Domestic violence is one of the biggest killers in this country. One woman in England and Wales dies from it every three days. Two every week. Over a hundred a year. It is a form of terrorism which takes place within homes and communities around the UK, silently hiding under the face of family life and domesticity.
Yet, unlike other forms of terrorism which result in fewer deaths, no emergency government conferences will be called any time soon, few specialist strategies are devised and the most the government deigns to say on the subject is that, yes, domestic violence is terrible but it is the work of a few individual monsters in individual families and it’s up to individual police forces to deal with.
But this localised approach of individual police forces simply bumbling along and giving it their best shot is scandalously inadequate. This fact has never been revealed more starkly than in a new report which has found that police are letting down three quarters of vulnerable victims who seek their help. The investigation by the police inspectorate found that of the 43 forces in England and Wales, none were “outstanding” in their practices and just 12 were deemed to be “good.” It found that high quality data was lacking and approaches were “patchy”, unreliable and inconsistent; resulting in a “postcode lottery” whereby a victim’s treatment varies wildly depending on where they live.
“Vulnerable victims” as described in the report are primarily victims of domestic violence, elderly people, children, people suffering from physical or learning disabilities. They are the people to whom the state owes the most protection and support. Yet it’s precisely these people who are falling prey to an indifferent and amateur system which is wholly inadequate to protect them.
This inadequate and piecemeal approach is fundamentally linked to the distorted way in which we frame gendered crimes. Centuries of patriarchy have encouraged us to consider domestic and sexual violence as terrible but unconnected, unexplained private oddities which happen within individual families. It distorts and masks the issue by framing such acts as unrelated and unstoppable ‘freak incidents’. It denies how widespread the issue is and how it is sanctioned and facilitated socially and institutionally.
The police forces’ piecemeal and patchy strategies reflect this way of viewing such crimes. It is indicative of a culture which is in denial of the extent of domestic and sexual abuse and so treats it as a neighbourhood policing issue at a local level. However, we owe it to such victims to consider the issue for what it really is: culturally codified and socially sanctioned at a national level by a male-dominated society which benefits from male power and female fear.
Policing powers are devolved locally to Scotland and Northern Ireland; however, policing remains centralised under Westminster's remit for England and Wales. We need to develop and enforce centralised, sophisticated strategies for addressing such abuse across the country, enforcing them in England and Wales and encouraging the devolved institutions in Scotland and Northern Ireland to do the same. Just as we develop national strategies for approaching other forms of terrorism, we need to identify perpetrators of gendered crimes as existing as ideological extremism - namely misogyny.
1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Many men are also victims, often afraid to contact the police amid fear that they will not be taken seriously because of toxic patriarchal notions that ‘real men’ are untouchable and incapable of being victims. Domestic violence is not just a ‘neighbourhood policing issue’ but a national emergency. It is not something which is randomly enacted by a few ‘monsters’ but something which is embedded structurally and socially within our society by how we view men and women.
For any man or woman to report to the police a domestic or sexual crime is a tremendously difficult thing to do in our climate of indifference, disbelief and victim-blaming. The point at which a victim reaches out to the police should be the stage at which they finally get support and help, rather than their nightmare continuing at the hands of a well-intentioned but fundamentally flawed and blinkered police system.
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