Domestic abuse is one issue where statistics still have the power to shock. We must never forget that on average, two women a week in England and Wales are killed at the hands of a partner or ex-partner. Women's Aid has worked with women who, without our support, could easily have become part of that horrifying statistic. Women who have suffered the deeply damaging and traumatic abuse, both physical and emotional. Women who have been bullied, beaten and left for dead - and yet found the strength to carry on. Their voices, and the protection of women from domestic violence, are at the heart of everything we do. So, when systems designed to protect these women are not being enforced effectively, we have to shout about it.
Exactly one year ago, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published the report Everyone's Business: Improving the Police Response to Domestic Abuse. This was the result of a six month-long review of the police response to domestic violence in England and Wales. Sadly, it found alarming weaknesses in core policing activity. A year later, progress has been made in some police forces, and across the country new training programmes are in place to address problems that can only be resolved through major cultural change. Of course that takes time. But this anniversary is the perfect time to look at what more we can do, right now, to ensure the police have the effective tools they need, and are using them.
That means we must look at the enforcement of Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs). DVPOs are designed to give immediate protection to victims, as they enable police to remove suspected perpetrators from the family home for up to 28 days without charge.
Since being introduced, 2500 DVPOs have been put in place in 39 police forces. However, from August 2012 to August 2013, the police received over one million calls for assistance with domestic violence incidents. Data from the Women's Aid Annual Survey last year found that, of a sample of 510 women who used domestic violence services and reported the domestic violence to the police, DVPOs were issued in just 2.5% of cases - a mere 13 in total. These are worrying statistics, overwhelmingly pointing to the fact that DVPOs are not being used and enforced properly.
Furthermore, if a DVPO is breached by a suspected perpetrator of domestic violence, there are no criminal sanctions in place - despite this being a recommendation made in the evaluation of the pilot of DVPOs. So, he can - and it is, overwhelmingly a he - violates the DVPO - and face only civil sanctions, such as a fine. He could come back to the family home before the 28 days are over, and continue to intimidate and abuse his partner, perhaps their children too, with no criminal consequences. It undermines the legislation designed to protect the victim. Most of all, it undermines the victim herself. This is unacceptable.
Women's Aid is calling for the breach of DVPOs to be made a criminal offence. We are calling for DVPOs to be used and enforced properly: for all police forces to follow the process and use the tools at their disposal. Failure to use and enforce DVPOs means failure to protect women and children - the consequences of which could be fatal.
We want to empower all victims of domestic violence. Empowering the women that we work with is a fundamental part of their journey to transform them from a victim of domestic violence into a survivor of domestic violence. DVPOs, if used properly, can empower women and help safeguard them. It could save their lives. It could stop a woman becoming part of a dark and dreadful statistic. I want to see this happen. Do you?