Domestic violence is frighteningly common, with recent figures suggesting a verbal or physical attack every 37 seconds. The majority of sustained, repeated domestic violence happens to women. The true extent of the problem is still not known, as domestic violence thrives on secrecy, and the majority of cases go unreported to police. In fact, more than half of women say they would not report an experience of domestic violence to the police.
At least part of this reason is likely to be down to what the abuser is doing: abusers isolate their victims from support, which makes the abuser even more central to the victim’s life, and even harder for victims to escape. However, part of the blame must rest on the shoulders of the police.
A recording of a conversation from the phone of a woman who reported domestic violence has revealed exactly the level of insensitivity and misogyny that many women fear when dealing with the police. Officers were recorded referring to the woman as a “f****** bitch” and a “f****** slag”, before quipping that since she wasn’t in they might as well “go back, f****** draft the statement ourselves and then just get the bitch to sign it.” What these officers said was horrific on so many levels. Their attitude throughout the recording is clear: they apparently do not care for what the woman wants, but, rather getting it done as quickly as possible, even apparently joking that it could involve forgery. Their language speaks volumes, as they casually bandy about misogynistic slurs in reference to an alleged victim of domestic violence.
This latest incident will, no doubt, add to the litany of reasons many women have to distrust the police. Institutional racism is still rife, and revelations are still pouring out on the aftermath of which, to many, may reflect police attitude to working class people. It is hardly surprising, then, if factors such as ethnicity and class are felt to also create barriers for women experiencing domestic violence.
It is clear that across the board, the police in some instances need to get better. At present, stories such as this provide examples of where they are apparently failing to respect women, and I doubt they have done themselves any favours by getting caught spitting misogyny on tape. It has been fifteen years since the Macpherson report was published, and many feel that the police are no closer to curbing their institutional racism, so it could be that there will be a very long wait for examples of institutional misogyny to stop.
Too often, when the police are caught doing wrong, the institution is excused. “A few bad apples”, they say. Even if that is true, the rest of that expression points out that those few bad apples spoil the entire barrel. The barrel is apparently rotten through: police are referring fewer and fewer incidents of violence against women to the CPS, which reflects not a reduction in crime, but a reduction in building cases.
It is vitally important that we are critical of the police as an institution, and put pressure on them to fix themselves. It is also important that we recognise why so many women may not want to go to the police, and support them nonetheless.