Women’s faith in police ‘low’ due to officers failing to tackle domestic abuse in own ranks, Victims Commissioner says

‘The police are not dealing with abusers in their own ranks. This wipes out women’s faith in them,’ Dame Vera Baird tells The Independent

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Wednesday 21 July 2021 12:07 BST
Dame Vera argues pandemic has unleashed 'chaos' on criminal justice system
Dame Vera argues pandemic has unleashed 'chaos' on criminal justice system (PA Archive)

Women's faith in the police is “low” due to officers failing to tackle domestic abuse in their own ranks, the Victims Commissioner has warned.

Dame Vera Baird QC, the commissioner for England and Wales, told The Independent mistrust in the police has grown in the wake of the tragic murder of Sarah Everard this spring.

Dame Vera also argued the pandemic has unleashed “chaos” in the criminal justice system by exacerbating the backlog of court cases which makes it harder for rape victims to obtain justice.

She said nothing has changed since she issued a grave warning a year ago that rape has effectively been decriminalised due to a collapse in prosecutions – adding that the situation for victims had become even worse since then.

Dame Vera said: “Faith in the police is not at its best. Particularly as it was a police officer who killed Sarah Everard. And then the offensive graphic a Met Police officer involved in the Everard murder investigation allegedly sent via Whatsapp.

“And then it recently emerged the police are not dealing with abusers in their own ranks. This wipes out women’s faith in them being willing to tackle sexual violence and domestic abuse.”

A recent Channel 4 investigation discovered one woman each week is reporting police officers for seriously abusing them or their children.

Roughly 129 women got in touch with the Centre for Women's Justice, a leading charity, alleging their partner in the police has subjected them to domestic abuse. The claims include rape, physical violence and coercive control.

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.

Dame Vera, who published her annual report on Wednesday, warned “justice delayed is justice denied” as she noted the Crown Court backlog means some victims of sexual violence now endure “years of unacceptable delay” in their fight to get justice.

She added: “If you do make a report and mobilise the police, it is not going to get to court for a long-time. Victims want to stop treading water, waiting for their life to catch up.

“They are bound to think at some point I’m alive I have a future and drop out of cases. Especially when the criminal justice system is run by people who on the face of it don’t much care.

“People think – I just want to get on with my life. This is worrying when so many the offences are serial offences. We have a got to a bottom note. A low point.”

Dame Vera, whose report will be laid in Parliament, argued there has been an “epidemic in the pandemic” of sexual assault, domestic abuse and even murders of women. Violence against women and girls has gained increasing attention in the past year, she added.

Every four days in England and Wales, a woman is killed by a current or ex-partner.

She added: “Following the awful killing of Sarah Everard, the horrific murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and the collective outpourings from young women and girls on the Everyone’s Invited website, violence against women and girls has understandably been high on the agenda.

“Last year, I warned that we were witnessing the effective decriminalisation of rape. Nothing in the past year has swayed me from that perspective. The uncomfortable truth is that if you are raped in Britain today, your chances of seeing justice are slim.”

She said the rape review, published by the government last month, demonstrated “a clear desire from government and ministers to fix the justice system for rape survivors”.

But Dame Vera warned the review was conducted by the “very government departments and agencies responsible for the poor state of rape in the first place” and is therefore “riddled with compromise solutions”.

She added: “The proposals are underwhelming, both in their scope and resourcing, and represent some real missed opportunities to bring speedy and reflective change.”

Her comments come after mounting anger over violence against women and girls, after the tragic death of Everard saw women sharing personal stories of sexual harassment and assault in public spaces earlier in the year.

Last week, Wayne Couzens was sacked from the Metropolitan Police after being convicted of the murder, rape and kidnap of Everard.

The UK’s domestic abuse commissioner recently warned a “culture of misogyny” is entrenched in the police, and a wide-ranging review into how they deal with domestic abuse cases must be carried out.

In a letter to the home secretary, Priti Patel, exclusively seen by The Independent at the end of March, 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”.

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.

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