One in five offences recorded by police during and immediately after the first national lockdown in England and Wales involved domestic abuse, figures show.
Police recorded more than a quarter of a million offences flagged as domestic abuse-related over March to June, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The 259,324 offences represent a rise of 7% from the same period in 2019, and an 18% rise from two years ago.
The ONS said the number of offences flagged as involving domestic abuse has been increasing over recent years, so it cannot be determined whether the rise is directly due to the pandemic.
In April, May and June roughly a fifth (21%, 20% and 19%) of offences recorded by police were flagged as domestic abuse-related.
The number rose each month, with the biggest rise between April and May (9%).
The easing of lockdown measures at this time may have made it safer for victims to seek help, the ONS said.
As restrictions eased, the proportion of offences that were domestic abuse-related fell slightly – likely to be due to overall police-recorded crime increasing following the lockdown.
Separate data collected by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) from 40 police forces shows there were 64,283 arrests for domestic abuse-related crimes between April and June.
This is a rise of almost a quarter (24%) compared with the same period in 2019, when comparing numbers from 37 police forces that provided data for both years.
There was also a small (2%) rise in the number of child protection referrals as a result of domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes over the three months compared with the same period in 2019.
The ONS said the Metropolitan Police received 41,158 calls for domestic incidents between March 25 and June 10 – a 12% rise from the same period in 2019.
While calls from victims remained at similar, sometimes lower levels, there was a large increase in the number of reports from third parties.
This is down to more people who would not usually be at home being able to observe and report incidents, and victims being in close proximity to their abuser with less opportunity to safely seek help, the ONS said.
The #YouAreNotAlone campaign which launched in April may also have increased awareness among members of the public to stay alert for signs of abuse.
Between April and June, the national domestic abuse helpline, run by Refuge, was contacted 40,397 times – up 65% from the first three months of the year.
The helpline was contacted around 444 times a day on average at the height of the pandemic.
The ONS said the rise in calls does not necessarily show a rise in the number of victims, but it could represent an increase in severity of abuse and lack of usual coping mechanisms.
The ONS also provided statistics on domestic abuse for the year ending March 2020.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that 2.3 million adults aged between 16 and 74 – 1.6 million women and 757,000 men – experienced domestic abuse – an estimated 5.5% of adults.
This is a small but not significant fall from the previous year.
The victim was female in 74% of domestic abuse-related crimes, and women aged 16-19 were more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than older women.
Divorced or separated adults were more likely to have experienced domestic abuse than those who were married or civil partnered, cohabiting, single or widowed.
Disabled people and the unemployed were more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than people without a disability or who were employed or economically inactive.
More than twice the proportion of disabled women (14.6%) experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2020 than non-disabled women (6%).
And people of mixed ethnicity were significantly more likely to experience domestic abuse than black or Asian people.
The police recorded 758,941 domestic abuse-related crimes during the year ending March 2020 – a 9% rise from the previous year.
However, referrals of suspects from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service fell 19%, and the proportion of suspects charged also fell slightly – from 74% the previous year to 73%.
More than three quarters of domestic abuse-related CPS prosecutions were successful in securing a conviction (78%), a similar level to the previous year.
The charity Victim Support said its services have seen an escalating increase in demand since the pandemic began and its own research suggests incidents have increased in severity.
Assistant director Rachel Almeida said: “Lockdown itself is not the reason why domestic abuse occurs. In fact, it has only exacerbated abuse and heightened pre-existing behaviours of power and control in abusive partners, and narrowed the opportunities for victims to seek and access support.”