In a letter to the home secretary, Priti Patel, seen by The Independent, Nicole Jacobs said there is a “persistent” lack of confidence among women to report domestic abuse and sexual assault to the police, and that this hinders bringing “dangerous, serial perpetrators to justice”.
Her comments come amid mounting anger over the violence against women and girls, after the tragic death of Sarah Everard saw women sharing personal stories of sexual harassment and assault in public spaces.
Ms Jacobs said she still too often heard “horrendous examples of when the police have failed women” – adding she is “deeply concerned” that the fact a serving police officer has been charged with murder will compound women’s lack of confidence in how the police will respond when they report similar crimes.
Data shows that just 18 per cent of women feel confident enough to go the police to report domestic abuse perpetrated by their partner.
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“Sarah’s death has served as a poignant reminder of the fear and concerns that so many women have regarding their personal safety and the threat of male violence,” Ms Jacobs said in her letter.
She said all elements of the criminal justice system required “reform”, but that an emphasis on the “police as the first point of contact for most victims and survivors” was critical.
Her letter states: “I am calling on the government to include a wide-scale review into the police handling of domestic abuse cases, with the aim of ensuring that the police response matches the severity and prevalence of domestic abuse in order to rebuild the trust of women to report cases.”
Prosecutions and convictions for sexual assault and rape reached record lows last year – with government data showing in the year to March 2020 that just 1.4 per cent of 55,130 rape cases recorded by police had resulted in prosecution.
The number of domestic abuse prosecutions plummeted by almost a quarter in the last three months of 2019 in comparison with the year before.
“It is essential that specific measures are taken to help rebuild trust among women in the most marginalised communities,” Ms Jacobs said in the letter. “These should include creating a firewall between the police and immigration enforcement to foster confidence among migrant survivors in coming forward to the police.”
The commissioner said the review into the police should look into forces’ policies on how perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse in the force are managed, as well as tracking serial perpetrators and joining forces with specialist organisations and other statutory bodies.
The promised recruitment of 20,000 new officers provides a key chance for officers to have a proper understanding of how domestic abuse plays out from the beginning of their time in the force, she said, and promotion in the police should be tied to experience of working with victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Her warning comes after a year in which domestic abuse has soared in the wake of lockdown measures introduced to curb the spread of Covid. A report released by MPs at the end of April last year revealed that domestic abuse killings in the first 21 days of the initial lockdown were double the total of an average period in the past decade.
Ms Jacobs wants the inquiry into how the police handle domestic abuse to be part of the review of violence against women and girls and of policing that Ms Patel announced in the wake of Ms Everard’s death and the police’s aggressive and heavy-handed response to a vigil for her on Clapham Common.
Last year, The Independent reported on lawyers warning that police officers were enabled to abuse their partners with impunity by a “locker room culture” which turns a blind eye to domestic abuse.
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.
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