Cambridgeshire police cause ‘serious concern’ over domestic abuse, yet student victims go unmentioned

Amy Provan 1 April 2014

A recent report ordered by the Home Secretary has singled out Cambridge as one of the four of 43 UK forces causing “serious concern” about the service they provide to victims of abuse. The report failed to mention the significant proportion of student victims, who are at serious risk of domestic abuse.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, who carried out the research in November 2013, had “significant concerns about the ability of Cambridgeshire constabulary to deal consistently and appropriately with victims of domestic abuse and to reduce the risk of harm to them.”

Specialist officers and staff to deal with domestic abuse were found to be stretched “extremely thinly”, and the force had a “lack of direction and focus on domestic abuse”. Domestic abuse was not perceived as being as important as other offences, such as burglary.

The force’s particular capacity for dealing with student victims was not surveyed. A 2011 NUS report found that 68% of female students have been the victim of one or more kinds of sexual harassment on campus during their time as a student.

In the majority of cases in all incident categories surveyed by NUS, the perpetrator was known to the victim, and in the category of physical violence, offenders were most likely to be intimately known to the victim (38 percent for less serious physical violence and 35 per cent for serious incidents).

Responding to HMIC’s findings, Sir Graham Bright, Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner told Cambridge News that domestic abuse is “an extremely complex area of work which we are taking very seriously here in Cambridgeshire, along with our partners.

“It is disappointing that despite the work we have done to monitor this, there were failings in the service.

“This area of work remains a strong focus and I have been assured by the Chief Constable, and HMIC’s inspectors, that following their findings the force quickly took appropriate action.”

Chief Constable Simon Parr added “We took on board the critical feedback from the HMICs first report and ensured we took swift and robust action to resolve those issues”.

The force has come under further criticism recently for its methods of student surveillance. At the beginning of March, three people adding their names to those who have claimed that Cambridgeshire police offered them money to spy on campaigning groups in the area. 

At a meeting with students, Cambridgeshire police refused to discuss the issue of surveillance.

In Cambridgeshire, domestic abuse accounted for 6% of calls to the police for assistance and 61% of harassment offences. It is hoped that this report will place domestic abuse more centrally in police forces’ priorities for the future.