Over half of domestic abuse victims contact police at least twice before action is taken, finds new survey

Picture of a woman on the phone to represent calling the police about domestic abuse. (Getty Images)
Women feel police are failing to act on domestic abuse reports. (Getty Images)

More than half of those affected by domestic abuse (53%) reported it at least twice before they felt appropriate action was taken by police, new research finds.

And nearly a quarter (24%) had to do so three times or more before this happened, while more than one in 10 (12%) of respondents said they do not feel like appropriate action was ever taken.

The study by charity Victim Support, the country's biggest provider of domestic abuse services, also uncovers that those from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds have been disproportionately "dismissed and side-lined". It polled more than 1,000 women who have experienced this type of abuse, with at least 150 of them women of colour.

This comes after recent Office for National Statistics data showed police recorded 912,181 offences related to domestic abuse in the year ending June 2022, up 14% from the year ending March 2020.

A recent government report also estimated that 6.9% of women and 3% of men aged 16 and over experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2022, equivalent to 1.7 million women and 699,000 men.

Read more: 'Chills looking at this’: Women’s Aid praised for ‘He’s coming home’ campaign

Sad woman sitting on a sofa in the living room. (Getty Images)
Domestic abuse can include violence, coercive control, economic abuse, online abuse, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and more. (Getty Images)

When reporting an instance of domestic abuse, almost half (48)% of Black and ethnic minority respondents felt the police treated them differently to other people because of their ethnic background or heritage.

One 30-year-old Black woman from London, also a domestic abuse survivor, says the reports she made were repeatedly mishandled by the police, spanning a period of 10 years.

She first went to them about the abuse when she was 18. “The first time round they didn’t take me seriously at all – they judged me off the fact that I was a young mum, they judged me off the fact that I was a care leaver."

Her abuser was slim and shorter than her, which she says made officers question whether it was one-sided.

“They kept on saying to me, ‘So you didn’t do anything to him, you didn’t retaliate back?’”

With her trust in the police lost, when she found herself in another abusive relationship years later, she was reluctant to ask them for help. But as it escalated to life-threatening physical violence, her grandmother made her go to the police station.

Read more: Lisa Snowdon says it's 'still hard to talk about' five-year domestic abuse ordeal

Her allegations were taken more seriously, but she still felt biases surrounding her height and race.

“I felt like I was judged off my appearance. I’m a tall, 5 foot 10 Black girl, I speak very well, I present myself very well – just because someone presents themselves well, it doesn’t mean they’re not struggling," she says.

“When they issued a warrant for his arrest, I wasn’t notified, so they put me in danger without realising. I was still in my property, I was still in communication with him, he still had access to my phone, and they’re just ploughing ahead and going and doing things without consulting me.

“I think if I’d looked a certain type of way, they’d have been much more cautious in how they dealt with me. Because you’re a tall Black woman they don’t think as much care needs taking over you.”

She says her experiences show how important it is to challenge ingrained ideas about what a 'victim' looks like.

“They need to understand that victims come in all shapes and sizes and colours," she says, echoing the same for perpetrators.

In court, her ex-partner pled guilty, with the sentencing originally scheduled for early July. But due to it being adjourned five times, it only went ahead on Tuesday. Unfortunately no one told her it was happening, leaving her "devastated" at being denied the chance to read her victim impact statement.

Her ex received an 18-month suspended sentence, meaning he won't spend any time in prison. “They fail people again and again. I wish I had never come forward," she adds.

Read more: I suffered financial abuse – my husband would get angry if I even spent £1.50

Watch: The cost of freedom: Domestic abuse survivors forced to stay with abusers amid rising cost of living

In the year ending March 2021, police reportedly made 33 arrests per 100 domestic abuse related crimes.

“The police receive a call for help relating to domestic abuse every 30 seconds. It takes a huge amount of courage to come forward – victims need to know that their report will be handled with the upmost seriousness, and not dismissed," says Valerie Wise, national domestic abuse lead at Victim Support.

"The idea that someone’s race or appearance could impact the care they receive, and their access to justice is appalling.

“On average, domestic abuse leads to two women being murdered every week in England and Wales – the stakes are too high for the police to not be getting this right every time.”

As well as physical violence, domestic abuse can include coercive control and 'gaslighting', economic abuse, online abuse, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and sexual abuse. For pointers on how to recognise it see this advice page on the gov.uk website.

Read more: What is coercive control? ITV's Ruth Dodsworth reveals texts abusive ex sent children

Anyone experiencing domestic abuse, including survivors of past abuse, can get help from Victim Support – regardless of whether or not it’s been reported to the police. Visit victimsupport.org.uk where you can get in touch via Live Chat or by calling the charity’s 24/7 support line on 08 08 16 89 111.

Women's Aid, with similar helplines available, also has information on how you can help your children, making a safety plan, and what to do if you're worried about someone else.

If you think you or someone else might be in danger, call the police immediately on 999. If it's hard to make contact for help, see this information page on what 'safe spaces' are.