WE were informed last week that violence against women and girls should be prioritised in the same way as terrorism. But is this hyperbolic response useful, and is it the case that the police are not taking domestic violence seriously?

The report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services that triggered these news headlines was written following the brutal murder of Sarah Everard in London. As is the way with reactive commissioned reports of this kind, the tendency is to exaggerate the problem, exaggerate the lack of response by the police and criminal justice services, and to finally proclaim that “more must be done”.

Too many cases are not resulting in people being charged, the report explains, at a time when there is an, “epidemic of violence against women and girls”.

A number of recommendations are made regarding this problem, one being the creation of a new statutory duty to protect women in the same way that child protection services operate. But should we treat women the same way we treat children?

READ MORE: Stuart Waiton: Listen to the ‘victims’ first before rushing to a conclusion

Reading the 158-page report, it doesn’t take long before we come across a misrepresentation of the case at hand. Indeed, the first page of the report cites a survey that found, “two out of three 16 to 34-year-old women and girls reported that they had been sexually harassed in the past year”.

From this we get the following shock horror statement that fronted a number of newspaper headlines, “These figures are alarming. We consider they represent an epidemic of violent and abusive offending against women and girls in England and Wales”.

Click on the link to the actual survey being cited however and we find something quite different. The survey in question cites figures from the Office for National Statistics – Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, but these are figures about the much broader category of "harassment", rather than “sexual harassment” or indeed “violence”. These statistics on harassment include catcalls, unwanted sexual comments or jokes from a stranger, the feeling of being followed, being insulted or shouted at by a stranger and the feeling of being threatened.

Some of these experiences are subjective, relating to feelings. Others relate to non-sexual instances of being insulted. None of them relate to actual incidents of violence. As a result, while two thirds of women said they had had one or more of these experiences, almost a third of men said they also had experienced them.

READ MORE: Stuart Waiton: Is domestic violence campaign a knee jerk reaction?

Here in Scotland, and I suspect in many police forces in England and Wales, the idea that the police have not prioritised the issue of domestic violence simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and indeed the opposite is often true, with this type of crime being promoted as a top five priority in Police Scotland for many years.

I asked an experienced Glasgow court practitioner for his experience of domestic abuse policing and found a very different picture, one where he saw a “strict policy of zero tolerance” where “common sense and discretion was removed”, resulting in a situation where, “everyone is watching their back” and men (and sometimes women) are locked up for, “as much as four days” with little or no evidence, “even if a wife wanted her husband back”.

Finally, he noted, “I have numerous instances of the above, but perhaps the most draconian was the detention overnight of a schoolboy for an alleged domestic incident at the door of his school girlfriend. Words may well have passed in anger, but does this justify the action taken?”

The reality of domestic abuse policing is that it has been politicised to an extent that has warped the way the police operate and that constantly elevates the pressure on the police and criminal justice to “Do Something”, even when this goes against the evidence or the common sense of those looking at the incident.

We need to stop exaggerating, virtue signalling and using false claims to justify what is becoming a new and highly dangerous form of police harassment.

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