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London 2012: Domestic violence hub opens near Olympic Park

By Josephine McDermott
BBC News, London

image captionThere are fears that Olympic travel disruption will force people to spend more time at home with their abusers, say domestic violence experts

A centre has opened near the Olympic Park in east London to tackle an anticipated rise in domestic and sexual abuse linked to the Games.

An expert on domestic violence said the threat came from more people having to spend time at home, large crowds and possibly athlete-on-athlete assaults.

He said research indicated cases of domestic violence increased with large sporting events.

The centre will provide the first data linking the issue with the Olympics.

It is based in The Grove, Stratford, and will be open for two months.

Prof Allan Brimicombe, a statistician and expert in domestic violence, believes the disruption caused to residents in Stratford and the surrounding boroughs may "exacerbate troublesome relationships".

The East London University academic, who chairs the Crime and Justice Statistics Network, said many people could work from home during the Games.

"That could lead to the spikes in domestic violence that we tend to see when people have to get on with each other.

"There is the added dimension that where you get large crowds you inevitably seem to get sexual assaults of different kinds."

He said there was also anecdotal evidence from previous Games about athlete-on-athlete assaults.

'Cooped up'

"It's something we'd either like to know about or dismiss and without hard data it's always going to be hearsay.

image captionBeer mats with domestic violence messages have been distributed to pubs in Newham

"If we think about the quantities of young people and the stress of doing their sport at the Olympics that may well be part of the mix of what happens."

The findings on domestic and sexual violence and the Games could be shared with the organisers of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Sudarshan Bhuhi, chief executive and founder of Aanchal Women's Aid, said: "We definitely predict a rise [in domestic violence]."

In fact, she said there had already been an increase and there have already been more calls to the charity's helpline from women "worried about being cooped up in the home".

Figures obtained from police forces across England under the Freedom of Information Act showed an increase in domestic violence reports to police during the 2010 Football World Cup.

When England beat Slovenia, nationally the rate per 1,000 people of domestic violence reports increased by 27%, the BBC reported in June.

The temporary centre is being run by Newham Council, with the police and domestic abuse charities. It will offer legal help and advocacy.

Police staff, solicitors and members of charities including Rape Crisis and Newham Action Against Domestic Violence will be on hand until 13 September.

The council said it was for anyone experiencing physical attacks, emotional abuse, harassment, stalking, threats, financial control, sexual abuse, forced marriage and honour-based violence.

Prof Brimicombe said that as well as being offered help within the athletes' village, competitors could go to the centre.

There will be three interview rooms and two waiting rooms and it will be open Monday to Friday, 10:00 to 18:00 BST and Saturday 10:00 to 13:00 BST.

A Newham Council spokesman said: "There were over 2,300 incidents of domestic violence reported in Newham last year.

"We know that sadly, on average it takes a victim 35 assaults before they report domestic abuse to the police.

"This means that most people who ring for help are repeat victims. We are determined to reduce this number."

Data will be collected until November because professionals say victims can often take time to build up the courage to report attacks.

The centre is at Stratford Advice Arcade, 107-109 The Grove.

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