How police engage with women and girls
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) have today published an interim report of an inspection into how effectively the police engage with women and girls. The report says the police have made vast improvements over the last decade in how they respond to these crimes – but while this progress should continue, fundamental system-wide change is needed, and the police cannot achieve this alone. HMICFRS said there is an epidemic of offending against women and girls – for example, an estimated 1.6 million women in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in the 12 months to March 2020 – and a whole-system approach is needed to tackle it, involving not only the police but also other partners such as the Crown Prosecution Service, health, social care and education.
The inspectorate’s findings are from its interim report, released now to help inform the Government’s violence against women and girls strategy, with its final report to be published in September.
HMICFRS reviewed evidence from previous inspections, consulted with experts from policing, government and victim support organisations, and analysed the progress made by the police.
Defining the problem
The report sets out some of key statistics showing how violence against women and girls (VAWG) crimes result in devastating harm to individuals and society. The domestic abuse charity SafeLives estimates that, each year, more than 100,000 people in the UK are at high and imminent risk of being murdered or seriously injured because of domestic abuse. Women are much more likely to be a victim of high-risk or severe domestic abuse than men. On average, seven women a month are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales. Data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates that over twice as many women are victims of stalking compared to men, and over three times as many women are victims of domestic abuse-related stalking. In addition, Home Office data shows 13,692 cases of coercive and controlling behaviour were reported to the police between October 2019 and September 2020, and there were 10,360 offences of exposure and voyeurism in the year ending September 2020.
Women and girls are affected by this violence from an early age. Last month Ofsted published a Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges, which found that girls are disproportionately affected by sexual abuse and violence. The review found extremely high levels of sexual harassment and online sexual abuse between children, with girls being much more likely to be subject to sexist name-calling, online abuse, ‘up-skirting’ and unwanted touching in school corridors. The review found that the frequency of harmful sexual behaviours meant that, for some children, this had become the norm, and many saw no point in reporting incidents because they were so common.
The report is forthright in its findings, saying that despite some improvements, the current response to VAWG crime is unsustainable. The inspectors did find some extremely effective practice but said this is inconsistent in too many respects. The demand on the police associated with these crimes is also increasing, as is the number of offences not resulting in a charge or a timely prosecution. The inspectorate says that it cannot keep making the same recommendations and expect them to have the impact that is needed. A radical refocus and shift is required.
After reviewing the evidence, the inspectorate has recommended that transformation of the whole system is needed. It comes to two main conclusions.
The first conclusion is that there is a major need for an immediate, co-ordinated and relentless focus on the whole system to tackle these offences. Inspectors recommend that this new approach should be multifaceted; act to prevent VAWG from happening in the first place; support victims/survivors; and relentlessly pursue and disrupt offenders with the full force of police powers and the law.
The second conclusion is that there also needs to be an upwards shift in priority in how the police pursue and disrupt offenders. The inspectorate recommends that the College of Policing should develop and adopt a VAWG minimum standard aimed at creating a consistent and clear standard for police investigations. It also says that lessons can be learnt from the way in which policing tackles including serious and organised crime and counter-terrorism, in terms of both prioritisation and resource.
The report makes three main recommendations:
- Government, police, criminal justice system and public sector should immediately and unequivocally commit to prioritising the response to violence against women and girls, supported by sufficient funding and mandated responsibilities;
- the police should make the relentless pursuit and disruption of perpetrators a national priority, and their capability and capacity to do this should be enhanced; and
- funding and structures should be put in place to ensure victims receive tailored and consistent support.
Thanks to Mika Baumeister for the header image previously published on Unsplash.