Violence Against Women and Girls must be considered as serious, violent crime

The new Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, currently working its way through Parliament, includes a new statutory duty that offers an opportunity  to tackle the root causes of crime. The proposed Serious Violence Prevention Duty will require a range of public bodies including the police, health authorities, schools and other criminal justice agencies to work together to prevent and tackle serious violence, with the aim of reducing the numbers of victims and perpetrators crime. This represents a critical opportunity to implement an early intervention, public health focused approach to tackling serious violent crime, rather than relying solely on traditional criminal justice levers, which only come into play in the aftermath of an offence.

As the Bill currently stands, however, there is a significant omission from the definition of serious violent crime for the purpose of this new duty; Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). This is despite the fact that one third of all violence recorded by the police is domestic abuse-related,[1] and the most common type of violence to be experienced on a repeated basis.[2] Almost half of all female homicides (and 8% of male homicides) are domestic homicides.[3]

By including VAWG in the duty we have a vital opportunity to tackle the drivers of gendered violence. We recently met with the team working in Nottingham’s Violence Reduction Unit who are taking exactly this approach. They are one of the few Violence Reduction Units in the country to focus specifically on domestic abuse. Central to their prevention-based strategy is behaviour change work for perpetrators, work on the relationship between domestic abuse and adverse childhood experiences and targeted interventions to tackle harmful behaviours developed by young boys and support for young girls affected by sexual exploitation.

This is exactly the type of work we need to see scaled up and embedded in police and wider public agency work throughout the country to eliminate domestic abuse and VAWG.  There is currently, however, no statutory underpinning in any other form of legislation for this type of preventative approach.

The new Serious Violence Prevention duty is designed to be flexible enough to allow individual forces to focus specifically on the crime types that most effect their local area. However, compared to other crime types such as gang violence we know that there are no significant regional variations per head in rates of domestic abuse and other forms of VAWG. It cannot therefore be left to individual forces to opt out of including it.

There are serious concerns about culture and attitudes throughout the criminal justice system, including the police, regarding the distinction between violence that takes place in the home or at the hands of an intimate partner as less serious than violence perpetrated in the public sphere by a stranger. To give an example, only around half of forces have opted to take up DA matters specialist training on domestic abuse, and less than half of the 18 Violence Reduction Units name domestic abuse in their strategy. Only last year, the chief constable of West Midlands Police, the second largest force in the country, said too much time was spent “policing relationships.” By including VAWG on the face of the Bill the government will send a robust message to the public and police forces across the country about the need to prioritise preventing and tackling domestic abuse as a form of serious violence.  

Home Office draft guidance says that local areas could consider VAWG as part of the new duty if they choose to – the implication being that this is not expected. VAWG, as a form of serious violence, should never be an ‘added extra’. Given that domestic abuse flagged cases make up such a significant proportion of offences against the person and homicides, surely any force that doesn’t consider it within the new duty will be failing to meet their responsibility to protect the public. What’s more, the Bill itself does go as far as explicitly including violence against property and threats of violence to ensure that all areas are clear that this is a form of serious violent crime that must be considered as part of the new duty.

By not doing the same for VAWG, we are missing the opportunity to reduce the number of victims of domestic abuse, and in so many cases, the opportunity to save lives.

[1] Office for National Statistics (ONS), The nature of violent crime in England and Wales: Year ending March 2020, Section 7, Groups of people most likely to be victims of violent crime.

[2] Ibid, Section 6, Levels of Repeat Victimisation.

[3] ONS, Homicide in England and Wales: year ending 2019.