Written Evidence submitted by Solace (POP0048)

Solace submission to Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry: Policing Priorities

About Solace


  1. Solace Women’s Aid (Solace) is the leading provider of services for survivors of male violence against women and girls (VAWG) in London and one of the largest in the UK. In 2021-22, our services touched the lives of over 30,000 women, children and nonbinary people, as well small number of men.


  1. Our services include refuge and move on accommodation; community-based services; therapeutic services; specialist provision for children and young people who have experienced domestic abuse or sexual violence; accommodation and support for survivors who have experienced multiple forms of disadvantage; advice lines; and bespoke training for statutory agencies, third sector organisations and corporations. We also run the North London Rape Crisis Centre.


  1. Through the support we provide to victims and survivors, we regularly come into contact with officers and staff from the Metropolitan Police. Mistrust in the police by women and girls has been a long-standing issue however since the murder of Sarah Everard and subsequent high-profile reports of police misconduct related to VAWG, we have been even more concerned by the impact on women and girls in London and on our service users who, at times, rely on the police to keep them safe.


  1. Solace ‘s key recommendations to the Home Affairs Select Committee on policing priorities are:


-          Police recruitment and training includes a focus on increasing the number of sexual offences investigation trained officers (SOITs) and welcome scoping on the feasibility of an equivalent to SOITs for victims of domestic abuse.

-          Police have a much stronger focus on using such legal means and investigating breaches to manage offenders effectively and reduce the risk they pose.

-          Forces introducing a firewall between the police and the Home Office for victims with insecure immigration status to ensure they can get the support they need.  

-          Specialist training on domestic abuse should be rolled out to all frontline officers and staff, which should include counter and civilian staff who can be the first people victims come into contact with by the end of this Parliament.

-          Police forces across the country urgently rectify the gaps and ensure all current officers and police staff have the correct vetting status as soon as possible.

Increased investment in digital analysis around requests for and handling of digital and third-party data for RASSO units.

-          The introduction of a statutory duty on policing to only request third party material that is necessary and proportionate, in pursuit of a reasonable line of enquiry for an investigation, as set out in the recent Home Office consultation.

-          Ensure counselling and therapy notes are non-disclosable giving them the same status as professional legal advice, as recommended made by the Centre for Women’s Justice, EVAW (End Violence Against Women), Imkaan and Rape Crisis England and Wales.

-          Introduce free legal advice and representation by a qualified lawyer when victim’s Article 8 rights (respect for your family and private life) are engaged, as recommended by the Victims Commissioner and the Centre for Women’s Justice that.

Ensure every victim of domestic abuse and stalking can access an independent advocate to support them from the moment they seek help from the police, and this should be enshrined in the forthcoming Victims Bill.


Specifically for the Metropolitan Police we would recommend that:

-          Urgently implement the recommendations made in the Casey Review’s interim report into misconduct.

Launches an independent investigation into institutional misogyny and racism in the MPS to draw out any wider issues built into the structures and cultures of the force and a transparent response.


What a modern police service should look like and the roles they should prioritise


  1. VAWG was added to the strategic policing requirement in March 2022, placing it on the same strategic footing as terrorism, serious organised crime, and child sexual abuse1. This is a huge opportunity for a sea change in the way policing is resourced and directed, but we are not yet seeing that potential harnessed.


  1. While the criminal justice system response to VAWG is only one part of the societal changes needed, it can play a significant role in reducing the harms and preventing further abuse and sending a clear message about what we as a society are not willing to tolerate.


  1. Across our services, the police response to our service users is inconsistent. There are examples of excellent practice where officers are trauma-informed, patient, and empathetic. But there are also incidences where officers disbelieve women and minimise their experiences, eroding their trust and making it less likely they will report further incidents and provide evidence against abusers which can lead to a conviction.


  1. Our advocates working with survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence cannot give our service users assurances about the response they will get from the police if they want to report their perpetrators. Given the trauma they have experienced, we have to warn them that their experience could be triggering and prepare them for that eventuality.


