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Government can help end the scourge of domestic abuse by taking robust action on perpetrators

4 min read

There are proven methods to change the behaviour of those who commit violent crimes against women. Government must include long-term funding for these strategies in the comprehensive spending review

Every government wants to be tough on violent crime but the recent rape review and the report from the policing inspectorate on domestic abuse reveal the extent of the challenge ahead when it comes to violence against women and girls. 

This is no niche concern; 35 per cent of all violence against the person cases are domestic abuse, and 20 per cent of women have experienced some kind of sexual assault since the age of 16.

The vast majority of such crimes never come before the police, and for those that do, prosecution rates are pitiful.

Last week we learnt that three-quarters of domestic abuse cases that do come to the police are put in a “No further action” category, meaning the perpetrator never faces a charge. 

At least one policy conclusion is clear: it will take more than the criminal justice system to be tough on crime. In fact, if you only focus on the criminal justice system to tackle violence against women and girls, almost all perpetrators will continue to go about their business unperturbed.

For well over a year, a coalition of organisations – from women’s charities and royal colleges of health, to police and crime commissioners – have been urging government to bring to bear the power of the full range of public services in tackling domestic abuse through a comprehensive domestic abuse perpetrator strategy.

They’ve also been calling for investment in programmes especially designed to risk-manage and, where possible, change the behaviour of domestic abuse perpetrators. 

Those calls are being heard. The government has committed to publishing a domestic abuse  perpetrator strategy as part of a wider approach on violence against women. These new strategies can’t come soon enough and must be backed by the right long-term funding in the comprehensive spending review.

It will take more than the criminal justice system to be tough on crime

We have some data on what works. The Drive programme for high-risk and serial domestic abuse perpetrators was found by Bristol University to reduce physical abuse by 82 per cent and jealous and controlling behaviour by 73 per cent. Quality support for the victim was absolutely key to that success, as was multi-agency working. There are other perpetrator programmes with impressive results. 

And behind those impressive statistics, lives are being changed. A few weeks ago, Helen – a survivor of domestic abuse – shared her story in a six-minute film. Helen’s former partner was enrolled in the Drive project, and as part of this, she also got direct support through an independent domestic violence adviser (IDVA).

Helen explains why she took the decision to take part in a film: “I wanted to share my story because I feel like most of the time, it’s the victim of domestic abuse who has to do all the work, and the perpetrator is virtually ignored. I want to help change that. More people should get the kind of support I had. Drive changed my life. With the perpetrator intervention and support from my IDVA, I can finally say myself and my children are in a very happy place.”

Government has begun to increase its funding for quality work with domestic abuse perpetrators, and we need to ensure that responses like this – and earlier intervention programmes – are available in the long term up and down the country. We need tailored programmes to address other forms of violence against women, too.

The report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, along with Helen’s story, is a reminder for the government that the police can’t do this alone. But with the right strategy and the right funding, we can begin to turn things around. Helen’s experience is testament to that.


Baroness Bertin is a Conservative peer

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