'It is the view of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) that the service provided to victims of domestic abuse by the police is too often unacceptable. Police leaders told us that tackling domestic abuse is important, but in the majority of forces it is a priority on paper only and not in practice. It is deeply disappointing that the stated intent is not translating into an operational reality. Domestic abuse must be seen as everyone's business in a force, rather than someone else's problem.' HM Inspector of Constabulary, Zoë Billingham.
This week I have been dismayed to discover new data (gathered by The Independent from 18 of 43 police forces in England and Wales) reveals police charges in reported incidents of domestic violence have plummeted by more than 10% in just one year, even though the number of incidents have risen. In London, (which has the most cases of domestic abuse) reports of domestic abuse jumped by more than 2,000 between 2015 and 2016 and yet over 600 more abusers escaped police charges in 2016 than the year before.
Let's put this situation into context: In the latest release by the Office for National Statistics, last year there were an estimated 1.8million adults aged 16 to 59 (not including the epidemic effecting girls younger than 16) who were victims of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse accounts for approximately one in ten of all crimes and that is the modest estimation. In a nutshell, our domestic abuse problem is bigger than ever before. The news released a story about a London man who has been arrested, a woman saved (and over 19 knives confiscated) in a domestic abuse scene that has been likened to an 'Alfred Hitchcock' scene. My issue here is that single life-saving incident just isn't representative of the reality and I don't understand why?
In 2013, our then home secretary Theresa May announced she was going to take personal charge of the way police respond to domestic abuse after a damning report exposed 'alarming and unacceptable' flaws in the system. May said that the report revealed 'significant failings, including a lack of visible police leadership and direction, poor victim care and deficiencies in the collection of important evidence'. She quickly announced her plans to lead a national oversight group. The inspectorate condemned the police service for treating domestic abuse as 'a poor relation' to other police activity with only eight out of 43 forces responding well to domestic abuse.
Yet here we are in 2017, Theresa May is now our Prime Minister and the new report discloses that officers showed a 'considerable lack of empathy' in handling cases (recently in the West Midlands officers were overheard calling a victim a 'f*****g slag.') The report also said victims are not taken seriously and identifies 'poor attitudes, ineffective training and inadequate evidence gathering' and calls for an urgent overhaul by the police service of its response to domestic abuse, from the frontline up to the leadership. Inspectors said Greater Manchester, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Gloucestershire in particular were causing serious concern.
This is upsetting to me. Calling 999 is the first thing I advise any woman who is the victim of abuse. This report leaves me with the impression that the fate of Britain's domestic abuse victims is literally a lottery. Except in this lottery if you win, the police do their job and assist you compassionately and professionally.
That's just so wrong.
The newest report cites alarming and unacceptable weaknesses in core policing activity, in particular in the quality of the initial investigation. It also raised concerns over the failure of the police to undertake risk assessments of victims, and a confused approach to arresting perpetrators. Not to mention an inconsistent approach to how DV cases were pursued and perpetrators are dealt with. What exactly is going on?
I was shocked to read about a lack of specialist support and provision. Over the years, the way in which the police service tackles DV is supposed to have developed via effective risk assessment models especially with two women dying every week. Every 30 seconds the police receive a call for assistance relating to domestic abuse. Why isn't this a priority? If 1.8 million people were the victim of terrorism last year, I don't doubt the response would be excellent.
Even basic investigative techniques are not being carried out with the report revealing that in 600 domestic abuse cases involving actual bodily harm, inspectors found photographs of the injuries were taken in only half the cases.
Domestic abuse thrives on ignorance and laziness. Perpetrators succeed wherever they can get away with it. When a policeman fails to do his job properly, a victim is at risk of death and a perpetrator goes to bed smiling. The police must rethink the ways they deal with DV, in particular how they handle the complex issues and needs of its victims. They also need a deep understanding of domestic abuse amongst teens, and the coercive and psychological nature of this disgusting crime.
The report's author, Zoe Billingham, has said: "The service provided to victims of domestic abuse by the police is too often unacceptable. Police leaders told us tackling domestic abuse is important but in the majority of forces it is a priority on paper only and not in practice. The findings of this report should be a wake-up call for the police service. Domestic abuse must no longer be the poor relation."
I assist the police in my work as a psychologist and I would relish the opportunity to work with local police services as a domestic abuse survivor and an interventionist to address this sad state of affairs once and for all.
A victim of domestic abuse is more at risk of death when leaving an abusive relationship than at any other time. I personally can't stand the thought of a victim dialling 999 and not receiving the professional help they need and deserve for no good reason. It's simply unacceptable.