Domestic violence: Theresa May says victims still let down

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Media captionTheresa May said police attitudes to domestic abuse cases needed to change

Victims of domestic abuse in England and Wales are "still being let down" by the police, Theresa May has said.

The home secretary said improvements had been made since a 2013 review but "examples of the same shameful attitude" persisted.

She has ordered an investigation into one of the issues - officers who develop inappropriate relationships with victims.

Women's Aid said it routinely saw victims let down by police.

Mrs May told the Police Federation's annual conference: "Victims of abuse are still being let down and reports are not being taken seriously enough.

"The right skills, training and commitment to protect the vulnerable are still not held by every single police officer."

Think of Hillsborough, May tells police

Referring to the findings of the 2013 review, by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), into the way police handled domestic abuse, Mrs May spoke of "officers who couldn't spot dangerous patterns of abuse".

"Victims who weren't treated with dignity and respect," she continued.

"And the shameful attitude of some officers towards victims who had suffered violence and psychological abuse. The officers who accidentally recorded themselves calling a victim 'a bitch' and 'a slag'. The victim who overheard the responding officer say: 'It's a DV, we'll be a few minutes and we'll go to the next job'."

Case study - Anne, not her real name

I have been the victim of domestic abuse since 2008.

It began with verbal abuse, then my partner become controlling and then sexual and physical in his abuse.

I was frightened for my life as he said he wanted to hit me and kill me.

I was in contact with the police throughout the time, and at first they were helpful and referred me to various services.

Social services helped me move out of the family home, after my children had said, "daddy strangled mummy".

In January, I told a police officer that my partner had raped me. But he advised me not to report it, saying it wouldn't "do the kids any favours" to hear that their father was a rapist.

That made me feel trapped. I just felt nobody appreciated the severity of what I was going through.

Eventually I did report the rape to the police. And now I have legal aid to help fight for my children.

I just want someone to care. I can't do it all on my own.

'Care to admit'

In her speech to the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file police officers, the home secretary said the police had "listened" and "acted" and "real improvements" had been made since the review.

Every police force in England and Wales now had an action plan to tackle domestic abuse, she said, and they were collecting standardised data.

"We are seeing more victims coming forward, more crimes being properly recorded and more convictions," she said.

She quoted some figures from last year - police forces in England and Wales received more than 100 calls an hour about domestic abuse and domestic abuse cases made up about one in three violent crimes with injury. Police officers recorded more than 100,000 sexual offences.

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However, the home secretary said reports of domestic abuse were still "not being taken seriously enough".

"We continue to see examples of the same shameful attitude that HMIC uncovered in 2013," she said.

"We know of officers who develop inappropriate relationships with victims of domestic abuse. They have ignored their professional duty and their moral responsibility and instead abused their position of power to exploit victims.

"We do not know the true scale of this, but everyone in this room will know it goes on far more than we might care to admit."

Mrs May said she had now asked the HMIC, headed by Sir Tom Winsor, to investigate this issue.

Speaking generally about the treatment of other vulnerable people, including the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, she said: "As HMIC found last year, not a single police force in England and Wales is outstanding at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm and supporting victims, and 31 forces are judged to be either inadequate or requiring improvement."

The government defines domestic violence and abuse as controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.

'Strong leadership'

The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC), which represents senior officers, said it was important that police understood what was going on in domestic violence cases, listened to victims and looked for signs of coercion or control.

Its chairwoman, Chief Constable Sara Thornton, said: "Last year, HMIC found that the police had significantly improved their response to domestic abuse: treating it as an 'important priority' and achieving better support for victims."

Domestic violence charity Refuge said it applauded the commitment shown by Mrs May to improving the police response.

Chief executive Sandra Horley said: "Refuge is pleased that the home secretary has shown strong leadership on this issue, and is continuing to scrutinise the police response to domestic violence.

Polly Neate, chief executive of charity Women's Aid, said: "We routinely work with victims of domestic abuse who have been let down by the police. Whilst there have been improvements in some areas, there is still a long way to go."

Mark Brooks, chairman of Mankind Initiative, said: "We are pleased that the home secretary emphasised the need for police to continue to improve the support for all victims of domestic abuse, as in the past the emphasis has been on supporting just female victims."

'Never forget'

Also in her speech, Mrs May told the conference that the Hillsborough disaster should be a "touchstone" for everything the police do.

Officers must never forget the victims and must put professionalism at the heart of every decision, she said.

In April, the inquests in to the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield found they were unlawfully killed.

She said police had failed to put justice first, obstructing investigations and trying to blame fans for what had happened.

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