Exactly one year ago, a damning report criticised the way many of Britain’s police forces treated victims of domestic violence. Head of Women’s Aid, Polly Neate, calls for a shake up of a system that seeks to minimise risk above all else
Police forces in Britain are not listening to victims and failing to follow basic procedures.
That was the damning verdict – one year ago – of a report into police response to domestic violence by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).
Its scathing verdict was the result of a six month-long review of every force in England and Wales. Its findings were both shocking and appalling.
Today is the first anniversary of that report. Although you wouldn’t necessarily know it. 365 days on and very little has changed.
On average, two women a week in England and Wales are still killed at the hands of a partner or ex-partner. The police response to domestic violence has become an urgent issue – one we simply cannot ignore.
One of the most important recommendations HMIC made was that the College of Policing review their method of risk assessment – the widely-used tool which identifies women as ‘high’, ‘medium’ or ‘standard’ risk.
We still await that review with great interest.
But, the problem really lies with the notion of using risk as the sole measure to assess a woman’s need for support.
If being deemed ‘high risk’ is the only ticket to receiving support – as is increasingly the case both inside and outside the criminal justice system – then we are faced with a serious problem.
Where domestic violence is concerned, risk can change in a moment.
Managing risk is not at all the same thing as supporting recovery. Support for victims must be based on understanding their needs, and nurturing and building on their own resources – so they can, in time, live and support themselves independently.
That’s why, one year on from HMIC’s seminal report, we at Women’s Aid are demanding a major rethink of the response to domestic violence, which works for every victim – whether she calls the police or not.
The charity Women’s Aid, which I run, is committed to protecting, supporting and empowering women. The women that we work with – who have survived and thrived in spite of systematic physical and psychological abuse – are testament to the strength of human spirit.
But, sometimes, the very systems which exist to protect victims of domestic violence can actually hinder them, and make it almost impossible to for them to get away from their abusers.
In the very worst cases, these systems can fail them to the end, and they become part of that shocking statistic – one of the two murdered women a week.
We have listened to women who have suffered terrible abuse, and have heard their stories.
Last year, the charity celebrated its 40th anniversary. After four decades we know there is only one approach that will work to achieve the sort of lasting recovery that keeps women and their children safe in the long-term.
That is: to support women and enable them to use their own strengths and resources to work towards recovery. By listening to what will make them feel safe; knowing what is standing between them and freedom from abuse; and working together to overcome those obstacles.
This means understanding what support the woman needs in order to be independent and survive.
If these elements are taken care of? Risk will be, too.
But if we continue to focus, single-mindedly, on minimising risk alone? We neglect to adequately deal with a woman’s needs.
Words alone cannot convey the positive impact that a needs-led approach can have. So, we have created some infographics to do that for us.
Take a moment to follow the journeys and true stories of the three women – Katrina, Sarah, and Yasmin – and discover the difference that a needs-led approach can make.
If we empower women – really empower them – we can transform their lives for good. They are no longer victims of domestic violence. They are survivors.