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Violence against women: Harlow’s hidden shame

Crime / Fri 19th Feb 2021 at 11:14am

SOMETIMES, there are statistics that give you such a shock that you have to ask someone to read it again.

That is what Harlow councillor Stefan Mullard (Lab) did at a recent scrutiny meeting.

The meeting included a presentation by two senior police officers who have just taken over the running of policing in Harlow.

As they went through the crime statistics, they mentioned one sad fact, that “Harlow has the highest incident of domestic violence per head in Essex”.

But as the crime statistics for Harlow went up on the screen, cllr Mullard’s attention was drawn to a shocking static.

Rape: Twelve months to

2020: 144 (3)

2021: 120 (1)

The fact that there has been 264 rapes in a two year period in Harlow is bad enough but the fact that four, just four, have been solved makes it even worse.

There isn’t the time in this article, for a proper drill down of statistics. In an ideal world, you would want to look at each and every one of the 264 rapes and find out, from a judicial point of view, what went wrong?

There may be several reasons for this. That may involve policing, the Crown Prosecution Service, the politicians and others.

Solves rates, prosecution rates have been low for far too long.

Some may point to much higher solve rates in the seventies and eighties. It may be all very well to extol the virtues of what the called in the trade “verbals” until you get banged up for fifteen years for a from you did not commit (google Stefan Kizko).

Looking at the fact that the police in Harlow respond to hundreds of calls regarding domestic violence. Looking at the rape figures, it also begs the question: what about the women who are assaulted and do not campaign? what about the women who are raped and do not complain?

For now, we have asked a number of individuals and organisations for their response.

Essex Police

“Rapes and sexual assaults have a devastating impact on victims’ lives and we meticulously investigate rape allegations in Harlow, as well as across Essex, every day.

In Harlow, just over two reports of rape were recorded each week in the 12 months until January 2021 and every one of those reports needs to be investigated and checks made to make sure victims are supported and offences identified. 

These crimes are among some of the most complex to investigate and we cannot underestimate the psychological toll that these cases take on their victims.

We continue to work very closely with partner agencies – such as the CPS and Rape Crisis Teams to support victims and bring offenders to justice.

There will be many reasons why a rape prosecution may not be progressed. This may be due to the victim not wishing to support a prosecution, evidential difficulties or no realistic prospect of a conviction. In such cases, we ensure victims receive support through referrals to relevant support agencies.

Last year over 12 month period January to December 2020 we saw 52% more rapes solved (26 more offences solved) and 42% increase in other sexual offences solved (105 more offences solved). We have achieved this through a multi-agency approach, working with partners and victims to bring offenders to justice. We will never rest on our laurels and will continue to learn and improve our approach to ensure victims receive the very best possible service. 

We have dedicated adult and child sexual abuse teams which have both seen significant investment in resources this year through the Force growth programme. We have also created a dedicated Quest Team, which deals with historical cases of child sexual abuse, a Case Progression Team to deal with more protracted and complex cases and a Child Sexual Proactive Investigation Team – which is a key development in ensuring we are on the front foot in targeting perpetrators.

Last year we were subject to an HMIC rape thematic inspection alongside the CPS – and the feedback was positive on the working relationships we have with our CPS colleagues and processes we have in place to continue to provide the best possible service to victims of serious sexual abuse, high quality investigations whilst bringing dangerous offenders to justice.

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Harlow MP Robert Halfon

“It is horrific that the rates of domestic violence are so high in Harlow. As you know, I’ve met with and worked closely with constituents in Harlow who have suffered tragic cases of domestic violence. I have campaigned relentlessly in Parliament for urgent Government reform, particularly regarding trials for rape charges, better support for survivors in the immediate aftermath of sexual offences and changes to legislation to ensure that the sentences reflect the true nature of the crime. For example, you can see a speech I delivered in the House of Commons on this here (which was also covered in YourHarlow).

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2019-05-15/debates/B10908FB-E2B3-44C8-90F4-D217CFC4691D/RapeTrialsTreatmentOfVictims

The Government is making significant changes to make it the process easier for survivors of domestic violence to come forward to police and secure justice. This includes strengthening the law on crimes such as stalking, increasing protection and support for victims and those at risk through measures such as “Clare’s Law” (which allows women to check if their partner has a violent history), and providing £76 million in extra funding for crucial frontline services and support organisations during the pandemic.

The Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 will bring about landmark changes, such as recognition in law that domestic abuse does not just include physical violence, but can also be emotional, coercive or controlling, and economic abuse, and a new Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy is due to be published early this year.

And today, given the deeply concerning rise in domestic violence we have seen amid the coronavirus, the Government has announced councils across England have been allocated £125 million to provide support for victims of domestic abuse and their children, with £12.9 million earmarked for the East of England.

This is something that I will continue to campaign passionately on to make sure domestic violence receives urgent Government attention and much-needed policy change.”

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Labour candidate for Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex

Councillor Chris Vince

“The shockingly low figures for the solve rate shows that there is a lot more that needs to be done to tackle the issue of sexual violence and rape not only across Harlow but also across the rest of Essex. 

I am pleased that Harlow Council has taken a lead with The Harlow Domestic Abuse forum, supporting of Clare’s Law and the J9 initiative. 

However, we need to ensure that communities are better able to recognise the signs of domestic violence and also that police are seen as part of those communities so that people feel confident in coming to them with their concerns. 

“Sadly a decade of underfunding in the police means that this has not always been the case.  I welcome the fact that the police are using new powers on domestic violence but there is still clearly a great deal more to do.

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The full set of figures referred to can be found below.

https://www.essex.pfcc.police.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/January-2021-District-Data.pdf

The Harlow Council scrutiny meeting we referred to can be found below.

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