Of the many depressing statistics about domestic violence, one stands out like a beacon.
On average a woman will be hit or threatened by a partner 35 times before she reports it to the authorities.
Sat behind her desk at the offices of Fylde Coast Women’s Aid in Bispham, Tina Hibbard doesn’t appear as shocked at this as I am.
Then again, she has heard it all before. This is the field she works in and she knows the huge extent of the problem on the Fylde coast.
One in five reports of domestic abuse across the whole of Lancashire come from Blackpool. Fylde Coast Women’s Aid get 20 new referrals every day. Tina says they are “stretched to the limit” and could double their workforce and still struggle to cope.
The resort has a domestic abuse problem on a par with some major cities.
And the saddest thing of all that is it takes some women so long to report violence towards them or their children – that’s if they report it at all.
“Obviously there are women who, when there are a couple of incidents, that’s it, they’ll get out,” Tina says. “But there are many more women who won’t report, who will put up with it and try to make things work.
“Why? Much of it is because women still find it embarrassing to talk about.
“Historically domestic abuse is a hidden crime. What happens within four walls, stays within four walls.
“They are scared of people saying ‘why didn’t you report it earlier?’ and they’re also scared of their partner, the perpetrator, finding out. Then there’s the fear they might lost their children to social services and that is often what the perpetrator says – ‘you can’t phone anyone, they’ll take the kids’.
“A lot of women think they’ll have nowhere to go if they leave the family home, they also think well, he’s promised to change, it is only a one-off.
“So it’s a mixture of things and it is why women generally put up with abuse over a long period of time.”
Fylde Coast Women’s Aid has a helpline from 9am to 9pm. Women can also access safe accommodation through the police 24 hours a day.
Needless to say Tina, doing the job she does, has seen some terrible things.
“One woman told me her partner had tried to pull her toenails out with pliers,” she says. “We are talking about really horrific crimes – and the worrying thing is that it’s most definitely increasing.
“There is more use of weapons, objects, knives. And even if women have not been stabbed, they’ve often been threatened with knives, been hit with objects.”
Tina says verbal abuse is a big problem too. I ask where you draw the line? What’s just normal bickering and what’s abuse?
“Everybody argues. I suppose if you’re in a relationship, it is unhealthy if you said you didn’t argue,” she responds.
“But do you argue mutually, or is it somebody that is constantly shouting at one person? Does it become personal often? Does the language used become abusive?
“A woman might start a relationship and think ‘fantastic, he really loves me, he texts me 10 times a day’ then three weeks on it’s 20 times a day and she’s thinking ‘this is getting a bit annoying now’.
“Then he doesn’t want you to go out with your friends. So things move on. You’re not only talking about verbal abuse, it’s emotional abuse, being overly protective, being jealous, stopping people going out and seeing their friends, starting to isolate them.
“There is a fine line and the perpetrator knows that. That abuse can turn from ‘I don’t like that skirt, it’s far too short’ to somebody who’s completely isolated somebody, started to knock somebody’s confidence, then the next minute he’s lashed out and he’s hit her.”
Tina sees and hears about scenarios like this on a daily basis, from a growing number of women in the Fylde who are in violent relationships.
Yet the heartbreaking thing is that there are many more women out there who are suffering in silence.
“My message to them is please come forward,” Tina added.
“Ring the helpline if you just want to share your experiences, or if you want to talk to someone that understands what you are going through and who isn’t going to be judgemental.
“Or you might be someone who needs to get out so it could be a crisis call, it could be somebody who’s stood in a phone-box with two black bags and four kids that need somewhere to stay.
“Whatever it is, we can help – just pick up the phone and call.”
The helpline number is 01253 596699. There is a free 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
Detective Inspector Nick Connaughton doesn’t sugar-coat the problem of violence towards woman.
“It is a serious, serious issue within Blackpool,” he says, while leafing through his paperwork and telling me police responded to a massive 1,300 domestic incidents in the final three months of last year. “We have the largest volume of domestic abuse of the policing areas in Lancashire.
“We take it very seriously and deploy a lot of resources into it.”
There is a specialist team of officers within Lancashire Police’s Public Protection Unit to deal with the scale of the domestic abuse problem.
“But it is the responsibility of every police officer to tackle domestic abuse as well,” he adds.
“So your community officers, your uniform response officers, they will all routinely attend domestic abuse incidents and they will all go through risk assessments with victims and they know to look for the signs and to make the appropriate referrals.”
What makes it tricky for Det Insp Connaughton and his officers is that many times a victim will, after calling the police, decide not to take action against their partner.
“It is a difficult area to deal with, but there are a number of reasons why people don’t report, or change their mind, which we have to have an understanding of – and we do have an understanding of,” he explained.
“We are trained to recognise those signs. It can be coercion, it can be ongoing threats of violence. There are a number of reasons why victims change their mind after reporting and although it does frustrate the process, we understand the reasons behind it.”
But it’s important to stress to women seeking help that it is not just about contacting police. A lot of victims don’t want that, they don’t want to go forward with a prosecution.
It is something Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw is aware of and why he recently launched – in conjunction with domestic abuse services across the county – a campaign called Take The Step, Make The Call (www.takethestep.co.uk).
“It aims to empower victims of domestic abuse to take action,” he said.
“Basically domestic abuse is not an issue we can afford to stay silent about. Residents across Blackpool need to condemn all forms of abuse – and make sure they speak out if they know it is happening to someone close to them.
“Abuse doesn’t just mean being punched and kicked and left with physical injuries. Victims can also be verbally and emotionally abused, isolated from friends and family, forced to have sex or financially controlled.
“I want all victims to feel they have a choice to break free of the abuse – whether that means contacting the police or accessing help and support from a local support service.”
The police split domestic abuse into two categories - intimate (which means between partners), and non-intimate (between siblings, or over 16s and a relative).
“The whole thing is a huge area of concern and in terms of the number of victims, it is not getting any less,” added Det Insp Connaughton.
“There is a degree of depravation within Blackpool, and there are indicators within households of alcohol and drug abuse. It is probably a combination of those factors as to why Blackpool has such a big problem.”
As for his message to women who are stuck in a violent relationship, Det Insp Connaughton’s advice is simple.
“I would urge people to come forward, make the call, and we will support them, along with the other agencies that we work really closely with, in order to get an individual out of that cycle of violence,” he said.
“We are really passionate about helping people who are in these situations and trying to get them out of it.”
Blackpool’s Domestic Abuse Partnership, set up a decade ago to tackle the problem, has been hailed as a success and copied by other cities and towns.
It aims to ensure staff from all frontline agencies – from police to health to social workers – receive training on how to spot the signs of domestic abuse and to help.
“Tackling the issue is a key priority in Blackpool,” said Coun Amy Cross, Blackpool Council cabinet member for crime and community safety.
“The Blackpool Domestic Abuse Partnership focuses on educating people about the reporting and identification of abuse.
“Our approach of bringing together all agencies to work together has been mirrored across the country and identified as an example to other areas.
“This is an issue we care passionately about helping with and will continue to work to support.”
Blackpool Council will spend around £370,000 in 2014/15 on tackling the issue of domestic abuse.