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The Observer’s take on police failure to prioritize violence against women | Observer Editorial

The police are responsible for protecting citizens against violent attacks. Yet for too many women and children who are abused and brutalized by men, abandoned by police officers who do not take male violence against their partners and children seriously, it is theoretical protection.

Last week the Independent Office for Police Conduct published its investigation into a truly horrific case of police failure to intervene in a domestic violence case. They found West Midlands Police ‘contributed materially’ to the murders of Raneem Oudeh and his mother, Khaola Saleem, in 2018 through their repeated failures to deal with the threat that Oudeh’s violent former partner posed weigh on their lives.

Oudeh has called the police several times about the violent behavior of her ex-husband, Janbaz Tarin. On the night of the killings, Oudeh called them four times to report that Tarin had violated his no-molestation order and assaulted Saleem in public. She was on the phone with the police when Tarin attacked and murdered them. The police actually let them get killed. According to Oudeh’s aunt, Tarin felt empowered by the police’s inability to act over time.

This is not an isolated case. Police failures on domestic violence and male violence against women are all too common. Too many women and children are dying preventable deaths because, in some police forces, there remains a culture that views domestic violence as less of a risk and a priority than other forms of violent crime. This is no doubt fueled by police cultures of misogyny, where male violence against women is seen by some officers as a joke rather than a serious crime, and where complaints against police officers themselves even accused of domestic violence are not dealt with. In response to a super-complaint filed by the Center for Women’s Justice, an investigation by regulators found evidence that police perpetrators of domestic violence used their positions to deter victims from reporting their crimes.

Thanks to activists against male violence such as Karen Ingala Smith, who started the Counting Dead Women project, we know the number of deaths involved; as pointed out by ObserverAs part of the End Femicide campaign, a woman is killed by a man in the UK every three days. That’s far more deaths in the past 30 years than the number of people who have lost their lives to terrorism. Yet while the government rightly invests billions each year in preventing terrorism, far less is spent preventing male violence against partners and children.

Much of this cruelty is preventable, if only more resources and focus were devoted to combating it. Men don’t kill women out of the blue: there are clear red flags and patterns of behavior that shift from less serious offenses to life-threatening violence. There are proven ways to reduce the ability of abusive men to harm their partners and children; for example, the Drive program assigns high-risk male perpetrators of domestic violence a case manager who not only provides support but acts as a watchdog for dangerous men, coordinating with police and social services to disrupt their violence. It generates significant reductions in violence, but only a tiny proportion of violent men are covered by such programs.

Reducing the number of women who die each year at the hands of men is entirely achievable. But it requires that the police and the criminal justice system prioritize male violence against women in the same way they prioritize other forms of male violence, including terrorism. Otherwise, women will continue to die as those responsible for their security look the other way.


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