Ahead of International Women’s Day, the first woman commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is calling on Londoners to “press for progress on the crimes that affect women and girls the most”.
The first woman commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, has pledged to reduce violence against women and girls, saying that she and her colleagues are “fully committed to trying to tackle these crimes head-on” in London.
Dick was speaking at an International Women’s Day breakfast hosted by the charity Theirworld, where sexual violence against women and girls was the main subject of discussion. The police commissioner said that women and girls in the UK were generally “very lucky”, particularly compared to women in countries where rape is systematically used as a weapon of war.
However, she warned that sexual and domestic violence remains a major problem on these shores. “Violence against women and girls affects girls on our doorsteps, right here in London and across the UK, not just halfway around the world,” she said.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day (taking place on Thursday 8 March) is #PressForProgress, to encourage people around the world to take action to improve the lives of women and girls. Calling on the public to “press for progress on the crimes that affect women and girls the most”, Dick highlighted several offences that “have a disproportionately large impact on women and girls”, including sexual violence, domestic abuse, human trafficking, honour-based abuse, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
“The life-shattering impact of these crimes on women of all ages is undeniable,” she said.
Just over three in four victims of domestic abuse and violence in London are female, according to the most recent available statistics, while women make up 86% of sexual violence victims in the capital. Dick revealed that the Met receives an emergency call related to domestic abuse every 30 seconds and handles 47 new allegations of rape or other serious sexual offences every day, while recent years have also seen drastic increases in reports of sexual and physical child abuse, child sexual exploitation and grooming.
She predominantly attributed these rises in reporting to “a growing confidence to come forward”, but acknowledged that police were currently only “dealing with the tip of the iceberg”, particularly in regard to “isolated communities”.
In addition, the nature of these crimes - which often take place behind closed doors - means that they can be extremely difficult for the police to “uncover, investigate and prosecute,” Dick said.
The commissioner said that the Met had introduced several new strategies for handling domestic violence cases. Some 22,000 frontline police officers now have body cameras attached to their uniforms, something that can be helpful when responding to domestic abuse emergency calls.
“We use that video [from the bodycams] to go straight into the courtroom, to show what the officers found when they arrived [on the scene],” she said.
The Met has also been increasingly working with the Crown Prosecution Service to run ‘victimless prosecutions’ in domestic abuse cases, whereby victims are not required to give evidence or be called as complainants in court. Dick acknowledged that victimless prosecutions are “quite controversial”, but stated that “in the domestic abuse field we are absolutely committed to doing this”.
But the most important element in tackling sexual and domestic violence, Dick said, was to “engender further confidence amongst girls and women to report and speak out”.
The recent #MeToo and Time’s Up movements would likely encourage more women to come forward to report sexual abuse, she said, adding that she was heartened by charity campaigns like Theirworld’s #ItsNotOk, which aims to educate children about sexual exploitation.
“I do think we have made progress,” she said. “The recent campaigns and the media spotlight that there is, it does feel now like a moment where we can make another shift, to talk more openly and to stamp out taboos.”
“[I want to] break down the wall that prevents some people, especially girls, from having the confidence to come forward and report, knowing that they’ll be heard, they’ll be listened to, and they’ll get the help they deserve.”
Images: Rex Features