Police should give as much importance to combatting the “epidemic” of violence against women and girls (VAWG) as to terrorism and county lines drug trafficking, says the police inspectorate.
But the watchdog also accepts the police cannot tackle VAWG alone: the whole system, the police, criminal justice system, and the health, education and local authorities, must take a fundamentally new approach.
“The government should consider legislating to create a new statutory duty for all partner agencies to work together to protect women and girls, similar to the existing framework for child protection,” Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services said.
It acknowledges the police have made vast improvements in their response to VAWG during the past decade, including better identification of repeat victims and improved safeguarding measures. But there are inconsistencies at every level in how the police respond to VAWG and victims
The inspectorate continued: “We contrast this with the responses to other high-harm areas of policing, such as terrorism or county lines offending.
“These are generally marked by a clearer focus, better funding, a relentless pursuit of perpetrators and a clear sense that these are urgent national policing priorities.
“VAWG needs to be addressed in the same way. There needs to be an immediate shift upwards of the priority given to the policing response to these offences.”
The comments and accompanying recommendations are contained in a report after the inspectorate carried out a root-and-branch review of how police forces respond to VAWG, from prevention work in schools to management of the most dangerous offenders, following the murder of Sarah Everard last March.
But it also found several areas where forces need to improve, such as the large proportion of VAWG offences closed by the police as requiring no further action, with either outcome 15 (because of evidential difficulties) or outcome 16 (the victim does not support further action).
On average, three out of four domestic abuse cases are closed that way, with unexplained variation between forces, according to the inspectorate. It says it has grave concerns about those closures as well as major gaps in data recorded on VAWG offences.
The inspectorate recommends:
- The government, police, criminal justice system and public-sector partnerships should give an absolute priority to VAWG offences. “This needs to be supported at a minimum by a relentless focus on these crimes; mandated responsibilities; and sufficient funding so that all partner agencies can work effectively as part of a whole-system approach to reduce and prevent the harms these offences are causing.”
- The “relentless pursuit and disruption” of adult perpetrators should be a national priority for the police, with their capability and capacity in that field enhanced.
- Victims should receive tailored and consistent support.
- All chief constables should ensure there are consistently high standards in their forces’ responses to VAWG, including dealing with breaches of non-molestation orders, using Clare’s Law and identifying and managing the most dangerous VAWG perpetrators.
- A national policing strategy to coordinate the response to VAWG.
- Immediate review of use of outcomes 15 and 16 in VAWG.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary 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.”
Because the police cannot solve the problem alone “we’re taking the unusual step of recommending a radical change of approach across the whole system,” she added.