Report – The Observer view on the police’s failure to prioritise violence against women

as the murders of Raneem Oudeh and Khaola Saleem reveals, some forces don’t regard domestic abuse as a serious crime

Raneem Oudeh (left) and Khaola Saleem
Raneem Oudeh (left) and Khaola Saleem. Photograph: West Midlands Police/PA

The police are charged with keeping citizens safe from violent assault. Yet for too many women and children facing abuse and brutality at the hands of men, failed by police officers who do not take male violence against partners and children seriously, this is a theoretical protection.

Last week, an inquest jury highlighted a truly awful case of police failure to intervene in a case of domestic abuse. The jury found that West Midlands police “materially contributed” to the murders of Raneem Oudeh and her mother, Khaola Saleem, in 2018, through their repeated failures to address the threat that Oudeh’s violent former partner posed to their lives.

Oudeh repeatedly called the police about the violent behaviour of her estranged husband, Janbaz Tarin. On the night of the murders, Oudeh called them four times to report that Tarin had breached his non-molestation order and had assaulted Saleem in public. She was on the phone to the police at the moment Tarin attacked and murdered them. The police effectively left them to be killed. According to Oudeh’s aunt, Tarin felt empowered by the failure of the police to act over time.

This is not an isolated incident. Police failings on domestic abuse and male violence against women are all too common. Too many women and children die avoidable deaths because, in some police forces, there remains a culture of seeing domestic abuse as less of a risk and a priority than other forms of violent crime. This is undoubtedly fuelled by police cultures of misogyny, where male violence against women is perceived by some officers as a joking matter rather than a serious crime, and in which complaints about police officers themselves accused of domestic abuse go unaddressed. In response to a super-complaint submitted by the Centre for Women’s Justice, an investigation by regulators found evidence that police perpetrators of domestic abuse have used their positions to deter victims from reporting their crimes.

Thanks to campaigners against male violence such as Karen Ingala Smith, who started the Counting Dead Women project, we know the death toll involved; as highlighted by the Observer’s End Femicide campaign, a woman is killed by a man in the UK every three days. This adds up to many more deaths over the past 30 years than the number of people who have lost their lives to terrorism. Yet while the government rightly invests billions each year in preventing terrorism, much less is spent on preventing male violence against partners and children.

So much of this cruelty is preventable, if only greater resources and focus were devoted to tackling it. Men do not kill women out of the blue: there are clear red flags and patterns of behaviour that escalate from less serious offending to life-threatening violence. There are proven ways of reducing the capacity of violent men to harm their partners and children; for example, the Drive Programme assigns high-risk male perpetrators of domestic violence a case manager who not only provides support but acts as a surveillance system for dangerous men, coordinating with the police and social services to disrupt their violence. It generates significant falls in violence, but only a tiny proportion of violent men are covered by such programmes.

Reducing the number of women who die each year at the hands of men is eminently achievable. But it requires the police and the criminal justice system to prioritise male violence against women in the same way they do other forms of male violence, including terrorism. Otherwise, women will continue to die as those responsible for keeping them safe look the other way.

This article was amended on 20 November 2022. An earlier version referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct’s investigation as having made the finding that highlighted the police failure to intervene in a case of domestic abuse. Whilst the IOPC did investigate, it was an inquest which made the finding in relation to the police failures to address the threats that Oedeh’s former partner posed.

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