In Northern Ireland, the police respond to an incident of domestic abuse every 17 minutes.

In the 12 months to September 2018, more than 31,000 domestic abuse incidents were reported to police – the highest number since records began in 2004. And yet, even this is considered to be a conservative number.

While information would suggest that more people in dangerous relationships are becoming better informed about what constitutes as abusive behaviour and are seeking help, many incidents still go unreported and many victims remain trapped.

The fact is that domestic violence is still a huge problem in society and while it affects both genders, the vast majority of victims are women.

I’m a firm believer in the notion that knowledge is power. On a very basic level, it can provide us with new information and valuable skills and it can empower us to make better, more informed choices. In many cases, it can also prevent us from making a decision that’s not in our best interests.

That’s why I believe that teaching schoolchildren about healthy relationships and domestic violence, as part of the new sex education curriculum in England announced this week, is a really positive step.

My hope now, is that the lessons will be an integral part of RSE (relationship and sex education) and will be adequately funded so that appropriate educators can deliver them. Most importantly, in order for the teaching to be effective, it needs to focus on challenging the sexist and misogynistic values that still weigh so heavily on our society.

Research tells us that it is these attitudes that reinforce violence against women and girls both inside and outside the home. Ultimately, for any meaningful reduction in the levels of domestic abuse, we need a huge shift in the attitudes and behaviour that exist within many relationships, and especially towards women.

Alongside this, having the tools to spot the signs of a potentially abusive partner before entering into a committed intimate relationship is invaluable.

Countless women – and many men too – enter relationships without this knowledge with often devastating results.

According to the charity Living Without Abuse, which provides help and support to women and men, domestic abuse, will affect 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lifetime and is the single most quoted reason for becoming homeless. Meanwhile, the cost to the public purse is staggering. Figures from the British Crime Survey puts it at £23 billion a year, as it includes the cost to the criminal justice system, health and social care services and the housing sector.

And while it’s responsible and indeed necessary to look at these issues in terms of how much they cost our economy, doing so often seems incongruous when we consider the human and emotional toll from living in an abusive relationship, whether it involves physical violence or coercive and controlling behaviour.

That’s a cost that cannot be viewed solely in monetary terms.

I doubt many – if any – survivors of domestic abuse could put a figure on a life without abuse, if they were asked to consider how much they would be prepared to pay so that they didn’t ever have to suffer it, particularly if children are involved. I imagine such a guarantee would be priceless.

With the benefit of hindsight, many abuse survivors say that when they look back at their relationship, there were troublesome signs in the early days – albeit small and infrequent but existent nonetheless.

But because they didn’t have the knowledge and didn’t recognise the behaviours as unhealthy, and because over time the abuse had depleted them and chipped away at their self-confidence, they stayed in the relationship.

Indeed hundreds of children are growing up in abusive families and many think the behaviour they see at home is normal. And so, the cycle of abuse continues. Hopefully, giving children more information around unhealthy behaviour will help to change that.

Sadly, like much of the legislation passed in England and Wales, it remains to be seen whether the updated curriculum will take effect in schools in Northern Ireland any time soon – if at all. Honestly, with the state of politics in the north, I won’t hold my breath.