A county-lines-style crackdown on rape, sexual offences and violence against women is needed to improve “indefensible” prosecution rates, the police watchdog has said.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services said that the “relentless focus” on pursuing offenders who use young and vulnerable people as drug mules must be applied to female violence.
The watchdog cited the low rate of prosecution for rape; the average of seven women killed a week in England and Wales by a current or former partner; figures that show twice as many female victims of stalking than men; and the disproportionate number of girls affected by sexual abuse and violence.
Police forces have notched up prosecutions against those behind county lines — when gangs in a city use mules to take drugs to rural areas. The inspectorate said that violence against women and girls needed a similarly “relentless focus on pursuing offenders and on doing everything possible to rescue those being exploited”.
Britain’s anti-terrorism strategy is based on four Ps — prevent, pursue, protect and prepare — and something similar could be applied to tackling female violence, the report said.
The watchdog published the initial findings of a review commissioned by Priti Patel, the home secretary, in March after the killing of Sarah Everard prompted an outcry about violence against women.
Zoe Billingham, an inspector, said: “We are living in a national epidemic of violence against women and girls. The prevalence and range of offending and harm is stark and shocking.” She said the police had made progress in the past decade but there was still evidence of inconsistent support for victims and low prosecution rates.
Billingham said that stalking and harassment was “too often identified as low-risk and resolved through a call-resolution centre without further action”. In some police forces, high-risk cases such as serious sexual offences and domestic abuse were still “too often being allocated to response officers who don’t have the necessary training and experience to deal with them”.
Billingham called for a “seamless approach” across the criminal justice system to give victims the best support and ensure investigations were timely and robust in order to build strong cases and bring perpetrators to justice.
“Regrettably, our inspection evidence shows this isn’t always the case. Court delays are a significant concern in some areas. In some crime types, including rape and domestic abuse, only a fraction of the cases reported reach the point of charge and then prosecution.
“Investigations are too often subject to drift and delay, and joint working between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service can be ineffective.”
She added: “Criminal justice alone cannot uproot these crimes, nor do victims always want a criminal justice outcome.”
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