  1. Police recorded sexual offences were the highest on record this year, rising by 32% to close to 200,000 offences including 70,330 recorded rapes. Yet there were just 1,733 convictions for rape in 2022 and according to the Victims Commissioner, 34% of sexual offence victims and 43% of rape victims pull out of supporting prosecution cases2.


  1. SOITs can have a significant impact on improving survivor engagement as they have a better understanding of how to investigate sexual offences and can therefore help victims feel supported through the process of reporting, potentially reducing victim attrition.  In September 2019, there were only 179 SOITs across the Metropolitan Police Service, and in 2021 there were over 18,000 police recorded sexual offences in London. We would recommend that police recruitment and training include a focus on increasing the number of SOITs.


  1. We recognise and are encouraged by Operation Soteria, where independent researchers are working with RASSO teams to test different ways for the police and CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) to investigate rape cases, evaluate their approach, and embed new practice. The aim is for a new national operating model by June 2023; however, we are disappointed that the findings have not yet been shared publicly and particularly before a new national model is designed and rolled out.


  1. Domestic abuse flagged crimes now make up 18% of all police recorded crimes but only 7.8% of reported crimes resulted in a charge or summons in the year ending March 20213. Domestic Abuse Matters training has been developed by SafeLives as a cultural change programme to put victims at the centre of police response to domestic abuse, challenge victim blaming and change the attitudes and behaviour of the police. The training has been proven to positively impact criminal justice outcomes4, yet according to a recent report in the Observer based on an FOI request, only one of the responding forces has trained all of its officers5.


  1. The MPS action plan committed to train less than 20% of MPS officers and staff at the current level of staffing. Specialist training on domestic abuse should be rolled out to all frontline officers and staff, which should include counter and civilian staff who can be the first people victims come into contact with. Training on domestic abuse is also imperative for Sergeants and Detective Inspectors who make the ultimate decision as to whether a case is taken to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or not. Considering the high turnover of staff in the MPS, this training should be given to all new recruits as they join. All training on domestic abuse and VAWG should be co-produced and evaluated by VAWG sector organisations. In addition to DA (Domestic Abuse) Matters training, all MPS staff should receive specialist cultural competency training that accounts for barriers, colloquialisms, languages, and customs that make up the diverse Black community (as set out by Sistah’s Space in their campaign for Valerie’s Law). We would recommend that the Home Office ensures all police staff receive this training by the end of this Parliament.


  1. We are also concerned about the lack of action often taken by police forces around so called ‘honour based’ violence, and the continued lack of understanding of the crime by police officers.


  1. We would also welcome scoping on the feasibility of an equivalent to SOITs for victims of domestic abuse. In 2019/20 54% of domestic abuse flagged cases had the outcome of the victim not supporting further action. So, working to engage effectively with survivors and build a case in the same way as SOITs could improve criminal justice outcomes for domestic abuse as well.


  1. There are a number of procedures in place which aim to bring offenders to justice, like bail and protection orders and offender management systems. Bail and protection orders are also vital to help keep victims safe, but they are often not used, or breaches of orders are not investigated, putting victims at risk. We would recommend that the Police have a better focus on using such legal means and investigating breaches to manage offenders effectively and reduce the risk they pose.


  1. We are also aware that that pilot of tagging systems for high-risk domestic abusers on their release from prison are taken place in the Met Police. Whilst we welcome the piloting of such schemes, they can only be successful in creating more safety for victims and put the onus on perpetrators if breaches are investigated promptly and there is closer working between the police and probation to do this. This includes police apprehension of the suspect and them bring brought before a court in a timely fashion with outcomes that act as deterrents to further offending. Survivors can feel very let down at initiatives that do not have sufficient teeth to keep them safe when breaches do occur. 


  1. In addition, the Police should look to increase their focus on proactive arrests of alleged perpetrators of abuse that are outstanding, particularly those that are known as serial perpetrators. We would recommend this is done through a specialist unit or operation that runs throughout the year and in the case of the Metropolitan Police, runs across all London boroughs.


