Serious domestic assaults rise 23% during pandemic

Most other crime types, including assaults on men, dropped sharply in 12 months to April

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said attacks against the person had experienced a ‘plateau’ last year, and decreased by almost 14% after gradual increases over the previous three years. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said attacks against the person had experienced a ‘plateau’ last year, and decreased by almost 14% after gradual increases over the previous three years. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Violent assaults carried out on the streets have plummeted during the pandemic but violence in the home increased significantly during the same period, according to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Furthermore, the biggest increase in domestic violence assaults were those that were serious and caused injury to the victims rather than more minor attacks.

In his latest report to the Policing Authority, Mr Harris has set out the true impact of the pandemic on crime and, specifically, how violence moved into people’s homes as they spent more time at home during lockdown and many people worked remotely.

While street violence has fallen off, gardaí believe largely because pubs and nightclubs have been closed, the number of assaults in domestic settings increased by 22 per cent in the 12-month period to the end of last month.

The commentary in Mr Harris’s report relating to crime trends said attacks against the person had experienced a “plateau” last year, and decreased by almost 14 per cent, after gradual increases over the previous three years.

“There has been an overall reduction during Covid-19, which is likely to be linked to decreased public mobility and closure of licensed establishments,” Mr Harris’s report notes, adding the most common crimes against the person were minor assault and assault causing harm. Most assaults occurred in public places, with public minor assaults falling by 34 per cent in the 12 months to March while public assault causing harm was down by almost 37 per cent.

However, Mr Harris added that “conversely, assault in residential locations has increased” with minor assault up by almost three per cent and assault causing harm in the home – serious domestic violence attacks – increasing by almost 23 per cent. Last year, gardaí said the number of male victims of assault had declined but that more women aged 30-44 years and aged 60 years and older were being assaulted.

Mr Harris’s report to the Policing Authority sets out the crime trends over the full 12 months of the pandemic, from March last year, and offers the first Garda commentary on those trends.

On the issue of sexual crimes, it says while reports of sexual crimes had been increasing since early 2015, the number of reports had reduced by almost nine per cent over the past year. It added “given the low volume – compared to other crime – and high monthly fluctuation, this cannot yet be taken as an accurate approximation of the impact of Covid-19 on reported sexual offences”. However, it was perhaps likely these crimes had reduced as other crimes against the person had.

“The general increase in sexual offences in recent years is not unique to Ireland and may be partially attributable to a change in reporting behaviour whereby victims are increasingly likely to report sexual crime,” the report stated.

Other notable crime trends during the pandemic include: criminal damage now 12 per cent; public order down 10 per cent and drunkenness was 21 per cent lower; residential burglaries down 45 per cent and burglaries of other premises were down by 48 per cent.

The report also reveals the record high number of Garda members suspended pending the investigation of allegations, including some criminal in nature, at the start of the year has been maintained and increased marginally, with 74 members currently suspended.

One of the latest Garda members to be suspended was recently arrested as part of an investigation into allegations of deception. It is alleged the garda played a role in a scam involving vehicles being declared as road worthy when they were not.

In reply to queries on that case, Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, said: “Following a Garda investigation, a Garda member was arrested recently in relation to alleged deception offences. The Garda member was suspended at the time of their arrest. A file is being prepared for the DPP.”