Police failing to protect rape and abuse victims, says super-complaint

Data from 11 frontline services shows forces failing to use legal powers, says group

Police are “systematically failing” to protect victims of domestic and sexual violence, according to campaigners in the second super-complaint made to a national watchdog.

The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) has accused police forces of failing to use existing powers to deal with domestic abuse, harassment, stalking and rape.

In a super-complaint to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the group makes four key claims focusing on bail for rape suspects and failures linked to non-molestation, domestic violence and restraint orders.

“Centre for Women’s Justice has become concerned that the various legal measures intended to provide protection to women are not being applied properly on the ground,” the document says.

“This super-complaint addresses four legal powers available to the police in detail and explores the extent to which, and the reasons why, they are not being used adequately. When all the failures are taken cumulatively, CWJ believes that there is a systemic failure to meet the state’s duty to safeguard a highly vulnerable section of the population.”

The campaigners, who gathered information from 11 frontline services, claim most rape suspects are now released without bail conditions, meaning they are left unsupervised. One sexual violence survivors service said that of 120 active cases, only five suspects were on bail.

Changes in the law, which came into force in April 2017, mean suspects can only be released on bail for a maximum of 28 days. In reality, this means many are actually released “under investigation”, where no conditions can be imposed.

The complaint also alleges police treat breaches of non-molestation orders, civil orders made by the family court, as “trivial”. This comes despite the fact breaking them attracts a maximum five-year jail term. Campaigners argue that domestic violence protection notices and orders, which are another way of restricting contact with a victim but that can be pursued without their evidence or support, are rarely used.

The complaint claims police and prosecutors often do not apply for a restraint order at the end of criminal proceedings.

Nogah Ofer, the solicitor from CWJ who prepared the super-complaint, said: “The system is currently failing women. We call on the police inspectorate, and the other police oversight bodies, to put protection of women at the top of their agenda and take robust action to ensure that all the various legal powers that exist are actually used in practice.

“Police units dealing with domestic abuse and sexual offences are chronically under-resourced, and police guidance, training and supervision all need to be improved.”

In the year to March 2018, there were more than 500,000 domestic abuse crimes recorded. However, the CWJ said only 5,600 DVPOs (domestic violence protection orders) were applied for.

The super-complaint system, covering police forces in England and Wales, was launched in November. It was first used in December by the human rights campaign groups Liberty and Southall Black Sisters over the “potentially unlawful” police practice of sharing data on crime victims with Home Office immigration officials. It allows organisations to raise concerns on behalf of the public and confront systemic issues.

Contributor

Sarah Marsh and agency

The GuardianTramp

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