Women’s Aid responds to the HMICFRS review of policing domestic abuse during the pandemic
A new report by HMICFRS (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services) — released today, 23rd June — has acknowledged that the pandemic has put domestic abuse survivors at greater risk, and has praised the police for making good use of technology and working with partners to find new ways to support survivors.
The inspectorate did, however, state that while the police had innovated throughout the pandemic, there are still some concerns about long term approaches to domestic abuse.
HMICFRS found that on average, three in four domestic abuse crimes reported to the police are closed without the perpetrator being charged — a situation which has gradually worsened over the last five years. The inspectorate also said it had significant concerns about court backlogs, which, whilst not for the police to solve, may increase the likelihood of victims disengaging from the criminal justice process.
HMICFRS has recommended that the police should:
- immediately review why so many domestic abuse cases are discontinued, and whether more can be done to support victims who are particularly vulnerable;
- ensure that domestic abuse victims who are waiting for court hearings are safeguarded and can continue to access support;
- work with partners and domestic abuse victims to understand why many victims choose not to report to the police, and to break down barriers to reporting; and
- ensure that new practices adopted during the pandemic, such as online contact with victims, are properly monitored for quality and safety.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Zoë Billingham said:
“Victims of domestic abuse were at greater risk during the COVID-19 pandemic when lockdown restrictions made it even harder to escape their abusers. The police responded proactively by communicating with known victims, reaching-in to those locked down, rather than waiting for them to reach out. We saw brilliant examples of forces up and down the country using innovative new ways to keep victims safe during the pandemic. I applaud forces for this. I also want to thank frontline officers who bravely risked their own safety to attend domestic abuse incidents throughout the lockdown periods.
“The police have shown they are dedicated to protecting victims of domestic abuse, but we still have some concerns about the longer-term response. While we know that not all victims want their case to go to court – and in fact some crimes are reported by third parties – we want the police to take the right action, using the powers only they have to protect victims. It’s a huge concern that on average, three in every four domestic abuse related crimes are closed by the police without the perpetrator being charged. Many forces are unable to explain the reasons why so many perpetrators are not being brought to justice. Today we are calling on all forces to immediately review why so many domestic abuse cases are being closed without any further action taken and to take steps to address this.
“Despite these concerns, there has been a positive shift over the last few years with the police prioritising domestic abuse, and victims should not be discouraged from reporting. The police have improved their understanding, identification and recording of domestic abuse, while continuing to find new and innovative ways to support victims.”
In response, Farah Nazeer, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid Federation England, said:
“We know that perpetrators used the pandemic and lockdown measures to heighten their abuse and control, and that many survivors and their children were trapped at home with abusers – isolated and shut off from support. Specialist domestic abuse services worked around the clock to support survivors during this extremely challenging year and, as this report shows, worked innovatively with police forces to keep women and children safe.
But our research with survivors during the pandemic found inconsistencies in officers’ responses – including those who didn’t respond quickly to reports of domestic abuse, or didn’t take appropriate action to sanction the perpetrator. It is unacceptable that for every four domestic abuse crimes, three are closed with no further action for the perpetrator. Survivors continue to highlight concerns with a lack of understanding about the nature and impact of coercive control, delays and backlogs in the criminal justice system, and poor support throughout the process as key reasons that cases do not proceed. A consistent criminal justice response to survivors remains an urgent priority, particularly as lockdown measures finally lift and more women are able to reach out for help.
Although almost all police and crime commissioners have identified domestic abuse as a priority, in reality both the understanding and the response remains inadequate. Women’s Aid has worked with the College of Policing and other organisations to develop, pilot and deliver training programmes for the police force which works to improve the response given to survivors of domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Matters programme works to offer whole force, sustainable change, and we are proud to deliver it to forces around the country.”
Women’s Aid Federation of England sits on HMICFRS’ Domestic Abuse Reference Group, providing expertise into their review of police practice on domestic abuse.
To read the full report, visit the HMICFRS website.