Police chiefs have been told they need to "get a grip" in order to tackle the "stark, shocking and evolving" epidemic of violence against women and girls.
A report by the police watchdog, commissioned in the wake of the death of Sarah Everard , said forces were not taking the issue seriously enough, and ought to treat it with the same priority as terrorism and county lines drug dealing.
The report also warned that while 620,000 women were victims of sexual assault last year, attackers were escaping justice because the police were not able to assemble the necessary evidence.
In addition, huge numbers of victims lost faith in the system and withdrew support for the prosecution before the case got to court.
Six years ago 5,773 rape victims pulled out of criminal proceedings , but by 2019 that figure had soared by more than 200 per cent to 18,584.
The police watchdog expressed grave concerns about the number of cases being dropped before charge and said forces needed to do more work to understand why this was.
‘Unexplained variations’ in enforcement
The report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) also highlighted widespread inconsistencies and "unexplained variations" in the way police forces used powers such as restraining orders and bail conditions to keep women safe.
Zoë Billingham, from the HMICFRS, said chief constables needed to get a "much better grip" of the tools at their disposal in order to protect women and girls who were in danger.
Inspectors also expressed deep concern over the way Clare's law (which allows women to find out if their partners have a history of domestic violence) is operating, with some forces failing to respond to the vast majority of requests for information.
The report found that Essex Police disclosed information in just 11 per cent of cases, Thames Valley Police in 13 per cent, while the figure in Kent was only 21 per cent.
Taken more seriously
Ms Billingham said violence against women and girls was now at such a scale that it needed to be taken more seriously by the police and put on a par with terrorism and serious and organised crime.
She said: "When you look at the hierarchy of priorities within police forces, very often violence against women and girls doesn't actually feature as one of the top three. We think given the scale of the epidemic it is vital that it does."
She went on: "Three out of four domestic abuse crimes reported to the police are being closed before they get anywhere near the CPS and a charging decision. That seems remarkably high to us and is suggestive of the police not doing the things that they are there to do.
"They have been given very specific powers and tools as police officers. Powers that no other citizens have and we expect the police to be using these to keep women and girls safe.
"We say the police should be doing everything in their power to protect women and girls from known offenders, to prevent offending from happening in the first place and to investigate relentlessly when reports are made to them."
However, the HMICRFS acknowledged the police could not tackle the issue on their own and suggested the Government made it a legal duty for all partner agencies to work together to protect women and girls, similar to the existing framework for child protection.
The report was commissioned by Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, following the murder of 33-year-old Miss Everard near Clapham Common in South London in March.
Her rape and murder, by off-duty Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, prompted widespread outpouring of grief and anger, as well as demonstrations over concern for women’s safety.
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