Most people have a story to tell about domestic abuse – a friend, a neighbour, a relative, or perhaps a terrible experience of their own. My great-great-grandmother was attacked by her husband when she was pregnant. The court report says she was hurt so badly “she could not sit or lie in bed”. Later he attacked her with a poker in front of her daughter.
The case went to court, and all that happened was that he was bound over to keep the peace. But the really shocking thing is that the protection afforded to my great-great-grandmother from the police and courts was still greater than many domestic abuse victims get today – and that was over 100 years ago.
In Liverpool two weeks ago, I spoke to Nour Norris, whose niece Raneem Oudeh and sister Khaola were murdered by Raneem’s ex-partner. Raneem faced abuse, stalking and repeated threats to kill. But although she repeatedly sought help, she was badly let down. No early protection was put in place by the police; no proper action was taken against her ex. And on the night Raneem and her mother Khaola were murdered, they called 999 four times. But no one came.
For Raneem and her mother, the system badly failed time and again. In theory, the police could have applied for a civil protection order (for domestic violence or stalking) to keep her abuser away from her home. But they didn’t. Raneem had to apply to the court for one herself.
In theory, that should have meant the police took action when her abuser came to her house and the order was breached. But they didn’t. They didn’t even have a record that the court had granted one.
In theory, when the repeated 999 calls came in on the night Raneem and Khaola were murdered, the call centre should have known this was a serious case with repeated abusive behaviour and a court order in place. But no one was sent, and no one came.
No woman should ever be let down in the way Raneem and Khaola were. No woman who has the courage to report an incident like domestic abuse or stalking to the police should wake up the next day and find that no action has been taken and nothing has changed. Yet, a century after my great-great-grandmother got so little support from the courts, that is exactly what is happening to far too many women today.
Domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs) are used in just 1 per cent of domestic abuse cases, according to the Centre for Women’s Justice. Stalking protection orders are being made in less than 0.5 per cent of all stalking crimes, according to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, while Office for National Statistics data from November 2022 shows that some police forces applied for as few as 10 DVPOs in the preceding year.
We cannot stand for this any more. Labour would require police forces to overhaul their approach to early protection for victims of violence against women and girls (VAWG). Within 24 hours of a report being made, the police should make a proper assessment of whether to apply a civil order to keep the abuser away from the victim. Forces will need to have a dedicated officer to oversee the issuing, monitoring and enforcement of civil orders in VAWG cases so that they get the follow-up action they need and don’t fall through the cracks.
We will roll out a new system so that forces know immediately when court protection orders have been granted, and take action when they are breached. We will put domestic abuse specialists in every 999 call centre so victims aren’t dismissed when they need serious help. And Labour will require police forces to use tactics normally reserved for organised crime or terrorist investigations, including to identify and go after the most dangerous repeat abusers and rapists and get them off our streets.
Domestic abuse and violence against women and girls need to be treated with the seriousness that these dangerous crimes deserve. It’s why The Independent’s partnership with Refuge is so important, as they provide vital support to women in really difficult circumstances. But we need everyone to work together. Too little has changed for too long.
If Labour wins the next election, it will be our mission to halve violence against women and girls within a decade. We know that is ambitious, but we cannot put up with this failure any more.
I am sick and tired of women who face abuse and violence being let down, generation after generation. Our daughters should not face the same abuse and system failures as our grandmothers. Everyone has the right to live in freedom from fear.
Yvette Cooper is the shadow home secretary and the Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford.
The national domestic abuse helpline offers support for women on 0808 2000 247, or you can visit the Refuge website. There is a dedicated men’s advice line on 0808 8010 327. Those in the US can call the domestic violence hotline on 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org