Stopping violence against women should be considered as much of a priority for the police as combating terrorism, a major report has found.
That is the recommendation from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) which found “problems, unevenness and inconsistencies” in the police’s response to the “epidemic” of violence against female victims in the UK.
The watchdog report was commissioned by Home Secretary Priti Patel in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard.
It demands a “radical shift” in the way crimes against women and girls are prioritised and points to several areas where policing must improve.
These include “grave concerns” about the number of cases closed without charge, “major gaps” in the data recorded on offences, and the “staggering variation” across police forces in England and Wales with regards to dealing with domestic abuse.
There is an “epidemic of violence against women and girls”, according to Zoe Billingham, HM Inspector of Constabulary.
She said: “There are 1.6 million victims of domestic abuse and there are crimes like stalking, voyeurism and online abuse where eight out of 10 victims are women or girls.”
Despite the scale of the problem “very often violence against women and girls doesn’t actually feature as the top three” priorities for police forces.
“Given the scale of the epidemic… it’s vital that it does,” she added.
The report reveals “huge” discrepancies in how police forces use the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS), which provides information about a person’s criminal history to potential victims.
Just over half of “right to know” DVDS applications made by police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2021 resulted in disclosure to a potential victim.
Meanwhile, roughly three out of four domestic abuse cases reported are closed early without the suspect being charged.
Several recommendations are laid out, including a call for the government to consider creating a new statutory duty to protect women and girls in the same way children are given protection.
The report states police cannot work alone to solve these issues and there must be a cross-sector solution involving police, health and education.
Some campaigners say although conversations about female safety are welcome, the report leaves questions unanswered.
Anna Birley is one of the co-founders of the group Reclaim These Streets, which formed after the disappearance of Sarah Everard.
She said the report “focuses a lot on women as victims” and not enough on prevention.
She said more needs to be done to help people “spot some of those early signs of misogyny and tackle them head on… before the worst-case scenario happens”.
“It’s so disheartening that some of the very basic things that they’re asking police forces to do weren’t in place already,” she added.
The report was based on just over 5,000 responses to surveys by – and interviews with – victims, members of the public, police forces and practitioners.
It was commissioned by Ms Patel following the killing of 33-year-old marketing executive Ms Everard near Clapham Common in south London in March.
Her rape and murder, by off-duty Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, prompted widespread outpouring of grief and anger, as well as demonstrations over concern for women’s safety.
Couzens, now sacked by the Met, is due to be sentenced later this month.
The government subsequently announced a crackdown on sexual harassment among its measures to tackle violence against women and girls.