‘Systemic failure’ by police to protect victims of domestic and sexual violence
Campaigners have accused police of “a systemic failure” to protect victims of domestic and sexual violence in only the second super-complaint made to a national watchdog.
The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) claims forces are failing to use existing powers to deal with domestic abuse, harassment, stalking and rape.
Its complaint to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services makes four key claims that focus on bail for rape suspects and failures linked to non-molestation, domestic violence and restraint orders.
The document says: “Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) has become concerned that the various legal measures intended to provide protection to women are not being applied properly on the ground.
“This super-complaint addresses four legal powers available to the police in detail and explores the extent to which, and the reasons why, they are not being used adequately.
“When all the failures are taken cumulatively, CWJ believes that there is a systemic failure to meet the state’s duty to safeguard a highly vulnerable section of the population.”
The campaigners, who gathered information from 11 frontline services, claim that most rape suspects are now released without bail conditions, meaning they are left unsupervised.
One sexual violence survivors service said that of 120 active cases, only five suspects were on bail.
Changes to the law in April 2017 mean that suspects can only be released on bail for a maximum of 28 days, which in practice means many are instead released “under investigation”, where no conditions can be imposed.
The complaint also alleges that police treat breaches of non-molestation orders – civil orders made by the family court – as a “trivial matter”, even though breaking them attracts a maximum five-year jail term.
It claims that domestic violence protection notices and orders, another way of restricting contact with a victim but that can be pursued without their evidence or support, are rarely used.
In the year to March 2018, there were more than 500,000 domestic abuse crimes recorded, but only 5,600 DVPOs were applied for, the CWJ said.
It also claims that police and prosecutors often overlook the chance to apply for a restraint order at the end of criminal proceedings.
Nogah Ofer, the solicitor from CWJ who prepared the super-complaint, said: “The system is currently failing women.
“We call on the police inspectorate, and the other police oversight bodies, to put protection of women at the top of their agenda and take robust action to ensure that all the various legal powers that exist are actually used in practice.
“Police units dealing with domestic abuse and sexual offences are chronically under-resourced, and police guidance, training and supervision all need to be improved.”
The super-complaint system, which covers all police forces in England and Wales and was launched in November, allows organisations to raise concerns on behalf of the public and confront systemic issues.
It was first used in December by human rights campaign groups Liberty and Southall Black Sisters over the “potentially unlawful” police practice of sharing data on crime victims with Home Office immigration officials.
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