What can be done to improve community policing and increase trust in police officers and forces, including on funding and on disciplinary powers when police officer behaviour falls below required standards;


  1. Male violence is both a cause and consequence of the unequal power men still hold relative to women in our society, and often within interpersonal relationships and families, and we have to recognise that positions of power often attract abusive men.  It should therefore be expected that a percentage of police recruits will be attracted by the protection the position gives them to gain and abuse power over women. However, we need to see police forces do significantly more to identify potential abusers and put mechanisms in tackle and challenge abusive behaviour by their staff.


  1. Police officers abusing their power for a sexual purpose is now the single largest form of police corruption investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct – the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct). It makes up 60% of their investigations into corruption6.   


  1. In addition to survivors, we have supported whose perpetrators were current or former police officers, we have also had some recent cases where officers in charge of a domestic abuse or sexual violence case have sexually harassed our service users, making sexual advances to vulnerable women.


  1. In June this year, the police inspectorate published a response to a super-complaint lodged by the Centre for Women’s Justice on police perpetrated domestic abuse. The inspectorate found that only 40% of reported cases resulted in a misconduct investigation. Only eight out of the 122 cases reviewed by the inspectorate had been passed to the IOPC and only 9% resulted in a criminal charge. 


A report in the Independent in November 2021 found that one quarter of police forces have staff without the correct vetting assessments in place7. We would recommend that forces urgently rectify the gaps and ensure all current officers and police staff have the correct vetting status as soon as possible.


There are several investigations underway with a review of vetting systems within their remit. These include the Angiolini review of the circumstances surrounding Wayne Couzens offences, and Baroness Casey’s review of the Met Police’s standards and culture.


These reviews should also look to other organisations for assessing recruits’ attitudes and behaviours towards women and girls, people of colour, disabled people, and those within the LGBT+ community.


What the Metropolitan Police must do to increase trust under its new Commissioner


With the Metropolitan Police going into special measures, we see it as an important opportunity to reset relationships with communities in London. The new Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, has set out a 100-day plan to turn things around, which we are pleased to see focuses on the need for professionalism and to raise standards within the force. It is crucial that Sir Mark acts swiftly to root out those officers have not met these standards and are pleased to see him commit to recruit more officers into the Directorate of Professional Standards.


We would also recommend that every force has an independent unit to investigate allegations of police perpetrated abuse and work to proactively inform with stakeholders including the VAWG sector to ensure they are effectively used. The MPS recently revised the directorate of professional standards and ensured that trained rape and sexual assault investigators are part of the team, which we are working with. The need for the independent unit and further resources is clear following the number of misconduct cases of police-perpetrated domestic abuse and sexual offending growing by over 80% in the Metropolitan Police. In order to gain the trust of women to report abuse, this directorate needs independent systems that officers facing allegations cannot not access and this needs to be clearly communicated to the public and those supporting victims.


We would also recommend a national hotline for VAWG complaints against police officers or other police staff, with specialist advocates commissioned to support those making allegations to navigate any resulting misconduct or criminal investigation.


We were pleased to see Sir Mark’s acknowledgement of the need to reform the force he now leads. We were disappointed however that, upon the announcement of his appointment earlier this year, he referenced the need to root out individuals who undermined the “majority of officers and staff.” This sentiment reinforces the message that it has been the ‘bad apples’ ruining the reputation of the service rather than acknowledge that there are wider cultural issues in at least some parts of the MPS, as highlighted by the WhatsApp messages exchanged by the team based at Charing Cross station.


We would recommend that Sir Mark Rowley launches and independent investigation into institutional misogyny and racism in the MPS to draw out any wider issues built into the structures and cultures of the force and a transparent response.


In light of the publication of the interim report of the Casey Review, it is clear that significant reform is needed to the misconduct procedure, and we were concerned to see that officers and staff do not believe action will be taken, allegations relating to sexual misconduct and other discriminatory behaviours are being taken less seriously and that there is a racial disparity through the Met’s misconduct system. We were concerned to see that Case to answer’ decisions are given to 20% of allegations concerned with breaching equality and diversity rules, and 29% of allegations involving sexual misconduct compared to 33% of all finalised allegations. We would support the recommendations made by the Casey Review’s interim report including bringing more offences, particularly relating to discrimination and sexual misconduct, within the remit of ‘Gross Misconduct’ and dismissal, and to bring in more human resource expertise to support the misconduct process.


