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New cross-system approach needed to end epidemic of violence against women and girls

Dame Vera Baird endorses HMICFRS call for urgent and fundamental cross-system change to tackle an epidemic of violence against women and girls.

Tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) should be as much of a priority as countering terrorism, a police watchdog has said.

The report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) identified major inconsistencies between police forces in how they tackle the issue. It found several areas where the police need to improve, including grave concerns about the number of VAWG cases closed without charge, and major gaps in the data recorded on VAWG offences.

While the inspectorate has made several recommendations for immediate improvements to police practices, it concluded that the police cannot tackle VAWG alone. It said the whole system – including policing, health and education – must take a fundamentally new approach.

The inspectorate said 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.

HMICFRS has expanded on the recommendations from its interim report in July, including that:

  • there should be a radical refocus and shift in the priority given to VAWG offences by the police and all partners, including wrap-around, tailored support for victims;
  • chief constables should review and ensure that there are consistently high standards in the response to VAWG, including dealing with breaches of non-molestation orders, using Clare’s Law to protect potential domestic abuse victims, and identifying and managing the most dangerous VAWG perpetrators; and
  • there should be a national policing strategy to coordinate the response to VAWG.

Responding to the HMICFRS report and its recommendations, the Victims’ Commissioner for England & Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, said:

“This report makes powerfully clear that we are facing an epidemic of violent and abusive offending against women and girls. This is a problem deep-rooted into our society and its prevalence and scale are shocking, if not wholly surprising. If we are to truly make headway and turn the tide, we need to see radical and urgent collective action from government, police and society at large. I’m pleased to see this report make the case for such fundamental cross-system changes.

“Effective and responsive victim-centred policing is essential, and it is clear that the police need to improve. Police responses vary considerably across the country: far too many cases are closed without charge and there remain major gaps in police crime recording. As the report recommends, we need to see the police relentlessly pursuing and disrupting perpetrators. But it’s also undeniable that we cannot simply police our way out of this crisis. This is a broader societal problem and that requires a whole-system approach spanning the police, justice agencies, health and social care, and education.

“System-wide reforms are needed and the level of ambition in these HMICFRS recommendations is precisely what we need to see. VAWG must become a strategic policing issue, backed up by significant and sustained funding. We must pursue a public health approach to tackling VAWG: early intervention and prevention from a range of partners, including those in health and education. Violence against women and girls must be considered as serious, violent crime. The proposed Serious Violence Duty in the Policing Bill currently omits VAWG from its remit. That must change.

“We must also look at grass-root initiatives. Compulsory sex and relationship education must be rolled out in schools, and we must adopt a whole-school approach to tackling VAWG whereby key messages about gender equality and human rights are embedded throughout the school environment. It is also absolutely vital that government commits to long-term sustainable funding for specialist VAWG services that meet the needs of all women and girls, including tailored and consistent support.

“The appointment of Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth as the new policing lead on VAWG is a welcome first step and I wish her success in the role. But one person can only do so much. We need to see tackling violence against women and girls become a strategic priority in both legislation and national and local government priorities.”