatives with partner agencies during the year, including the secondment of Women’s Aid workers at specialist police units.
Gail McLaughlin, from Women’s Aid, welcomed the campaign.
“Traditionally we see an increase in referrals to our services during and after the Christmas break. Some of these referrals come from the police service and other agencies but many women come to us directly,” she said.
“As an organisation, we welcome the increase in reporting of abuse. We know that it’s happening to an estimated one in four women across Northern Ireland and feel encouraged that victims are coming forward.
“We are happy to support this initiative by Police Service of Northern Ireland and can assure anyone living with abuse that they are not to blame nor are they on their own. Support from a range of agencies is available for them.”
The advertising campaign will publicise the 24-hour domestic abuse helpline phone number 0800 917 1414.