Police Inspectorate releases report on police response to violence against women and girls

Peter Stoddart

The Policing Inspectorate (HMICFRS) have today (17 September 2021) announced the release of their keenly awaited review of the policing response to violence against women and girls, announced in response to the murder of Sarah Everard in March of this year.

The review has found a litany of areas where the police are failing to protect women and girls from violence. In particular, it highlighted a chronic failure to properly record violent incidents which affected women and girls. In addition, the report found huge variations between police forces in England and Wales with regards to how they dealt with domestic abuse cases.

Most worryingly, the report repeated previous concerns that on average, three out of every four recorded domestic abuse cases are closed with no further action being taken. The number of rape cases that were dropped because victims did not want to proceed with a case, often due to a lack of sensitivity from the police, has more than tripled since 2015.

Time and time again we have seen violent incidents take place with no recourse for justice. These statistics are harrowing when we consider the impact on individual women. But they only paint half the story. According to the 2018 Crime Survey of England and Wales, only 18% of women who had experienced partner abuse in the last 12 months reported the abuse to the police. Rape Crisis estimate only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence report it to the police.

These statistics demonstrate that we are experiencing epidemic levels of violence. The police are not only unable, but unwilling to tackle the issues surrounding violence against women and girls, and police forces across the country fail to make these incidents a priority despite the scale of the problem.

In today’s press release, principal author of the report, Zoe Billingham said:
We have a once in a generation opportunity to permanently uproot violence against women and girls, which is now epidemic in this country…. That is why we’re taking the unusual step of recommending a radical change of approach across the whole system, involving the police, criminal justice system, local authorities, health and education.

We have suggested a new framework – with mandated responsibilities and sufficient funding – that requires all these partners to work together to support victims and prevent VAWG from happening in the first place.

This is a welcome announcement from the police, who so often offer piecemeal solutions to problems of this size. This is welcome, but indeed highlights the severity of the issue.

The report made a number of different recommendations, most crucially it called for greater collaboration between all partners to adopt a new approach that enables deeper and more effective joint working. This is hardly a groundbreaking strategy and it is heartbreaking that it has taken a tragedy to get these recommendations to the fore.

In addition, the report calls for a new statutory duty to protect women and girls, mirroring the existing framework for child protection. It also called for greater support for victims which is tailored to individual needs and called for a new national policing strategy to coordinate the response to violence against women and girls. Again it called for chief constables to ensure they are continually updating and reviewing their strategies to ensure best practice.

Again, all of these recommendations are a step forward, but can they really be described as radical?

Partnership working has been at the core of the civil service for decades. The fact that it still seems like a radical shift in the way the police operate informs us of the chronic mismanagement at the heart of police forces across the country. Why has it taken a tragedy to make the police realise they need to work with other sectors to deal with these issues?

There are also concerns that while the report talks a lot about victims of violence, it does not talk a huge amount about strategies of prevention. Potential victims of domestic violence or rape should not have to wait until a serious incident has occurred. They should be able to access support when they need it but so often we see women and girls abandoned and told they are exaggerating when all the signs point towards escalating violence.

Time will tell if these measures are implemented properly but for now they highlight yet another area that the police are failing. We have to do more to combat the scourge of violence against women and girls.

Peter Stoddart

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