A new report by HMICFRS (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services) has said that fundamental cross-system change is urgently needed to tackle an epidemic of violence against women and girls (VAWG) and that the issue must be given much higher priority.
Although it acknowledges that some improvements have been made in the last decade, the report identifies several areas where the police need to improve. It notes grave concerns about the number of VAWG cases closed without charge, and identifies major gaps in the data recorded on VAWG offences.
The report recommends that VAWG offences must be given higher priority and says that women who have experienced violence must be given wrap-around, tailored support.
Farah Nazeer, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:
“We welcome this report because we urgently need to address the inconsistencies that still exist in the police response to violence against women. Improvements have been made in the last decade but the report confirms what we already knew, that a postcode lottery still exists for too many women who experience violence and abuse. It takes huge strength for a survivor to build up the courage to report domestic abuse to the police, so it is vital that she gets an effective response the first time she calls out for help but unfortunately this hasn’t been happening. We know that the traumatic experiences of survivors are often dismissed, belittled and disbelieved, which has a serious and severe impact on their mental health and obstructs their access to support and recovery. It is of grave concern for us that police forces hadn’t recognised and managed a number of their most prolific repeat VAWG offenders.
Importantly, the report recognises the need for violence against women to be given a much higher profile and recommends that women who have experienced violence must be given ‘wrap-around, tailored support’. However, it is crucial that this includes specialist mental health support and specific ring-fenced funding for services run ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised women.
We have to ensure that wherever a survivor goes to they get the right safe response and that everyone, Health, Social Care, Policing and the Judicial systems have the same common understandings of domestic abuse and operate the same safe needs led responses, and that legislation and processes are in place to sustain it. All parts of government to be held accountable for ending all forms of VAWG – from schools to health services, the police to transport, business, housing and many more. It is only then that we can look forward to effective changes in attitudes, responses and outcomes for women and children.
We know that women’s experiences of violence and abuse are interconnected, and that strategically the government needs to respond to this. We are concerned that disconnecting the VAWG strategy from domestic abuse by creating a separate strategy is a backward step as it doesn’t reflect the connection of these experiences, which offers little reassurance that the government’s VAWG strategy will protect women ‘wherever they are’. As this report clearly shows, we need to work together to address violence against women and girls, and a clear strategic approach which includes domestic abuse in the continuum of VAWG, and investment in culture change is needed to respond to this.
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.”