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BLOG: As my survey shows, women are still not getting good treatment in our justice system

As we kick off 16 Days of Activism, Baroness Newlove reacts to fresh survey findings showing women’s low confidence and satisfaction in the criminal justice system.

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This important date in the calendar marks the start of 16 days of activism. Over the next two weeks, the focus is on mobilising society to eradicate violence against women and girls (VAWG).

Upon becoming Victims’ Commissioner, I published a 2022 Victims’ Survey as I felt it was so important for the victim’s voice to be front and centre of any policy debate. My survey showed general discontent across the board from the 489 respondents and I encourage you to read it in full.

I’m now publishing a more focused look into the responses from the 271 women who filled in the survey. It makes for difficult reading.

The 2022 survey suggests many women are losing confidence in our criminal justice system. Almost four in five women (79 per cent) did not have confidence in the police’s ability to thoroughly investigate crimes against them. After their experience with the police, 59 per cent were unsure about or unwilling to report to the police again.

I, along with many others, have repeatedly called for violence against women and girls to be taken more seriously. It has sadly taken tragic and high-profile incidents over recent years to truly bring it to the forefront of public and political consciousness.

Yet, despite this, 56 per cent did not believe that the police were taking their concerns seriously. Almost two thirds (62 per cent) reported feeling that the police didn’t investigate allegations thoroughly. It doesn’t stop there either.

More than two thirds (69 per cent) told us they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the police’s response to a crime, while 46 per cent didn’t feel that the police had treated them with fairness and respect.

Sadly, this dissatisfaction goes beyond just the police. The vast majority of female victims responding to the survey were concerned about the effectiveness of the criminal justice system overall.

More than nine in ten (91 per cent) were not confident they could receive justice by reporting a crime. 87 per cent did not feel that the criminal justice system was effective, and over three quarters (79 per cent) did not feel confident that the criminal justice system was fair. These are damning numbers.

While these figures are sobering, there are reasons for cautious optimism. Operation Soteria, a new national model of investigating rape and sexual assault, is being rolled out nationally to police forces and the CPS. It is shown to improve the quality of investigations and, as a result, police are being encouraged to focus their investigations on the offender, not the victim – an approach I welcome.

There are some indications that things are getting better in the prosecution of rape, long a cause for concern. Recent CPS statistics showed the number of completed rape prosecutions increased by 7 per cent in the first quarter of 2023-24.

And in February this year, VAWG was also made a strategic policing priority, making it a national policing priority comparable to counterterrorism, tackling child sexual abuse and serious and organised crime. I hope this will drive further improvements in policing.

Yet while there may be signs of improvement, it’s clear we need to tackle violent behaviours at their source – before they escalate. ‘Non-contact’ offences, such as flashing, indecent exposure and intimate image abuse serve as warning signs. They need to be acted upon and the culprits stopped in their tracks. The murder of Sarah Everard illustrated how such behaviours can escalate. Her attacker had twice indecently exposed himself to others in the month before going on to commit rape and murder in March 2021.

Indeed, Ministry of Justice data shows that a quarter of people convicted of indecent exposure went on to reoffend. 219 individuals went on to commit serious sexual offences, with an average of 3.58 further offences per person. ‘Non-contact’ offences aren’t just crimes – they are acts of violence and serve as warning signs, demanding intervention before they escalate.

This will require the police to get better at identifying predatory behaviour. The Casey Review, which investigated standards of behaviour and internal culture in the Met, showed misconduct or complaints were not well recorded and likely to be dismissed. Patterns of behaviour and escalating incidents – predatory behaviour – were not identified. The recommendations from the Casey Review and the Angiolini Inquiry will be key in helping us grasp the transformational changes necessary to drive improvements in the police across England and Wales.

As the 2022 survey showed, victims want to be treated with fairness and respect and they want their case to be investigated thoroughly. They are not asking for the world – they are asking for decent treatment.

The findings in this survey are not just numbers; they are real people in the real world. The findings matter because when victims lose trust, they’re less like to report a crime. This leads to fewer victims coming forward, fewer victims backing prosecutions, which, in turn, trickles down into women feeling fearful for their safety.

As Victims’ Commissioner, I will be pushing ministers and justice agencies to deliver real improvements for women, starting with the Victims and Prisoners Bill. It’s time we delivered on promises made to victims. Women and girls deserve nothing less.