Police responded proactively to domestic abuse during pandemic
The police responded proactively to prevent domestic abuse and protect victims during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report has found.
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Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said the pandemic had put domestic abuse victims at greater risk, but it praised the police for making good use of technology and working with partners to find new ways to support victims. For example, some police forces:
- sent links for virtual appointments to victims which left no trace on the victim’s phone or computer, which their abuser may check;
- worked with businesses, including hairdressers and banks, to improve understanding of the signs of abuse or provide a safe space for victims;
- ran media campaigns to promote the “silent solution” system for emergency contact, where someone calling 999 can press 55 if they are not able to speak; and
- used online platforms to disclose information to potential victims about a partner’s history of abuse, where previously this had to take place at a police station.
The inspectorate said that while the police had innovated throughout the pandemic, it still had some concerns about how the police responds to domestic abuse longer-term.
HMICFRS found that on average, three in every four domestic abuse crimes reported to the police are closed without the perpetrator being charged – a situation which has gradually worsened over the last five years.
The inspectorate also said it had significant concerns about court backlogs, which whilst not for the police to solve, may increase the likelihood of victims disengaging from the criminal justice process.
HMICFRS has recommended that the police should:
- immediately review why so many domestic abuse cases are discontinued, and whether more can be done to support victims who are particularly vulnerable;
- ensure that domestic abuse victims who are waiting for court hearings are safeguarded and can continue to access support;
- work with partners and domestic abuse victims to understand why many victims choose not to report to the police, and to breakdown barriers to reporting; and
- ensure that new practices adopted during the pandemic, such as online contact with victims, are properly monitored for quality and safety.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Zoë Billingham said:
“Victims of domestic abuse were at greater risk during the COVID-19 pandemic when lockdown restrictions made it even harder to escape their abusers. The police responded proactively by communicating with known victims, reaching-in to those locked down, rather than waiting for them to reach out. We saw brilliant examples of forces up and down the country using innovative new ways to keep victims safe during the pandemic. I applaud forces for this. I also want to thank frontline officers who bravely risked their own safety to attend domestic abuse incidents throughout the lockdown periods.
“The police have shown they are dedicated to protecting victims of domestic abuse, but we still have some concerns about the longer-term response. While we know that not all victims want their case to go to court – and in fact some crimes are reported by third parties – we want the police to take the right action, using the powers only they have to protect victims. It’s a huge concern that on average, three in every four domestic abuse related crimes are closed by the police without the perpetrator being charged. Many forces are unable to explain the reasons why so many perpetrators are not being brought to justice. Today we are calling on all forces to immediately review why so many domestic abuse cases are being closed without any further action taken and to take steps to address this.
“Despite these concerns, there has been a positive shift over the last few years with the police prioritising domestic abuse, and victims should not be discouraged from reporting. The police have improved their understanding, identification and recording of domestic abuse, while continuing to find new and innovative ways to support victims.”
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- For further information, the HMICFRS Press Office can be contacted from 9:00am – 5:00pm Monday to Friday at HMICPressOffice@hmicfrs.gov.uk or on 07836 217729.
- HMICFRS is due to publish two new reports in the coming months, which will revisit and expand on elements of this report and assess how the police, their partners and the wider criminal justice system could improve their response to offences against women and girls.
- These two reports are:
- a thematic inspection on how the police and the Crown Prosecution Service responds to rape; and
- a broader review of how the police keep women and girls safe.