Thousands of violent crimes against women are ‘tip of the iceberg’

More than half of recorded violent crimes in North Yorkshire and York are against women and girls, it has been revealed, as the area’s most senior police officer said the under-reporting of such offences meant the known incidents were “just the tip of the iceberg”.

North Yorkshire Police chief constable Lisa Winward told the area’s Police, Fire and Crime panel watchdog the force was aiming to expose what has been a hidden crime by talking with victims even if they do not wish to report an offence.

Ms Winward, who has led the force since 2018, was speaking following a report by police, fire and crime commissioner Zoe Metcalfe about the force’s progress against its strategy for addressing violence against women and girls, particularly in the wake of the murder of York woman Sarah Everard.

Last October, a year on from her predecessor being forced to resign amid after saying women needed to be more streetwise, the commissioner outlined various initiatives launched to improve women’s safety and ensure that they are listened to.

Mrs Metcalfe told the panel how a new Victims’ Centre was being developed on the outskirts of York to house North Yorkshire’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre and Child Sexual Assault Assessment Services alongside a Video-Recorded Interview suite for victims.

However, members of the panel said without details about the scale of the violence against females it was impossible to assess the actions of the commissioner in holding the force to account.

Speaking on behalf of the commissioner, her office’s chief executive Simon Dennis said in York 2021/22 there had been 5,615 violent crimes, of which 52 per cent were linked to a female victim and 34 per cent were marked as domestic abuse.

He said the statistics for North Yorkshire were almost exactly the same.

Mr Dennis said a full picture of the scale of violence against women and girls was difficult to outline due to under-reporting, which was a known issue being addressed by public sector organisations across North Yorkshire and York.

Chief constable Winward added: “This is a hidden crime across society, nationally and in North Yorkshire, predominantly in domestic settings we find a significant amount of under-reporting because of the fear of police involvement, the fear of reprisals on the victims and this is why we are very closely linked to the national agenda violence against women and girls agenda.

“I think it is the tip of the iceberg, the figures that we have talked about. I think it is about engaging with the victims, sometimes privately, even though they might not want to publicly report or speak about it, so we can get to the root cause of the problem.”

After the meeting, the panel’s chairman, Councillor Carl Les, said despite evidence of improvements in the police response to violence against women and girls the panel would continue monitoring the force’s progress in “ensuring that they are doing what is right for the female members of our community in particular”.

He added: “Clearly this is still a matter of interest and of great concern. I think Commissioner Metcalfe has made some good advances on this, but as the chief constable said it’s almost like the tip of an iceberg. Police are now starting to understand more about the problem and therefore they’re putting some mitigating actions into place.”