Dame Vera Baird warmly welcomes move by the Home Secretary, which she brands "game-changing".
The Home Secretary will tell the police that tackling violence against women and girls should be given as much a priority as fighting terrorism, child sexual abuse and serious and organised crime.
Priti Patel is to make preventing such attacks a national policing priority, known as a Strategic Policing Requirement (SPR), for forces in England and Wales.
The move comes after a police watchdog recommended the change as part of a root-and-branch review of the response from forces to violence against women and girls which found “problems, unevenness and inconsistencies” in dealing with the “epidemic” of violence against female victims in the UK.
Then inspector of constabulary Zoe Billingham said it was “vital” violence against women and girls should be within the top three priorities for police forces.
Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner, has long called for action in this area.
In October 2021, Dame Vera gave an interview to the Guardian in support of the move. She said: “There are many unanswered questions about how violence against women and girls is policed and I think if we have this clear requirement it sends a clear message that tackling it is a priority.” At the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and National Police Chiefs Council joint conference in November 2021, Dame Vera said the move to make violence against women and girls a Strategic Policing Requirement would be a “game-changer”.
Responding to the latest Home Office announcement, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, said:
“Violence against women and girls has reached epidemic proportions with millions of women subjected to abuse every year.
“Since I have been Commissioner, I have seen report after report highlight police failures and inaction in tackling violence against women but little material change.
“The Home Secretary’s inclusion of violence against women and girls in the Strategic Policing Requirement (SPR) could be a game-changing move. I have been calling for this for some months and I warmly welcome it. It clearly signals the government’s intent to get to grips with violence against women and girls and reassure both victims and the public that this is an issue of utmost national importance and an urgent national policing priority.
“The SPR was developed to ensure locally delivered policing is also able to meet national and international threats. Including violence against women in the SPR will accord it the same status as terrorism and knife crime, with similar central direction, leadership and drive so there can no longer be any doubt as to the obligations the police have towards victims. SPR status could also encourage policing of VAWG to become more professionalised and specialised, offering a competitive career path for the best officers to thrive. Implementation will be key: this action will only make a difference if resources are made available and suitable monitoring and accountability structures in place.”
The announcement comes as the Home Secretary on Tuesday 1 March launched a new national communications campaign focusing on perpetrators and tackling abuse against women and girls.
The campaign includes television adverts, billboards, social media and radio advertising and will highlight different forms of violence against women and girls and the simple acts that anyone can take to challenge perpetrators of abuse.
The Home Secretary, National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing have also confirmed that they are accepting and implementing all of the recommendations made by HMICFRS in their violence against women and girls’ inspection, published in September 2021. The inspection, commissioned by the Home Secretary in March last year, recommended:
- Appointing a full-time VAWG National Policing Lead to co-ordinate and improve the national policing response – which the Home Office supported, and DCC Maggie Blyth is now in post
- Adding VAWG to the Strategic Policing Requirement placing it on the same strategic footing as terrorism, serious organised crime and child sexual abuse
- New guidance to police forces on how to treat victims and to establish a single national survey on victim satisfaction
- Ensuring that progress is closely monitored, including violence against women and girls as a priority for the ministerially chaired crime and policing performance board
- Taking action to make sure different agencies, including the police, health and education, are working together effectively to tackle violence against women and girls, including considering whether any new duties should be introduced. The Government recently made it clear in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that local areas can consider domestic abuse and sexual offences for the purposes of the new serious violence duty.