How we will deliver on our commitment to the safety of women and girls
Following recent events, Victims Lead and North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan sets out the APCC's position on Violence Against Women and Girls:
The shocking killing of Sarah Everard in south London has rightly sparked a wave of anguish - and anger about safety on the streets, the everyday abuse and harassment suffered by women and girls, and the failings of the criminal justice system to deal with perpetrators.
The APCC believes that now is the time for these concerns to be addressed by a fundamental change of approach to Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). We need a single, comprehensive, cross-government VAWG Strategy to tackle domestic violence, sexual offending, and abuse on the streets. The Strategy should be overseen by a Cabinet Minister, coordinated nationally, and involve police, local authorities, health, education and welfare agencies working together, with communities, to deliver change on the ground.
But it’s imperative that the views of women and girls inform the design and delivery of the Strategy and the services that flow from it.
Just as our efforts to combat serious violence are now centred around early intervention as part of a ‘public health’ approach, so the VAWG Strategy should be underpinned by prevention. That must include a wide-ranging education programme for boys and young men, focusing on attitudes, behaviour and healthy relationships, starting from their early years.
The Government’s proposals for an Online Harms Bill provide an opportunity to deal with the distorted depictions of women which are fostered through access to online pornography. And fresh investment should be made available for programmes targeted at domestic abuse perpetrators, such as the Drive scheme, which has been trialled in a number of areas.
We’d encourage local authorities to work with local police to ensure they fully play their part in the Strategy. Together they should review existing measures such as Public Spaces Protection Orders to deter the harassment and abuse of women and girls on the streets, in parks and town centres. Enforceable through fixed penalty notices, the Orders were designed to tackle anti-social behaviour but consideration should be given to adapting them to focus on women’s safety.
The Strategy would benefit hugely by harnessing the skills and experience of those we represent - 40 Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), along with the Mayor of London’s Office for Policing and Crime, and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. Each is well-placed to understand and assess the needs of their local area; they already provide vital support for VAWG victims by commissioning dedicated support services, including for those affected by domestic abuse, stalking and exploitation.
However, it’s vital that the Strategy addresses the weaknesses of the current complex commissioning process, under which funding for services is allocated only on a short-term basis. This is hugely counter-productive and creates uncertainty for everyone involved. The VAWG Strategy must commit to sustainable funding models for victims’ services to provide stability, facilitate capacity building, and prevent an unnecessary ‘cliff edge’ for providers towards the end of every grant round.
Along with the Strategy, we recommend a series of sweeping changes to the criminal justice system to make women feel safer, give victims the confidence to report allegations and ensure cases are brought to court more rapidly.
As a start, we believe misogyny should be made a hate crime, so that abuse, harassment and assaults motivated by a person’s sex or gender can be logged, measured, and dealt with appropriately. We are heartened by the Government’s announcement of pilot projects in police forces and will make sure PCCs monitor the scheme and build on any learning from it.
The APCC would also like to see sexual harassment made a specific criminal offence; this would send a powerful message about unacceptable behaviour and enable police to deal more effectively with offenders. We are hopeful that the cross-Government review on rape, which is expected to be published in the summer, will bring about the fundamental reforms necessary to increase charging rates and convictions. But while we await the findings, action can begin in two key areas:
- Firstly, Home Office funding should be provided to help police transform their approach to rape investigations.
- And secondly, timeliness targets should be introduced to ensure rape allegations are given priority by police, prosecutors and judges; it’s clear cases are taking far too long, risking the collapse of prosecutions and prolonging the worry and trauma for victims.
The APCC and its members have an overriding commitment to the safety of women and girls, the importance of which has been underscored by the events of the past few weeks. The changes that we are recommending will go some way towards that objective, and PCCs will hold Chief Constables to account to ensure that forces use the powers, tools and resources they have to achieve it.