by Dr Holly Taylor-Dunn and Dr Anna Hopkins of The Open University’s Policing Organisation and Practice department
Welcome to a special series of our OU Policing blog in recognition of International Women’s Day which is celebrated on 8th March.
This is the first in a series of 5 blog posts that will be published every Wednesday during March 2023. We wanted to share details about the work we are doing here at OU Policing in support of women and the issues they face.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘embrace equity’. The organisers are calling on everyone to recognise that equality and equity are different things. They are trying to highlight the fact that women face particular challenges and barriers in their lives that prevent them fulfilling their opportunity. It isn’t enough to say we will treat everyone the same – because we aren’t the same – and we don’t experience the same obstacles in life.
So how is this relevant to policing? Well, it’s really relevant. For example, we don’t expect the police to treat all victims of crime in the exact same way, because their needs are not the same. This is especially important when we talk about crimes such as domestic abuse or sexual violence, as these are crimes that affect the lives of women to a much greater extent than men. For the last 50 years, women’s advocates have been calling on the police (and wider criminal justice system) to take these forms of abuse seriously and to provide effective support to victim/survivors. But as you will see in the blog posts on 8th and 29th March there is still a way to go.
The debate around equality and equity is also relevant to policing as a workplace. One of the projects that will be shared in this blog series relates to women’s experience of maternity leave and returning to work in the police – this project highlights the challenges faced by women with childcare responsibilities which can directly impact their career opportunities.
Current challenges in policing and the wider criminal justice system?
The last few years have been unprecedented in terms of women’s relationships with the police. The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, followed by the horrendous crimes of David Carrick have understandably eroded trust and confidence in the police for many women. The increased focus on police officers as potential perpetrators of violence against women resulted in the Centre for Women’s Justice launching a ‘super-complaint’ against the police. This super-complaint alleged that the police were failing to deal appropriately with domestic abuse cases involving serving police officers.
But not only have police forces faced criticism for how they have dealt with police officers who commit violence against women, they have also been criticised for how they have dealt with reported offences from the public. A government body responsible for inspecting police forces raised concerns about the number of violent crimes against women and girls that were closed by the police as requiring ‘no further action’. The Inspectors were worried that the proportion of cases being closed in this way had increased a lot in recent years and they were not convinced that victim/survivors had been consulted about these decisions.
So, what is being done to address problems such as these?
The current challenges facing the police in terms of women’s trust and confidence may sound bleak. However, there is so much work underway in police forces across the UK who are genuinely committed to getting it right. Nationally, for the first time ever a Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Taskforce has been set up. Led by DCC Maggie Blyth the taskforce addresses VAWG across Three Pillars:
- Build Trust and Confidence – Policing cannot claim to take VAWG seriously if it does not respond immediately and robustly to VAWG-related allegations and root out those who do not uphold the culture and high standards that the public rightly expects from it.
- Relentless Pursuit of Perpetrators – Perpetrators are the one and only cause of VAWG.
- Safer Spaces – Locations where women and girls are most at risk from VAWG maybe online, behind closed doors or in public spaces, to target activity the riskiest locations need to be identified
Here at the OU we work in collaboration with 24 police forces throughout the UK via the Centre for Policing Research and Learning. This collaboration brings together academics and police forces to address issues that are important to policing. Given the current situation, it may not surprise you to learn that many of the projects we are currently working on are focussed on violence against women and girls.
We are working on projects exploring how to improve the police response to rape and sexual violence, a project examining the reasons why victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence may not want to support a police investigation, and a project investigating cases of domestic abuse that are prosecuted without the support of the victim.
It is important to highlight that all of these projects are supported by the police forces in our partnership – they recognise how important this work is and they want to improve. We are also developing a project looking at domestic abuse within the police. This will consider the work that is being done to support officers and staff who are affected by domestic abuse as well as how they deal with those who perpetrate it.
Despite the significant impact of recent events on women’s trust and confidence in the police, it is important to recognise the amount of work currently underway to address these issues. The reality is that in order for women and girls to succeed and reach their potential, they should firstly be able to achieve equity in all aspects of their lives which would in turn would contribute towards a life free from violence, abuse and fear. In order to get there we need to work together to change the structures in our society that allow such abuses to occur – including the police and wider criminal justice system.