Violence against women in UK soaring while trust in police plummets

Met Police chief reflects on Baroness Casey report

The Metropolitan Police’s reckoning over the past few months has reverberated across forces up and down the country. Many of the harrowing revelations to have emerged involve abuses of a sexual nature by serving officers, leaving women’s confidence in those tasked with protecting them in tatters, according to new survey data. A significant majority now believe widespread reform is in order as a result.

The dark side of UK law enforcement has been dragged into the spotlight in 2023. Wayne Couzens – who kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everhard back in 2021 – and the serial rapist David Carrick were both brought to justice.

The public outcry they caused spurred a number of investigations into police practices and culture – with devastating results. Baroness Louise Casey’s year-long independent review of the Met found evidence of discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment.

According to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), abuse of position for a sexual purpose is the most common reason for complaints by members of the public. In 2020, such cases accounted for a quarter of referrals and almost two-thirds of corruption investigations nationally.

Prior to the high-profile cases of the past year, the police watchdog was already seeing positive attitudes towards forces decline sharply – from 63 percent in their January 2020 survey down to 49 percent in March 2021, just over a year later.

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A new report by victim compensation lawyers Criminal Injury Helpline shows just far the police have fallen in the public eye since. Overall 40.3 percent of survey respondents said they did not trust the police, while 42.5 percent said they had had a negative experience while dealing with them.

This trust gap has become especially pronounced for women, with 43.7 percent saying recent events had left them more weary of officers. And male officers in particular, with half of all women questioned claiming they were more likely to trust a policewoman than a policeman.

The role police play in maintaining law and order, however, remains essential. Respondents claimed they were overwhelmingly likely to report cases of sexual assault (70 percent) and stalking (62.6 percent) to the police in spite of potential misgivings.

Although police forces carry out a much-needed public service, calls for reforming their ways have been growing. Campaign groups and politicians from both major parties have united behind this cause – one backed by 62.4 percent of the public.

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In many ways, police are failing women when they need them more than ever. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), a record number of rapes were recorded in Britain in the year to June 2022 – the 70,600 total almost double the figure for the year to March 2016.

Yet Home Office figures show just 1.5 percent of rapes and 3.1 percent of sexual offence cases resulted in a charge during the same time period.

In the wake of these alarming statistics and policing scandals, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing set out priority actions for all police forces in England and Wales to crack down on violence against women and girls (VAWG).

The first report of the joint initiative, released last month, found 1,539 police staff members were subject to allegations of VAWG between October 2021 and March 2022 – equating to 0.7 percent of the total workforce at the time. However, the data shows just 13 were sacked.

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