UK & World News
Domestic Abuse Victims Being Failed By Police
Police forces in England and Wales have been told their response to domestic violence is not good enough, and that substantial and urgent reforms are needed.
A review ordered by Home Secretary Theresa May found many victims of violence felt they were not believed, that some officers were unsympathetic or had a poor attitude, and that other crimes were treated as a higher priority.
In a review of 600 cases, the report found that in half of incidents where the victim had received visible injuries, the police had failed to take photographs as evidence.
The findings prompted one charity to call for a public inquiry into how the state deals with victims.
Mrs May called the report "disturbing" and has promised to chair regular meetings to ensure the recommendations are implemented.
The report, by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, found that in a 12-month period there were more than one million calls to the police for help in dealing with a domestic abuse incident, that six women were murdered every month by their partners or ex-partners and that domestic violence made up 8% of all crimes committed.
But despite those shocking figures, the issue is not treated as a high enough priority by force commanders, or individual officers.
The report concluded that while senior officers will talk about it being a high priority, that view does not translate into action on the ground.
Zoe Billingham, the Inspector of Constabulary who wrote the report, said: "Police leaders told us that talking domestic abuse is important, but in the majority of forces it is a priority on paper only and not in practice.
"It is deeply disappointing that the stated intent is not translating into an operational reality. Every 30 seconds the police receive a call for assistance relating to domestic abuse.
"We believe that the findings of this report should be a wake-up call for the police service; domestic abuse must no longer be the poor relation to other policing activity."
HMIC monitored police officers at work and spoke to victims.
One woman told them: "Last year one officer came out and his radio was going and I heard him say 'It's a DV (domestic violence), we'll be a few minutes and we'll go to the next job'. And I thought - thanks a lot, that's my life."
Another said: "They didn't take it seriously until something happened in public. That's what happened to me - me and my kids living in fear, being locked in rooms and stuff - police not taking it seriously until he hit me in a club in the middle of everybody. Then they were there like that and arrested him like that. It was no different to what we experienced behind closed doors."
Another contributor to the report told Sky News of her experience when she called to report that an ex-boyfriend had broken into her apartment and assaulted her.
"The response I had from them, from their first officer onwards, was appalling. The officer had seen the perpetrator before me, and he gave them a false version of events, and by the time they came to see me they weren't interested in what I had to say. He showed total disinterest. They are supposed to be impartial, unbiased and he almost had it in for me.
"I said to him, I don't know why you're treating me like this. You haven't taken a statement from me. You haven't looked around. I had marks on my arm where I had been assaulted. And he walked out of my flat and slammed my door shut. That is how insensitive his approach was."
Another victim articulated her perception that the police were more likely to listen to a man, even if he is accused of being violent.
"Across all my experiences with the police, both positive and negative, one connecting factor is they listen to the man," she said. "Even when he is the perpetrator. They always listen to the man."
Although 79% of 500 victims who responded to an online survey said they were satisfied with the initial police response, 14% said officers were unhelpful and a third said they felt no safer or less safe despite contacting the police.
Victims described a lack of empathy from those sent to investigate, and HMIC concluded that it was a "lottery" whether they got an officer who was properly trained to deal with the complaint.
Mrs May said the report was disturbing and demanded a response.
She told Sky News: "It shows significant failings of visible police leadership. It shows a lack of the right attitude to victims and it also shows sadly police even failing to gather evidence of the crimes that were being committed.
"So we need to see a change of police culture and that has to start from the top. It must be top-down throughout policing. What this report shows is that this is about the culture and attitude of the police. It is not good enough.
"This is about people's lives. Too many women lose their lives as a result of domestic violence. The police attitude needs to change."
Men are victims of domestic violence as well as women, but 96% of cases deemed "high-risk" are women.
HMIC say they found no evidence that female officers were better at dealing with the issue than their male counterparts.
While Lancashire Constabulary was praised for its approach, four other forces were criticised and re-inspections ordered - Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire, Bedfordshire and Greater Manchester.
While most forces have a specialist domestic violence department, Bedfordshire Police employed just one individual with that specific responsibility.
Sandra Horley, the chief executive of Refuge, said: "It is a national disgrace that decades after Refuge opened the world's first safe house for victims of domestic violence, the police are still not responding appropriately to women and children's cries for help."
Refuge says the wider investigation into how the police, local authorities and the Crown Prosecution Service deal with the subject should take the form of a public inquiry.
The HMIC report details 11 recommendations including a national oversight team to meet and report on progress every three months and for every force to publish an action plan on improving its approach.