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Police given advice on spotting patterns of domestic abuse

Published 21/09/2015

Police will receive specialist advice on how to spot the tell-tale patterns of domestic abuse
Police will receive specialist advice on how to spot the tell-tale patterns of domestic abuse
Police will be given lessons on finding coercive control

Police will receive specialist advice on how to spot the tell-tale patterns of domestic abuse under new guidance designed to help officers prosecute without having to rely on evidence from victims.

Issued by the College of Policing, the Authorised Professional Practice (APP) advises senior officers for the first time about the need to have specialist staff to deal with cases of abuse and ensure that victims receive the best possible support.

The guidance emphasises the importance of building cases to allow for prosecutions on evidence alone, rather than relying on the testimony of victims.

It also focuses on the dynamics of abusive relationships and coercive control - a new offence expected to come into force later this year.

Women are assaulted on average 35 times before they contact police, according to domestic abuse charity Refuge, and the new guidance will help officers who first attend an incident who may have to deal with criminal offences, carry out risk assessments and ensure victims are safe.

The college is also releasing a "toolkit" for those officers first on the scene, along with checklists for call handlers and counter staff in police stations when they are contacted about domestic abuse.

The new guidance was developed following a report last year which found police forces were not doing enough to tackle domestic abuse, and that victims felt unsupported and intimidated by officers' attitudes.

David Tucker, the college's lead officer for crime and criminal justice, said that in order to tackle domestic abuse cases successfully police need to see the big picture behind individual incidents.

He said: "This depends on officers being properly trained and having access to information about both the victim and the perpetrator; effective and accurate risk management, partnership working and information sharing. The failure of any of these links can be the difference between life and death for a victim.

"Our research indicated the need for a culture change within policing attitudes towards domestic abuse. Sometimes police cannot understand why a victim would stay in an abusive relationships.

"There are dozens of reasons why victims feel unable to leave or support prosecution. It is the responsibility of the perpetrator to stop the abuse and the responsibility of the police to bring the perpetrator to justice - the victim is not responsible for either.

"Officers need to investigate domestic abuse pro-actively and our APP and toolkits, as well as our training programmes and research, are designed to help them do that."

Polly Neale, chief executive of the charity Women's Aid, welcomed the move, saying: "It is vital that police officers understand coercive control; this will help them to identify victims and not blame victims for staying in abusive relationships.

"We also welcome the focus on changing the attitudes of police officers and the understanding that tackling domestic abuse must be a force-wide priority - not dependent on the commitment of an individual officer.

"Our work with survivors also highlights the importance of the first responders' approach to victims - so a greater understanding and focus on the role and responsibility of the police in a domestic abuse situation is extremely positive."

Diana Barran, from the charity SafeLives, called the new guidance "a huge step forward in helping police to understand the complex nature of domestic abuse and - in particular - coercive control."

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