By Sonia Elks
LONDON, March 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British police are failing to protect victims of sexual and domestic violence from their abusers, a women's organisation said in a "super-complaint" to a watchdog on Wednesday.
Forces are too often failing to use legal measures that ban abusers or suspects from contacting victims in cases including rape, sexual violence and stalking, according to the complaint submitted by the Centre for Women's Justice (CWJ).
Britain's police super-complaints system launched in November and allows some expert organisations to raise issues on behalf of the public about harmful patterns or trends in policing.
"There are a whole wide range of protections on paper but they are just not being implemented on the ground," said Nogah Ofer, a solicitor for the CWJ who compiled the complaint.
"There are incidents of harassment and assault, and the anxiety of just having to live and knowing there is no protection in place."
The National Police Chiefs' Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for the watchdog, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, said the complaint would be assessed to see if it was eligible for investigation.
About 20 percent of women - some 3.4 million people - have been sexually assaulted since the age of 16, according to data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
Nearly 2 million people in Britain, most of them women, suffer domestic abuse each year, the government has estimated.
The super-complaint is the first to be launched over domestic and sexual abuse victims and draws together evidence and data from 11 frontline organisations.
It raised concerns that suspects were being allowed to go free without conditions during police investigations instead of being subject to bail, where conditions can be imposed such as a ban on contacting the victim.
Police were also failing to use other orders intended to ensure women were protected from abusers, while officers often "trivialised" breaches of civil non-molestation orders obtained by victims and failed to take action, it said.
"The combined effect of the failings raised in this super-complaint is that women are dangerously exposed," it said.
The complaint raised significant concerns about flaws in the criminal justice system, said Rachel Krys, a co-director at the End Violence Against Women Coalition.
"In domestic abuse situations we know that when a woman reports to the police this ramps up her risk of harm," she said.
"Leaving women unprotected by bail conditions risks her at best being forced to withdraw her complaint and at worse at risk of death or serious harm."
(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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