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Police: Domestic incidents up by a quarter

With people spending more time at home, the number of domestic incidents handled by police has risen sharply.

A room in a shelter for victims of domestic violence in the Helsinki region. Image: Jari Kovalainen / Yle

According to statistics from Finland's National Police Board, the number of calls for police to deal with domestic incidents is expected to be a quarter higher this year than in 2019.

The increase in domestic incident reports is especially evident in statistics for the period beginning last spring, and the start of the restrictions imposed with the aim of containing the spread of coronavirus.

"When a state of emergency was declared in the spring and bars were closed, a spike in the number of domestic incidents was immediately evident," Inspector Marko Savolainen of the National Police Board told Yle on Thursday.

Most of the increase is made up of complaints about noise and disturbances, typically partying and loud music. Most calls to police came from neighbours.

"With restaurants open for shorter hours, people either start off [drinking] at home, or continue afterwards at home, and there's noise," Savolainen explained.

According to police, most of the complaints are related to intoxicants and, in particular, increased alcohol use.

Disruptive behaviour may also be tied to frustrations and anxieties connected to uncertainty sparked by the epidemic.

Police believe that their latest statistics show only the tip of the iceberg, as many incidents go unreported.

Domestic violence edging up

A breakdown of the figures shows that reports of domestic violence have increased by about six percent. This is also reflected in the increased outreach to shelters providing help to victims of domestic violence.

Helplines and advisory services dealing with domestic violence report an 40 percent increase in contacts over the last year, with the volume in online chat services topping 2019 levels by the end of May. In contrast, the number of people seeking refuge in shelters has dropped.

"One important reason for this is that we have not been able to leave home. People who go to a shelter usually do so when a violent partner is at work, for example, and can leave home safely. Now, everyone has been inside four walls," points out Riitta Särkelä of the Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters.

However, Särkelä disputes the police's view that in most cases alcohol or other intoxicants are the underlying cause.

"Alcohol is by no means involved in all cases. There must be no illusion that violence is limited to use of intoxicants," she stresses.

Seeking help

About one in three Finnish women experience violence or the threat of violence from a partner. However, many cases also go unreported.

There are many reasons for not filing a report. Among other things, psychological abuse can be difficult for the victims themselves to identify, and so they may not know how to go about seeking help. Prolonged violence can also obscure the victim’s perception of who is to blame for the situation. In addition, victims may feel shame and remain silent about abuse.

Särkelä says a feeling of fear is a good indicator of whether or not one should seek help.

"It is important to distinguish between ordinary arguments and intimate partner violence. If you are afraid and feel threatened then it is a good signal that now is the time you should seek help," she says.