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Police must treat ‘epidemic of violence’ against women as seriously as terrorism, UK watchdog says

In this Saturday, March 20, 2021 file photo, floral tributes and messages are placed at the bandstand on Clapham Common in London in memory of Sarah Everard. A British police officer has pleaded guilty to murdering Everard, who was abducted as she walked home from a friend’s house in London.Alberto Pezzali/Associated Press

LONDON — A UK watchdog has called on police to treat “an epidemic” of violence against women with as much urgency as fighting terrorism, in the wake of a murder that stunned the nation.

Crimes from stalking to sexual assault should be as much of a priority as other police work that gets better funding, according to an investigation published Friday, which reviewed how officers respond to the abuse of women and girls.

On average, a woman was killed by a man in the United Kingdom every three days, it said — by their partner or former partner in almost two-thirds of cases. The report, which examined police forces in England and Wales, also noted that incidents were often closed without charges: 3 out of every 4 in the case of domestic abuse.


“The problem is known, consistent and deep-rooted in its presence, and growing in the forms it takes,” the police oversight body said.

Its report was commissioned after the killing of Sarah Everard stirred a national outcry this year, not least because a policeman was charged in her kidnapping and murder.

The 33-year-old marketing executive was last seen at 9:30 p.m. on March 3 as she walked home from a friend’s house in south London. Her body was later found in the woods in Kent.

The murder brought hundreds of mourners and protesters into the streets of London despite COVID-19 restrictions, in a night vigil that saw clashes with police. It also pushed women around the world online to share their stories of harassment and the ways in which they try to stay safe, especially while walking alone at night.

After the outpouring of grief, another key report in June concluded that the criminal justice system had “failed” rape victims, prompting an apology from the British government. Top officials — including ministers who said they were “deeply ashamed” — promised to make changes to get justice for victims.


That probe showed that prosecutions had fallen by 59 percent and convictions by 47 percent since 2016, even as reported rapes almost doubled.

“We urge the Government to listen to the many recommendations ... and above all put the voices of victims and survivors at the heart,” SafeLives, a UK charity against domestic abuse, tweeted after the release of Friday’s findings.

While the police watchdog hailed improvements like better identification of repeat offenders, it found “inconsistencies at every level” among the forces in how they used their powers to protect women, with some officers or call-handlers making victims feel like they didn’t believe them.

Inspector Zoe Billingham also stressed that police could not do it alone, calling for a “radical” change in how authorities — everyone from the government to schools and the criminal justice system — worked to prevent these crimes in the first place, help victims, and track down offenders.