A report into domestic abuse has urged public authorities to build stronger networks of support for victims.

Healthwatch Camden, an independent watchdog, heard from 15 women who suffered domestic abuse as they described the long-term impact on their health, and a lack of secure housing.

The local regulator called the abuse a “heinous crime”, as survivors spoke of crippling exploitation including feelings of “shame and humiliation”.

Recommendations were made covering improved access to health services, safe housing and legal aid, and help with filing police reports.

“Domestic abuse is a heinous crime that impacts victims and all of society,” Healthwatch Camden director Stephen Heard said.

“We must ensure survivors can seek help by providing the support they need to restart their lives.”

Most of the victims said they initially did not realise they were being abused.

“He was gaslighting,” one woman said. “Towards the end he was physical, but it was the emotional abuse. When I left, I left with nothing, I had to hide our passports.

“I really did not realise that all the mental trauma was domestic violence. I never called the police as I didn’t think I could do that.

“I felt like I could not do anything. I kept thinking I should just sit here until I die.”

According to Camden Council’s 2021 domestic abuse report, referrals from victims and mental health services increased during the coronavirus lockdown. Referrals from police however significantly dropped, from 1,727 in 2019 to 754 in 2020.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows domestic abuse offences rose by 7% between March and June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

One woman quoted in the report said: “He tried to kill me during the lockdown. I didn't feel safe, he was drinking heavily.”

Ham & High: The report said better signposting was needed for victimsThe report said better signposting was needed for victims (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

Victims detailed the long-lasting impacts of the abuse including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

One woman said: “[I have] panic attacks, nausea, vomiting, migraines, diarrhoea through stress, hyperventilate, tight chest, nightmares. I have a very visceral reaction to the abuse.”

“I feel damaged physically and mentally and broken. I feel so down and unable to cope,” another woman said.

Other survivors highlighted how their abusers would instil fear through finance.

“I had no money,” one victim said. “He always reminded me that I had no money. He would not help with formula or diapers.”

The report said insufficient evidence exists specific to Black, Asian or minority ethnic communities. However it cited interviews with victims in which cultural factors were manipulated by perpetrators.

One woman said: “They (the family) deflected his anger and bad behaviour; his behaviour would be unheard of in most normal families. They were just conditioning me to put up with his bad behaviour.”

The lack of secure housing was also highlighted. The report said the fear of not having safe alternative housing prevented some victims from leaving their abuser sooner.

“We have to flee our homes and then beg for help with housing. I’m not asking for a mansion, I just want to feel safe,” one woman said.

Domestic abuse often goes unreported to police, who have faced huge criticism in recent times for failing to protect women.

One interviewee in the report said she tried to report the abuse to police but felt very uncomfortable because she was not offered a female officer.

This led her to omit key details of her sexual assault which she believes contributed to her case not being taken seriously.

Ham & High: Public authorities are under pressure to make changes to protect victimsPublic authorities are under pressure to make changes to protect victims (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

In its conclusions, the report cited “good work” locally and nationally to help victims, as it backed government legislation under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

However it recommended greater levels of training for council staff, and said survivors in need of housing must be supported to remain in Camden.

The report said victims should be easily able to get in-person appointments, and that the council should make an information pamphlet that includes “culturally and linguistically appropriate information”.

The report added that legal aid must be made available, and that police should fund a campaign to make sure people know how officers can disclose a person’s history of abusive behaviour – known as Clare’s Law.

Participants gave information through interviews and an anonymous online survey. Names and certain details were removed from the report to protect the identity of victims. Findings will be shared with local authorities.