Home Office accused of breaking pledge to tackle violence against women

Labour says department has failed to make crimes such as rape, stalking and upskirting a priority

The Home Office has been accused of breaking a promise made after the murder of Sarah Everard to elevate violence against women and girls to the same status as terrorism.

Police forces are not yet required to make a group of misogynistic crimes such as rape, stalking and upskirting a major priority because of a failure to issue a proposed government directive, Labour said.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the government department was breaking a specific pledge made in March to introduce new priorities to protect women and girls.

“This is a shameful failure by the Conservatives to keep the basic promise it made nearly a year ago. Their complete lack of action or urgency is letting women and girls down,” said Cooper.

“Labour pushed for violence against women and girls to be prioritised by police for months. For the Tories to have promised it but failed to deliver is unforgivable, and shows just how weak and unreliable they are.”

The former home secretary Priti Patel said in March that violence against women and girls would be made a strategic policing requirement, a national initiative that sets out what resources police forces must deploy to respond effectively to specific crimes.

The pledge was meant to implement one of the recommendations by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) in a report into violence against women and girls – commissioned as part of the response to the murder of Everard in March 2021 by a serving police officer.

The HMICFRS report noted that other women were recent victims of male violence, including Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, Gracie Spinks and Julia James.

In November 2021, the Times reported that violence against women and girls would be added to the strategic policing requirement.

“It is an acknowledgment by ministers that there is an epidemic of violence against women that needs to be one of the most urgent national crimefighting priorities,” the newspaper said.

Patel said that adding violence against women and girls to the strategic policing requirement placed it on the same strategic footing as terrorism, serious organised crime and child sexual abuse.

“By accepting all of the recommendations in the HMICFRS report I commissioned last year, the government and the police are doubling down to support victims and survivors and punish perpetrators,” she said.

But nine months later, Labour says police forces have not received any formal notification of the long-awaited strategic policing requirement (SPR).

The government’s description of the strategic policing requirement states: “Police and crime commissioners and chief constables are required to have regard to the SPR in exercising their respective roles.” In practice, it means that the issues listed in the requirement must be prioritised as threats by police forces.

The failure to require police to prioritise violent crimes such as rape and domestic abuse is letting women and girls across the country down, Cooper said.

A damning official examination into how police forces tackle rape, released in December, has exposed persistent failings in the criminal justice system, including a failure to track repeat suspects, “explicit victim-blaming” and botched investigations.

Many forces in England and Wales still lack rape and serious sexual offences units, prosecutions have plummeted and there is inconsistency in the quality of training received by officers.

Recorded rapes and sexual offences reached record highs last year. Official crime figures show there were nearly 200 rapes reported to police every day last year, but just 1.5% of rape offences were charged.

The figures also show an increase in the proportion of rape victims dropping out of the criminal justice process. More than 40% of rape victims dropped out last year, double the proportion in 2015.

New domestic abuse figures also show that no arrests were made in two-thirds of domestic abuse related cases last year.

A Home Office spokesperson said the government is committed to tackling violence against women and girls by prioritising prevention, supporting survivors and strengthening the pursuit of perpetrators.

“We have already made significant progress against the police inspectorate’s recommendations, including announcing that violence against women and girls will be set out as a national threat for forces to respond to alongside other threats such as terrorism, serious and organised crime and child sexual abuse as part of the strategic policing requirement,” she said.


Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

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