(Trigger warning: descriptions of domestic violence.)
This will come as no surprise at all to many readers: it seems more victims of domestic violence have been officially let down by the police. According to BBC News, Greater Manchester Police have been heavily criticised in a new report by the IPCC, which highlights the force’s failings in two cases of women murdered by their ex-partners. These findings come on the same day that authorities in Sheffield apologised to two sisters for failing to protect them from their abusive father, who subjected them to repeated rapes and beatings over a 25-year-period.
In Greater Manchester, Clare Wood was strangled by her ex-partner George Appleton, a man who had been in prison three times for assaults on previous partners. Before she was killed, she had contacted police on several occasions to report that he had caused criminal damage, harassed, threatened and sexually assaulted her. The Manchester Evening News has a detailed breakdown of the force’s failings in Wood’s case, some points of which are:
“Police took more than 24 hours to respond after Clare frantically dialled 999 when Appleton hammered on her front door. A police officer took four months to submit a file to prosecutors after Clare went to Pendleton police station and said that Appleton had threatened to smash her windows, burn her house down and have her stabbed. Appleton was bailed after the allegation of sexually (sic) assault despite his history of domestic violence. Police failed to correctly fill in 13-point risk assessment sheets for domestic violence victims. Prosecutors advised the officer to give Appleton a harassment order but he did not because Appleton was on bail for the sex assault. Three days later he killed Clare.”
Another woman in Greater Manchester, Katie Boardman, was also fatally let down by GMP. She was stabbed by her ex-partner Brian Taylor; prior to this, the police had been called out to the couple eleven times – five calls were made in the week before she died.
IPCC commissioner Naseem Malik told the BBC that certain officers demonstrated “a shocking lack of understanding about the nature of domestic violence”. That’s certainly what it looks like, considering findings like these (from the Manchester Evening News):
“The police officer who recorded Clare’s complaints – known as officer A – underestimated the threat posed by Appleton. It says the officer did not consider there was a genuine threat to life and perceived Appleton as a ‘quiet mild man’ and thought his threats were ‘throwaway comments’.”
How many deaths are caused by attitudes like this? ‘He seems like a decent bloke.’ ‘He probably didn’t mean what he said.’ ‘He wouldn’t do such a thing.’ Why does the belief stubbornly persist that domestic violence just doesn’t happen, even in supposedly highly trained professionals like police officers, who you’d think would be used to the fact that violent people exist? Why do some officers evidently believe you can tell a potential murderer just by looking at them? My mother, working for Women’s Aid in the 1980s, encountered attitudes like these from the police, and I encountered them myself when spending a day at a women’s refuge in London several years ago. Here they are again. What will it take to make them go away?
GMP insist they are already making improvements to their service following Clare Wood’s case. I hope that’s true. However, I remain cynical about the effect these will have. In my opinion, as long as ignorant and harmful attitudes about domestic violence exist in society at large, they’ll exist in the police force. The idea that one can send a police officer on a training course in how to fill out a particular risk assessment form and then expect all their preconceived notions about domestic violence to vaporise (most men accused of domestic violence are probably ‘good blokes’, women lie and exaggerate because they like ‘drama’, perhaps she nagged him, etc) is utterly naive. These ideas are stubborn, and need to be aggressively and systematically challenged in all areas of life.
I already know the answer to the question I asked above: the removal of misogyny from society.