POLICE need to take “immediate and radical” action to respond with greater pace and urgency to “an epidemic of offending against women and girls”, according to a damning report.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said violence against women and girls was increasing and branded the current police response as “unsustainable”.
Police have a category of offences tagged as VAWG — violence against women and girls — which are violent and high-harm crimes that disproportionally affect women and girls, such as domestic abuse, sexual violence, stalking, and female genital mutilation.
The report found police do not always investigate VAWG-related offences effectively, and victims aren’t always given consistent and appropriate support through the criminal justice system.
South Yorkshire Police refused to comment — but the region’s police and crime commissioner said the report reinforced his determination to offer females greater protection from violence.
Dr Alan Billings said his staff wanted to have a “better understanding” of how the criminal justice system treated women who have been sexually assaulted.
But he added that “most violence” occurred between members of the same household and additional funding to improve domestic abuse services had already been sought.
The inspection was commissioned by the Home Secretary in March in light of high-profile offences against women, including the murder of Sarah Everard — who was killed by a Met officer.
It will conclude in September but its early findings have been published early.
Zoë Billingham, Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary, said: “Our findings show the need for immediate, radical and cross-system action to respond with greater pace and urgency to what we consider to be an epidemic of offending against women and girls.”
The statistics on the prevalence and range of these crimes were “stark and shocking”, she said.
Some of the report's findings included:
- An estimated 1.6 million women — plus 757,000 men — in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in the 12 months to March 2020.
- Over a third of all police-recorded sexual offences were against children, with girls more likely to experience sexual abuse.
- In the year to September 2020, the police recorded 153,136 rape and other sexual offences. The victim was female in 84 per cent of these cases.
The inspector found improvements had been made over the past ten years by the police in how they respond and investigate VAWG crimes — but said “significant, system-wide reform is urgently required”.
Ms Billingham said: “When a crime has taken place, there needs to be a seamless approach across the criminal justice system to make sure that the best support is in place for the victim, that investigations are timely and robust, and strong cases are built, and that the perpetrator is brought to justice.
“Regrettably, our inspection evidence shows this isn’t always the case.”
The report praised the rollout of further police powers, including domestic violence protection orders, and new legislation such as the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which expanded definition of domestic abuse to include coercive or controlling behaviour.
The report said there should be a shift in police culture away from prioritising early closure or investigations being discontinued towards getting the best outcome for the victim, whether or not that outcome is within the criminal justice system.
- On average, seven women a month are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales.
- Twice as many women are victims of stalking compared to men, and over three times as many women are victims of domestic abuse-related stalking.
- There were 13,692 cases of coercive and controlling behaviour reported to the police between October 2019 and September 2020 and 10,360 offences of exposure and voyeurism in the year ending September 2020.
- In the 12 months to March 2020, police in England and Wales received approximately 1,150,000 domestic abuse calls — an average of 130 calls an hour.
- In an average 24-hour period, there were around 3,100 domestic abuse calls, resulting in control room staff recording some 3,000 incidents and 2,200 crimes every day.
- The police recorded more than 2.5 times as many sexual assaults on girls under the age of 13 compared to boys under the age of 13 in the year ending March 2019.
- Since 2004, police have consistently recorded nearly double the number of sexual assaults on girls in comparison with boys.
- In June, Ofsted found “extremely high” levels of sexual harassment and online sexual abuse between children, with girls being much more likely to be subject to sexist name-calling, online abuse, “up-skirting” and unwanted touching in school corridors.