The police aren’t the only ones failing domestic violence victims – a public enquiry is the only serious response to state sponsored mass murder
Teresa May recently announced that she had ordered an investigation by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary into the policing of domestic violence cases after a slew of cases which appeared to show failings by the police resulting in the murder of a number of women.
Whilst this may sound like a positive step forward it is wholly inadequate and demonstrative of yet another half-hearted attempt to address domestic violence by the government.
Yes the police need to improve their game as cases like Maria Stubbings and others demonstrate but this is only part of the problem. The police are not the only agency who have a responsibility to provide a proper service to victims and an enquiry which focuses only on the police will ignore the failings of the CPS, the Judiciary, Social Services, the NHS and the Voluntary Sector to name but a few.
Jane Clough was murdered whilst her ex-partner was on bail for raping her so this was hardly the fault of the police however there are still too many cases of poor quality Crown Prosecutors dealing with cases and members of the Judiciary who have very little understanding or training around the risks of domestic violence.
The quality of the Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences across the country varies dramatically as does the availability of Independent Domestic violence Advisors and funding for these posts is an issue. Refuge space and the quality of service they provide is also inconsistent with staff being reduced and services closing every week.
Social services are often aware of the risk posed to women in violent situations yet don’t always offer appropriate support which makes them believe the perpetrator when he says that he will get the children if she ever leaves – so she stays.
Health visitors don’t always alert social services or the police when the evidence of abuse is there to be seen and often they are the only outside agency the woman is allowed contact with.
NHS staff don’t always insist on seeing the woman on her own with a trained staff member when she is brought to A and E by her partner having “walked into a door”. GPs routinely fail to attend training events on domestic abuse and prescribe medication rather than discuss the obvious and refer her to a domestic abuse charity.
Cuts in legal aid have made it even more difficult for victims to obtain assistance from a lawyer particularly if there are assets in joint names even though she might be in a refuge and have no access to them.
Family courts still ignore guidance regarding how to deal with child contact cases where domestic violence is alleged and award contact and even residence where domestic violence has been proved – sometimes with fatal consequences for the woman and children.
I have seen several cases recently where family courts have disclosed the address of refuges so that court papers can be served even though the court could do this without the need to disclose the address.
A police enquiry would not address the above issues whereas a public enquiry would address the problem as a whole and would be more likely to make a difference. A public enquiry can be held where there is felt to be a failure by the state to protect and there are multiple deaths. We had a public enquiry after the Marchioness disaster which killed 51 people 25 years ago – since then over 2500 women have been murdered by their partners in the UK at the rate of one every 3 days. Many cite the costs of a public enquiry as an objection however when you consider that the annual –yes annual – cost of domestic violence is estimated to be £23billion this simply doesn’t make sense.
Multiple police investigations and even previous HMIC investigations have done nothing to reduce this so surely it is high time we got serious and ordered a public enquiry into the mass murder of women failed by the state.