Call on Government to extend Serious Violence Prevention duty to include domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence

SafeLives are calling on the Government to extend the Serious Violence Prevention duty to include domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence. Baroness Bertin has agreed to table an amendment to the duty before the House of Lords on 14th September 2021.

The Domestic Abuse Act (2021) has made some significant changes to the protections provided to victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. The criminal justice system, however, still has a significant way to go in bringing perpetrators to justice and providing a response that fully caters for the needs of survivors.

In recent years, there has been a significant decline in the number of offences prosecuted by the CPS related to domestic abuse and sexual violence – as evidenced in the Government’s Rape Review – despite there being no reduction in prevalence. To achieve the wholesale reform needed to bring perpetrators to justice and protect victims and survivors, especially in light of the national conversation around male violence this year, it is imperative that issues of violence against women and girls, including domestic abuse, are central considerations for police forces across the country. Domestic abuse and sexual violence are not dependent on local dynamics and is often inextricably linked to violence outside the home, and therefore warrants a national response, such as this duty.

Domestic abuse affected 2.3 million adults in the last year and represents one-third of violent crime recorded by the police. Approximately one-fifth of all adult homicides (and half of adult homicides where the victim is female), are domestic homicides. Furthermore, between April 2014 and March 2020, the annual number of domestic abuse cases referred to the CPS by police fell by 37%, with similar declines in prosecutions (34%) and convictions (31%). In the same period, the annual number of prosecutions in rape flagged cases fell by 55% and the annual number of convictions fell by 44%. In the year ending March 2020, only 9% of domestic abuse related crimes, and 1.4% of rape offences, recorded by the police led to a charge or summons.

In addition, the CPS convicted 47,534 domestic abuse cases, compared to 758,491 domestic abuse related police recorded offences. It is estimated that since the last HMICFRS inspection took place in 2015 a further 75 victims have been murdered in the name of ‘so-called’ honour in the UK. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the national HBA helpline has experienced increased call volumes by up to 264%. This is against a backdrop of declining HBA related prosecutions, which has fallen by 43% since 2014/2015 according to the CPS annual VAWG report. By supporting the inclusion of domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence on the face of the Bill, we are certain that this will offer a real opportunity for police forces to address the serious issue of domestic abuse, as a vital strand in the efforts to tackle all forms of serious violence.

The current Home Office guidance is certainly a cause for concern, as it states that local areas could consider VAWG as part of the new duty if they choose to, based on a local needs assessment. 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, we believe that any force that doesn’t consider it within the new duty will be failing to meet their responsibility to protect the public. We are concerned that without explicit inclusion on the face of this bill, these issues won’t form part of the strategies underpinning the new duty.

Artificially separating ‘public’ street violence from ‘private’ home violence and abuse fails to acknowledge the clear links between the two, including how harm experienced in the home by children and young people has severe impacts on their health, wellbeing, and development. We believe that it would be an unacceptable step to push violence against women and girls back into the realm of ‘private’ matters, rather than a concern to us all.

Understanding these links needs to be embedded knowledge 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. By incorporating domestic abuse within the definition, the police, as well as other agencies, will be given greater opportunities to challenge perpetrators and prevent these crimes from happening in the first place. This will build confidence in the police’s ability to deal with instances of VAWG, both quickly and effectively.

To achieve the wholesale reform required to improve criminal justice outcomes for victims and survivors, and to build confidence in the process, it is imperative that violence against women and girls is not dismissed as a ‘less serious’ form of violence in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Without the explicit inclusion of domestic abuse and sexual violence we are concerned that this duty will fail in its core aim of preventing and reducing serious violence. VAWG organisations with a specific focus on ‘by and for’ services for Black, Asian and racially minoritised women, deaf and disabled women and LGBT+ survivors should be seen as key partners in the multi-agency response to serious violence reduction.

Unless we change the definition of the duty now, we are missing the chance to reduce the number of victims of domestic abuse, and in so many cases, the opportunity to save lives.

The Domestic Abuse Act (2021)

Two women a week die at the hands of their partners or ex-partners, and one in five children experience domestic abuse growing up.

Learn more about our work on The Domestic Abuse Act (2021)

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