Police in Suffolk 'cannot tackle violence against women alone'
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Police cannot tackle violence against women and girls in Suffolk alone, according to a senior officer.
Superintendent Kerry Cutler said policing has "come a long way" in recent years in terms of improved safeguarding and supporting victims, but stressed the importance of education and partnership working in fighting crimes against women and girls.
A report, commissioned by Essex MP and home secretary Priti Patel in the wake of the Sarah Everard murder in March, was published this month and found that "fundamental cross-system change" was urgently needed "to tackle an epidemic of violence against women and girls".
The report, from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), found that although police in the UK had made "vast improvements" in response to violence against women and girls, there were a number of areas of concern - such as the number of cases closed without charge.
The report concluded that the whole system – including policing, health and education – must take a fundamentally new approach.
Supt Cutler said: "I think it's important to note that policing alone can't do this. In terms of policing in the UK, I think we've come a long way in how we deal with offences that are committed against women. We're talking predominately about sexual violence and domestic abuse where we see women as the main victims.
"We do have good partnership working, it is complex and it cuts across a number of areas, whether that be safeguarding, or the support we've put around the sexual assault referral centre - The Ferns - so we work with the NHS, Suffolk County Council, with a host of other groups to support victims who are coming forward.
"Some of them might not even want to speak to the police but they need help, medical support and referral onto other areas.
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"There's work to be done in terms of safety on the streets. We hear a lot about switching lights on and the lights are controlled by the local authorities but we can give advice.
"I think it's a journey and it's not just about the report, it's about the fact we reflect on the feedback we're given and recognise that we can make mistakes and things can go wrong but at the same time, even now, there will be some officers engaging with victims of some really serious crimes and working really hard with them to bring those cases before the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) so that we can secure a charge and bring it to court.
"Likewise, they will be speaking to females who don't want to go to court and want the violence to stop but actually listening to them, making sure they are safe and taking action to protect them.
"That's happening daily. I lead for the force now on domestic abuse and we're working really hard to look at how we can change our practices and processes and listening to other groups involved in supporting women."
The recent murder of primary school teacher Sabina Nessa has once again put the issue of violence against women and girls into the spotlight.
Koci Selamaj, 36, of Eastbourne, East Sussex, has been charged with her murder and will appear before Willesden Magistrates' Court today.
Ms Nessa, 28, was killed as she walked through Cator Park in Kidbrooke, south-east London, on her way to meet a friend on September 17.
Her body was found nearly 24 hours later covered with leaves near a community centre in the park.
Supt Cutler said she believes education is crucial in tackling violence against women and girls in the county.
"A big one for me is education and doing all we can to work with other groups in educating young people, right from an early age about what is permitted behaviour - about what is right and what is wrong, and the word respect," she said.
"But also to give girls confidence that they can come forward, and have confidence that they don't have to put up with that behaviour and I think that's really important in schools.
"I've always been an advocate of education. So if you said to me, 'we've got a pot of money, where are we going to put it?' I'm going to say we put it in education because the more we educate our children, the more we give them to navigate through life and make better informed choices then surely that has got to be an investment for the future."
She added that funding was also vital for successful partnership working.
"It's not a case of just waking up and doing things, I think it's a case of reflecting where we've got to and readjusting, listening to the feedback that comes in and working together with partners so we can access funding from the Home Office and the government," she said.
"Suffolk probably has been the poorer relative to others in terms of being able to access funding for our public sector services. We saw a really big achievement this year, working with Ipswich Borough Council securing safer street funding for Ipswich.
"I think things have improved. People will argue differently but I think it's a very different world to the one I was in when I was younger before joining the police. I have a vested interest in this - I have a young daughter and I want her to grow up in a world where she is valued for being a woman and she can walk around safely.
"If you speak to a lot of police officers, we live in Suffolk, our children go to schools in Suffolk, we have family that work in the county and we have a real vested interest in making Suffolk safe."