MORE than 700 arrests were made for domestic abuse-related crimes in Dorset during the first coronavirus lockdown, new figures reveal.

With a fifth of all crime nationally during lockdown involving domestic abuse, Refuge said the problem is the "biggest social issue" facing women and girls today.

Figures from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services show Dorset Police made 733 arrests for domestic abuse-related crimes between April and June, when the toughest national Covid-19 restrictions were imposed.

There were also 94 voluntary attendances at police stations, where a suspect agrees to meet officers at a station as an alternative to being arrested.

Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest domestic abuse crimes were already rising in Dorset before the pandemic struck.

In the year to March, 17 per cent of all crimes in the area were linked to domestic abuse (9,059) – an increase on the 13 per cent the year before.

Across England and Wales, domestic abuse offences have risen steadily as a proportion of all crimes for the last four years, reaching 15 per cent in 2019-20.

This spiked in April, May and June when roughly a fifth (21 per cent, 20 per cent and 19 per cent) of offences recorded by police were flagged as domestic abuse related.

As restrictions eased, this proportion fell slightly – likely to be due to overall police-recorded crime increasing following the lockdown.

Police forces (excluding Greater Manchester) recorded 198,112 offences between April and June – nine per cent more than the same months in 2019, and 17 per cent more than two years ago.

Refuge said there was a general increase in demand for domestic abuse services at this time, and it continues to see peaks in demand three weeks into the second lockdown.

Lisa King, director of communications and external relations at the charity, said: "It is important to remember that behind all of these statistics are real woman and their experiences.

"These numbers refer to instances of physical violence, rape, sexual assault, emotional and psychological abuse, coercive control, FGM, forced marriage and other forms of gender-based violence.

"Domestic abuse is biggest social issue facing women and girls today, and these statistics show it simply isn't going away."

There was also a small rise (two per cent) 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.

There were 56,945 child protection referrals over this time – with 148 in Dorset.

Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said the Government's Domestic Abuse Bill, currently awaiting its second reading in the House of Lords, will strengthen protections for victims and also ensure perpetrators feel the full force of the law.

She added: “We are acutely aware that for some people home is not a safe place and that the pandemic put those people in greater danger.

"That is why we are taking action, alongside our partners including the police, to better protect victims, bring perpetrators to justice, and learn from deaths to prevent future tragedies."