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Domestic violence and the problems of poor policing

by Karen Clark-Stapleton - UK

(for any comments, please contact Brian Risman, Publisher of The Law Journal UK)

Domestic violence. What happens when the police get it wrong and this is perpetuated by inadequate case preparation by the Crime Prosecution Service?

Domestic violence is an issue where power and control by men over women is at the very core. It has been recorded that three out of five victims of domestic rape have made previous reports of domestic violence to police, and that the level of escalation of violence can and does rise rapidly.

Taking this and the close proximity of the perpetrator to the victim into account, it must be recognized that the next incident could potentially be a murder.

Statistics suggest that, worldwide, up to 52 per cent of women have been assaulted by a partner at some time in their lives. According to the World Health Organisation, such violence causes as many deaths among women as cancer, traffic accidents and malaria combined. Police fail to record more than half of the domestic violence crimes reported to them. These figures are even worse if the perpetrator is a serving police officer or a retired police officer.

An investigation by two official watchdogs uncovered significant inconsistencies in the way police forces and prosecutors handle the incidents.

In the UK two women are murdered every week as a result of domestic violence, and one woman in four has been, or will be, subjected to domestic abuse at some stage in her life.

In 1999, 54,000 women and children fled from violent homes to refuges and the numbers have soared dramatically since then.

In 2000, the Women's Aid National Domestic Violence Helpline dealt with more than 35,000 calls - the helpline received almost the same amount of calls (32,600) in the first six months of 2001. A new survey has revealed that UK police forces receive more than 1,300 calls every day - more than 570,000 each year, relating to domestic violence.

Unfortunately one official report said just a quarter of incidents sampled - 118 out of 463 - were recorded as crimes by police, but inspectors estimated the true total should have been more than double, at 260.

The joint study by the police and Crown Prosecution Service inspectorates found that policies to tackle the crime were often not matched by action on the ground. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate produced 22 recommendations to improve the way the crime is handled by the criminal justice system. "All too often, policy and rhetoric are not matched on the ground by effective responses and solid investigative practice," said the report.

However the report failed to address how the CPS deal with the real victims of this crime when the police actually mistakenly arrest the victim and leave children alone and at risk in the home with the actual perpetrator.

Variations between police forces meant that arrest rates at domestic violence incidents ranged from 13 per cent to 63 per cent whereupon the police would have you believe that the figure is more than 80 per cent.

Systems need to be put in place to analyse why an arrest is not made in each individual case, especially if it involves a police officer sooner rather than later, and much more needs to be done to minimise the harm done to children who have witnessed domestic violence in the home.

The Crown Prosecution Service needs to look at all cases brought by the police and read the case file not merely take a cursory look when these cases are brought to trial.

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