We welcome today’s report by the Independent Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, which has recognised the levels of male violence women and girls experience as an epidemic, speaking to the levels of fear, violence and abuse millions of women and children live with daily in England and Wales.
This should be a wake-up call for the Government. There is a well recognised epidemic of violence against women and girls and it appears to be getting worse. July this year was the busiest month we have seen on our Advice Line since the start of the pandemic.
The murder of Sarah Everard and women’s outcries of fear and anger sparked this review. The work of Mina Smallman and Black women activists resulted in recognition that Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman’s murders were minimised because they were Black women. Solace supports Sistah Space’s campaign for Valerie’s Law, which would make specialist training mandatory for all police and other government agencies that support Black women and girls affected by domestic abuse.
As this report says, the names of hundreds of women killed by men never make it to the front pages of newspapers, but they often lived with sustained abuse and violence for years before their lives are taken, with thousands of opportunities for a different outcome. We urge the Home Office to act on HMICFRS’ recommendation to make male violence against women and girls a strategic policing requirement along with crimes that require a national policing capability including terrorism, organised crime and child sexual abuse.
Solace work with 27,000 women and children a year living with men’s violence and abuse and the effects of men’s violence and abuse and we recognise the gaps and inconsistencies in police responses highlighted by the report. Our dedicated and determined domestic violence advocates and sexual violence advocates often rely on building relationships with good empathetic police officers, but when they move on our advocates have to start again and, in some cases, with officers with outdated attitudes who can be manipulated by perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking or who believe the myths and stereotypes about why women are raped. We need systematic improvement in the police response to VAWG.
Need for a system wide approach
The Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is currently going through the House of Lords. There are measures in this Bill that could harm some of the most vulnerable women and we urge the Government to listen to experts in the VAWG sector.
However, the Bill also introduces a new serious violence duty on local services, including the police, to work together to prevent and reduce serious violence as part of a public health response. The report out today rightly says that while there is work for the police to do, they cannot alone end VAWG and we need a system-wide response to tackling it, the report makes comparisons to the structures in place for child protection as a suggested model of how to implement such a system.
The serious violence duty presents an opportunity to implement such a system, but currently it excludes violence against women and we therefore recommend the Government amends the Bill to extend the duty to domestic abuse and sexual violence and put in place the statutory framework needed to implement the duty.
Ensuring victims are properly supported
With the Government’s Spending Review underway and a budget announced for October this year, the Chancellor and Prime Minister have an opportunity to act immediately on the report’s third recommendation – to “put in place structures and funding to make sure victims receive tailored and consistent support”.
The shocking fact is that fewer than 2% of reported rapes now result in a charge, but with the support of dedicated Solace advocates that increases to 36%, demonstrating the important role independent advocates can play. We ask the Treasury to take heed of the handwritten note left by the recently departed Justice Secretary in his letter to the Prime Minister to invest in more sexual violence advocates.
Fiona Dwyer, Solace CEO said,
“We welcome this independent report from the Inspectorate, which recognises that violence against women and girls is an epidemic that requires a serious coordinated response which includes, but goes beyond, police improvement.
“Domestic abuse, so-called ‘honour’-based violence, forced marriage, sexual violence, stalking and harassment are all part of the same spectrum of male violence against women that affects the lives of every single woman and girl, and Solace welcomes the recommendations for the prioritisation of VAWG as part of a whole-system approach including local authorities, the police, and health.
“The serious violence duty introduced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is an opportunity to implement that system-wide framework and the Home Office can show immediate leadership through amending the Bill, having commissioned the HMICFRS review in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder.
“The Government’s Spending Review is another opportunity to respond to the recommendations and put in place robust and tailored support for victims and survivors. Women’s lives depend on it.”