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Case Studies

Violence against women and girls an ‘epidemic’

We have a once in a generation opportunity to permanently uproot violence against women and girls (VAWG), which is now epidemic in this country. So said Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Zoë Billingham, on the launch of a report commissioned by the Home Secretary Priti Patel after the murder of Sarah Everard in March.

The report found that while the number of such crimes reported to the authorities is rising, the number of cases that don’t proceed through the criminal justice system is ‘high’.

The report covered how effectively police protect women and girls in public space; and how well police go after the perpetrators of such crimes. For instance, the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) also known as Clare’s Law; in the police forces visited by the inspectors, ‘none had robust performance management processes in place to make sure the scheme was working effectively’. One force couldn’t say how long disclosures took as it didn’t keep a central record; hence as the inspectors noted, ‘little oversight’ of risks to victims of violence.

Billingham said: “The police have vastly improved how they respond to these crimes, and I welcome the appointment of a national policing lead for VAWG to coordinate this work.

“We’ve set out practical changes for the police to make now, but they cannot solve this alone. That is why we’re taking the unusual step of recommending a radical change of approach across the whole system, involving the police, criminal justice system, local authorities, health and education. We have suggested a new framework – with mandated responsibilities and sufficient funding – that requires all these partners to work together to support victims and prevent VAWG from happening in the first place.

“I am grateful to the Home Secretary for commissioning this inspection. It has allowed us to set out a way forward which, if acted on, will give women and girls the confidence that there is not only the will but also the power to end this epidemic.”

The official inspectors pointed to concerns about the number of VAWG cases closed without charge, and major gaps in the data recorded on VAWG offences. The inspectorate suggested that the Government create a new statutory duty for all partner agencies to work together to protect women and girls, as for child protection.

The report said that sexual violence in public spaces, from unwelcome sexual remarks and unwanted touching to rape and murder, ‘happens on streets, in and around schools, on public transport, and in workplaces, parks, public toilets and online spaces’. Society as a whole needs to consider what should be done
to resolve this, the report added. Much of the police’s work in this area is focused on the night-time economy, such as the ‘Ask for Angela’ scheme in pubs and other venues whereby women feeling uncomfortable can ‘ask for Angela’ and get help, such as a taxi.

This report follows an interim report in July. For the full 158-page report visit the inspectorate website.

Police response

Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth has been appointed as the National Police Lead for Violence Against Women and Girls, to coordinate police action across England and Wales. And in a blog, Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Lead for Violence and Public Protection, acknowledged that much still needs to be done, and that ‘the data makes for grim reading’.

She wrote: “Everyone with a role in tackling this issue – social care, health, probation, courts, prisons, housing & public health and the Crown Prosecution Service need to work together and act as a whole system with commitment and action for months and years to come. So it is good to see the inspectorate’s suite of recommendations for those other key players and partners.

“Experience shows a link between communities where deprivation, unemployment and vulnerability are high and the prevalence of abuse.”

Online safety

Meanwhile the NSPCC has warned of a dramatic and hugely troubling growth in the scale of online abuse. The UK Government plans to regulate social media through the Online Safety Bill fall significantly short, the charity warned.

Sir Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC, said: “The Government has a once-in-a-generation chance to deliver a robust but proportionate regulatory regime that can truly protect children from horrendous online harms. But, as it stands, there are substantive weaknesses in its plans, which cannot be overlooked. The draft bill fails to prevent inherently avoidable abuse or reflect the magnitude and complexity of online risks to children.”


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