Sir Mark’s plans to increase neighbourhood policing presence will not reassure women and girls from any community least of all those in Black communities who are already over-surveilled, until the MPS makes clear how and why those officers can be trusted.


Migrant victims


  1. The lack of trust between victim/survivors with insecure immigration status or no recourse to public funds and the police are particularly weak due to the fear about the negative impact it could have on their immigration status. We have concerns that the police often prioritise immigration control over the safeguarding of victims which means they are perceived as a threat. This can be particularly damaging to migrant victims of VAWG as perpetrators can often exploit their immigration status to abuse them further. Research by the Step-Up Migrant Women Campaign found that one in two migrant victims with insecure immigration status do not report domestic abuse to the police for fear of disbelief, destitution, detention, and deportation. 


  1. A priority for the police should be to suspend data sharing between the police and the Home Office on victim/survivors with insecure immigration status to stop perpetrators from being able to use this to abuse women and to enable victim/survivors to get the help and support they need. This was also recommended by H.M Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) but rejected by the Home Office. Solace supports the recommendation by the Justice Select Committee and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for the Home Office to use the Victims’ Bill as an opportunity to establish a firewall between all statutory services and partnerships and the Home Office alongside safe reporting mechanisms and funded pathways to support and legal advice. Along with a number of specialist organisations supporting migrant victims, we believe a complete firewall would make victim/survivors and witnesses feel confident in approaching the police to report crimes and more likely to engage in criminal proceedings, which will in turn allow the police to hold perpetrators to account.   


  1. We continue to be concerned that the Government is setting out the upcoming Immigration Enforcement Migrant Victims Protocol as their response to supporting migrant victims, as they did for in the Victim’s Bill consultation. Organisations that specialise in supporting migrant victims believe that those with insecure immigration status will avoid reporting to the police if there is any risk or fear of information being shared with the Home Office. We are particularly concerned to see that the Protocol is only set to provide temporary relief from immigration enforcement action to victims whose criminal proceedings are ongoing as this temporary relief gives no guarantees to victims and witnesses of crime prior to reporting, as they do not know if a criminal investigation or related proceeding will take place. 


Improving national conviction rates


For rape and sexual offences, we look forward to the recommendations made by the independent academic researchers piloting different approaches as part of Operation Soteria.


One area of improvement needed is on the requests for and handling of digital and third-party data. As almost every case has a digital footprint and RASSO units have not had the levels of investment in digital analysis as, for example, terrorist or child sexual exploitation teams, there is huge potential for improvement through an increase in expertise in this area, along with a change in focus from undermining victims to building cases against alleged perpetrators.


Our advocates have found that the introduction of Digital Processing Authorisation forms has greatly improved the collection of survivors’ digital data. The form breaks down very clearly how the police will use the data, the timeframes they are requesting and how long they will keep it for. However, we have found that the CPS will sometimes come back and ask for a full digital download which undermines the effectiveness of this change in approach.


  1. Every victim going through the criminal justice process should have access to specialist support, and in the case of RASSO cases this will usually be an independent sexual violence advocate. The Government should enshrine that right in the forthcoming Victims Bill.  


  1. We support proposals put forward by the Government in the recent consultation on third party materials to introduce a statutory duty on policing to only request third party material that is necessary and proportionate, in pursuit of a reasonable line of enquiry for an investigation.


  1. We support the recommendation made by the Centre for Women’s Justice, EVAW, Imkaan and Rape Crisis England and Wales in their November 2020 report on the decriminalisation of rape, calling for counselling and therapy notes to be non-disclosable giving them the same status as professional legal advice. Any risks around coaching can be mitigated by the accreditation and regulation of counsellors providing this support to victims/survivors.  This model is also supported by the Victims Commissioner, who has highlighted the practice in Australia where they also have an adversarial justice system. 


