As the most romantic day of the year nears, Hertfordshire residents suffering domestic abuse are being urged to speak out.
For the majority of couples, Valentine’s Day is a happy occasion but the Hertfordshire County Community Safety Unit is sending the message that the occasion could just be ‘another day of hell for some.’
The unit, made up of staff members from Hertfordshire County Council and Hertfordshire Constabulary, are now re-launching their True Love? campaign to raise awareness of abuse, especially among young people.
Detective Chief Inspector Julie Wheatley said: "We want to make people and especially young people aware that domestic abuse takes many different forms.
"This can be emotional, the most obvious the physical, the black eyes and the cuts. But it takes many different forms, emotional, psychological, financial and controlling behaviour.
"Once we have raised awareness it is encouraging people to come and report it to the police and other support agencies, who can give them guidance and support."
Since the launch of the True Love? campaign in November 2012, police say they have seen a 5.3 per cent increase in the number of reported domestic abuse incidents by 16 to 17-year-old people in Hertfordshire. Figures also show an overall 11 per cent increase.
DI Wheatley added: "It is quite unusual that we are saying an increase in crime rate is a good thing, but for this type of crime, it absolutely is.
"We don’t want this to be hidden. We don’t want it to be something that lies beneath. I think it is a good thing that we have got this increase. "
The True Love? campaign is part of ‘This is Abuse’, a national government campaign to raise awareness of domestic abuse.
Sarah Taylor, programme manager for domestic abuse, said: "Domestic abuse has a huge impact on the victims and their families. The perpetrators control them, humiliate them to cause them to feel alone and isolated.
"They end up blaming themselves and there is a lot of deny and minimilisation because of the control the perpetrators have over them.
"Quite often, and particularly young people don’t actually recognise it as being abuse in the first place."
Research suggests reporting of domestic abuse cases are never a one-off occurrence.
"Very rarely, if never is it a one off occurrence. Quite often perpetrators and victims don’t know any different because it is an intergenerational and inner circle and almost behaviour pattern.
"It is all they have ever known, they don’t know any different and to them it’s normal.
"If we are going to break cycles, we need to challenge society’s perception and acceptance levels around what is okay and educating people on what is a healthy relationship.
"Valentine’s Day should be a nice day for people in relationships but for people in these sort of situations it is just another day of hell." Ms Taylor warned.
Ms Taylor also spoke about the increase in pressure of sexual activity while in a relationship and the psychological effect this has on victims. She said: "Young people are not aware of what rape and sexual assault is and the issue of consenting relationships and the fact that in your own relationship it is okay to say no.
"It is not the broken bones, black eyes - that is the easier side. It’s the constant chipping away at their mental state and the psychological, emotional and mental damage. Some people never recover from that and some people don’t even want to get out of the relationships."
Ms Taylor said the key to tackling domestic abuse was starting with young people. She said: "If we are going to make a difference we have to start with the young people to help them realise what constitutes a bad relationship and help them make those right choices.
"It isn’t going to be overnight we have to start to invest in it now to see those results in 10 to 20 years time.
"If we are going to impact and make a change, we have to raise awareness. We cannot stop raising awareness and have to get keep going so people get that confidence and we can make that difference."
Victims of domestic abuse are advised to contact the Herts Sunflower helpline on 08088 088 088 and visit www.hertssunflower.org.