Reports of domestic violence in the Cayman Islands have quadrupled in the past five years. Police believe the alarming statistic does not indicate an increase in abusive behaviour, but rather shows the extent of a problem that has been going on behind closed doors for decades.

Investigators says fewer victims are suffering in silence and more cases than ever are being referred to police or social workers for intervention.

Inspector Kevin Ashworth, head of the police’s Family Support Unit, said his officers and their partners at the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub are dealing with more cases than ever.

Police were alerted to 2,218 allegations involving domestic violence – ranging from verbal threats to physical abuse – in 2018, compared with 526 in 2014 – a 400% increase in five years.

The increase in the number of victims, largely but not exclusively women and children, seeking help is reflected at the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, where demand for space at the safe house has never been greater.

Mehr Lamba, outreach coordinator at the centre, said there were 35 women and children housed at the shelter in December last year – the highest ever for a single month.

The four-bedroom house with 24 beds and two cribs is struggling to cope with the demand. Lamba said a new, purpose-built shelter is planned within the next five years to meet a growing need in the community.

Inspector Ashworth said the creation of the MASH unit, which brings police, social workers and charities together in one hub, and new mandatory reporting requirements were likely behind the massive increase in reports.

“More survivors, family members, community members and professional agencies are recognising the problem exists and are now highlighting the same to the authorities,” he said.

“The rise in referrals does not indicate a rise in abusive behaviour patterns over the last few years, but more accurately demonstrates that such referrals are being made due to the confidence and bravery of those seeking help.”

He said it was up to police and their partners to follow through with successful investigations and protection measures to ensure that confidence was maintained.

Ashworth acknowledged the number of cases of domestic violence in the Cayman Islands was high, based on the 2018 statistics, but said police would rather know the true extent of the problem than have cases to go unreported.

He said there had been historic underreporting of domestic violence, both in Cayman and worldwide, but public and media campaigns and mandatory reporting measures were helping bring cases to light.

“It is clearly a significant concern that many victims of abuse in both domestic and child safeguarding matters have not received the timely services and assistance they should have,” he said. “Many cases would have been perpetuated for years, decades even, before disclosures or reports were made.”

He said partnerships with other government agencies, such as the Family Resource Centre, and non-profits like the Crisis Centre, were essential to addressing and reducing domestic violence.

Lamba agreed that the rise in reports of domestic violence was likely linked to an increase in awareness about the crime and the services available locally for victims.

She said such abuse was likely still underreported.

“There is no excuse for domestic abuse,” she said.

The Crisis Centre operates a 24-hour helpline for victims at 943-2422, as well as a Kids Helpline for young people to report abuse or speak to an adult at 649-5437, and a 24/7 emergency shelter. The Kids Helpline is currently available Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 3-6pm.

The Crisis Centre office, Estella’s Place, in George Town, also offers services to survivors of domestic violence.