  1. We also support the recommendation from the Victims Commissioner and the Centre for Women’s Justice that Victims must be provided with free legal advice and representation by a qualified lawyer when their Article 8 rights (respect for your family and private life) are engaged. The pilot scheme in Northumbria proved to be overwhelmingly positive, with advocates challenging data requests in 47% of cases and victim/survivors’ confidence and understanding of the criminal justice system improving alongside their ability to cope with the mental health impact of dealing with the system. The Centre for Women’s Justice has been providing free legal advice to ISVAs (Independent Sexual Violence Advocate) and their clients, including ours, for over three years and has seen a steady increase in requests, indicating a widespread need for this service.  


For survivors of domestic abuse and stalking, every survivor should have access to an independent advocate to support them from the moment they seek help from the police, and this should be enshrined in the forthcoming Victims Bill.


The response to survivors reporting abuse varies between BCU and is often dependent on the level of priority and understanding of the Chief Superintendent. Now that MVAWG (Male Violence Against Women and Girls) is part of the strategic policing requirement, every BCU should respond to survivors in a trauma-informed way and our advocates should not be dependent on individual leadership of the unit.


Case studies


30. We have included two case studies to highlight the different responses our service users receive from the police and the impact that has. Both have given their consent to share their experiences, but we have changed their names.




Amelia was referred to our Wiser project, a partnership service for women experiencing multiple disadvantage where our advocates have small caseloads and are trained in assertive outreach.


Amelia had been living with her ex-partner who was physically violent to her as well as controlling. She had no formal identification, no GP, no access to benefits and he would regularly make her street homeless and coerce her into prostitution, which he would then belittle her for. Since being in the Wiser project, Amelia has dramatically improved her life, and now has a council flat, is registered with services and is no longer involved with her ex-partner or the sex industry.


When Amelia first left her ex-partner, she stayed in a homeless hostel and was put in touch with a man known to the homeless community. He would get people to commit benefit fraud by giving undocumented people his own details for them to access benefits which he skimmed before passing on to them. While Amelia was yet to obtain her documentation, she became involved with him before quickly realising it was a dubious arrangement and ending it.


However, when the Department for Work and Pensions accepted Amelia’s claim for Personal Independence Payments they paid her a backdated um of around £5000 which went to this man’s account instead of Amelia’s - who needed that money. Our advocate worked with Amelia who decided she wanted to report to the police, but she was scared because of her previous experiences, including being arrested for defending herself against her violent ex-partner.


This time though, the police were brilliant. They knew about the fraudulent man who had multiple complaints made against him. Our advocate said the officers could not have been more welcoming. They were trauma-informed and empathetic, they told Amelia she had done nothing wrong and wasn’t in trouble and they put her at ease. Most importantly of all perhaps, they believed her.


After making her statement Amelia said she felt light for the first time in a long time.


32. Irina

Irina was a teacher in Iran, she came to the UK to marry a man she met through her uncle. Not long after Irina moved here, her husband became emotionally and physically abusive. After one incident, Irina was admitted to hospital where she disclosed the abuse and reported to the police.

Irina was at risk of so-called honour-based abuse from her family in Iran if she returned and felt very isolated. She was referred to us and was able to move into a refuge and our immigration adviser supported her application for a destitution domestic violence concession visa so she could access benefits (Irina was here on a spousal visa).

While she was at the refuge, Irina asked for a police escort to collect some of her belongings from her husband because she was scared of what he might do if she went without support.

The police told her that she would need to set the whole thing up, including contacting her husband who she was scared of, and that while they could arrange to be there, they would not intervene if there was any dispute over her belongings because it was a civil matter.

Irina felt like the police were fobbing her off and did not believe the threat to her that her husband posed. Disheartened she asked her brother-in-law for help but when he contacted her husband he refused to cooperate and now she has lost everything. Irina is devastated not just by the impact of the trauma of abuse, but also by lack of empathy, concern or support provided by the people who she thought would be on her side.