New research suggests domestic abuse victims are better served by schemes which prioritise safeguarding over prosecution.
A study of a pioneering partnership in Lancashire where police and health professionals work in tandem found significantly improved outcomes both for the victims and for the police.
The findings run counter to the policy thrust of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 which seeks to prevent domestic abuse by the threat of longer sentences.
Operation Provide, which allies Lancashire Police with Blackpool Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, has seen the proportion of victims who engage with safeguarding authorities triple over the past year. The number of reported cases resulting in criminal investigation or prosecution has also tripled.
Experts say responding to domestic abuse incidents as a team – with health and safeguarding professionals spearheading enquiries, has built much more trust with victims.
Since the first lockdown, domestic abuse reports to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline have increased by 65% but police forces report a much more varied picture, with initial large decreases in calls back at the start of lockdown in March 2020.
“We know from the data that many victims are calling for help but they are not necessarily seeking it from the law enforcement agencies,” said Dr Michelle McManus, a criminal justice expert at Liverpool John Moores University's School of Justice Studies, which undertook the evaluation.
Operation Provide, in response to this, teamed Lancashire Police with NHS experts and five independent domestic violence advocates, to assist in visiting victims.
Not tied to prosecution
As a result, victim’s engagement with safeguarding support shifted from 21.5% prior to Operation Provide, to 67.2% at the Operation Provide visit, while the rate of victims engaging with prosecution investigation rose from 14.4% to 41.3%.
The involvement of agencies other than law enforcement provides victims with “roads forward” which do not commit them to prosecuting the perpetrators.
“Allowing victims a voice in this way enables the authorities to distinguish between a majority of victims who expressed a desire to be out of their abusive relationship, but not to press charges,” explained Dr McManus.
“This evidence suggests that how we best safeguard victims is to not push investigative and prosecution-led initiatives at victims, but ensure they are safeguarded by empowering and supporting them to leave their abusive relationship.”
“Moreover, the evidence would seem to run counter to provisions in the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021, which seeks to enact longer sentences for domestic abuse, with official ONS statistics telling us that most cases do not even make it to a courtroom “ Dr McManus added.