We know 25% of women and 16% of men are affected by domestic violence during their adult lifetimes. Furthermore, all businesses can use the legal obligation to support staff health, safety and wellness to better protect their employees. The 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence campaign is encouraging businesses to support victims of domestic violence.
Crest is delighted to be supporting the campaign. We know that there is no quick fix to end domestic abuse. It’s everyone’s business and it will take all of us, as individuals and agencies, to make it stop. In this guest blog, the newly appointed Chief Executive of SafeLives (http://www.safelives.org.uk/), Suzanne Jacob looks at the role the police and justice sector need to play to protect and support victims and effectively tackling domestic violence.
We should all warmly welcome last week’s ONS data release which shows that the self-reported prevalence of domestic abuse is down to nearly 6%. It’s also welcome that, as a proportion of the total who say they have experienced domestic abuse, the number of people in contact with the police is rising, though still not enough to impact on the significant under-reporting of domestic violence which has been stubbornly flat for a long time.
There will be many reasons why someone doesn’t speak to the police about the experience they’re having, from not recognising that experience as abuse or a crime, to considering that the consequences of police involvement with their family are too uncertain, risky or disruptive. Some will take notice of the reality or perception of conviction rates and sentencing decisions. It remains far more likely that a perpetrator of abuse will be convicted of the low level offence of criminal damage, rather than one or more serious offences attracting a custodial sentence.
Police force data, commented on by HMICFRS in their report released last month, reveals the same mixed picture as this week’s ONS release. The capturing of domestic violence data and analysis of it, remains mixed at best, leaving an uncertain picture of what people can expect if they do engage with the police.
In some places, the force is clearly taking seriously the call for positive action, with a relatively high rate of arrest. However, this doesn’t necessarily translate into a higher charge or conviction rate. ‘Evidential difficulties’ are high and include for example a victim withdrawing from the process, non-attendance or retraction of evidence. They are in fact nearly 20% higher than in other types of violent offences which points to ongoing wider issues within the criminal justice system when it comes to dealing with domestic violence cases.
Special measures have been available for over fifteen years to support victims, including, for example, victim and witness care services, separate waiting rooms, video linked evidence, screens in the courtroom. They have long proven their worth. And yet the use of them is still not a matter of routine. There are wider issues too – misunderstanding what it means to be ‘victim-led’, for example, or responding to what feels like contradictory guidance on use of detention in custody.
We know that ongoing support from a specialist service also makes it more likely that someone will persist to see their case through the criminal justice process. However, the services themselves are sometimes prevented from doing so either by i) how the service has been commissioned and the work they are allowed to do ii) the length of time it takes for a case to get to court and be resolved. In the latter case, this may be far longer than a specialist service is able to stay engaged because of the very high number of people who need their help.
Finally, criminal justice remedies will not work for all situations and all families. In recognition of that, the Government introduced a series of civil measures, including protection orders. DVPOs are granted in the vast majority of cases when forces ask for them (over 90%). But despite offering creative ways to fetter the behaviour of a perpetrator and provide family support and respite, they remain under-used.
The Government is set to publish its consultation on a new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill which is expected to look at existing legislation and how victims are treated through the current criminal justice system. We are been encouraged to hear about the ‘radical overhaul’ of legislation that is expected and hope a new Domestic Violence Act will create a sense of urgency and focus about holding the perpetrators of abuse to account across both the criminal and family courts.