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Domestic abuse victims put at risk after data breaches revealed their locations to alleged abusers | UK News

Domestic abuse victims have been put at risk after data breaches meant their locations were disclosed to their alleged abusers, the UK Information Commissioner has said.

The breaches have taken place at organisations including a law firm, a housing association, an NHS trust, a police service, a government department and local councils.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued reprimands to seven organisations for data breaches affecting domestic abuse victims since June 2022, with four of those cases related to inappropriate disclosure of the victim’s safe address to alleged perpetrators.

In one case, a family had to be immediately moved to emergency accommodation.

In another, an organisation gave the home address of two adopted children to their birth father, who was in prison on three counts of raping their mother.

Organisations had also revealed the identities of women seeking information about their partners to those partners.

There was also a breach in which an unredacted assessment report about children at risk of harm was sent to their mother’s ex-partners.

The people they trusted exposed them to further risk

John Edwards, the UK Information Commissioner, has called on organisations to handle personal information properly to avoid putting vulnerable people at further risk.

Mr Edwards said: “These families reached out for help to escape unimaginable violence, to protect them from harm and to seek support to move forward from dangerous situations. But the very people that they trusted to help, exposed them to further risk.”

He called on organisations to handle personal information properly and stressed that “getting the basics right is simple” through training, double checking records and contact details and restricting access to information.

A lack of staff training and failing to have robust procedures in place to handle personal information safely were among the various reasons for the breaches.

Mr Edwards continued: “This is a pattern that must stop. Organisations should be doing everything necessary to protect the personal information in their care.

“The reprimands issued in the past year make clear that mistakes were made and that organisations must resolve the issues that lead to these breaches in the first place.”

He added: “Protecting the information rights of victims of domestic abuse is a priority area for my office, and we will be providing further support and advice to help keep people safe.”

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‘A data breach can be a matter of life or death’

Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, said: “It takes a huge amount of bravery for victims and survivors of domestic abuse to come forward, and many go to extreme lengths to protect themselves from the perpetrator. To then be exposed to further harm due to poor data handling is a serious setback.

“That seven organisations have breached victims’ data in the past two years, with some sharing their address with the perpetrator, is extremely dangerous. For victims of domestic abuse, a data breach can be a matter of life or death.”

Kelly Andrews, the chief executive of Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid, said: “In the most serious cases lives are at risk.

“We encourage organisations to read the guidance and ensure staff are trained in handling confidential and sensitive data to better protect victims and prevent further harm.”

The ICO revised its approach to public sector enforcement last year. It aims to reduce the impact of fines on the public by working more closely with the public sector, encouraging compliance with data protection law to prevent harms before they happen.

The reprimands give instructions to the organisations on how to improve their data protection practices.

Domestic abusers will be electronically tagged on leaving prison under government pilot to protect victims | Politics News

Domestic abusers will be forced to wear electronic tags on leaving prison or risk being sent back to detention under a pilot scheme launched by the government to protect victims.

Up to 500 people will be made to wear the devices, which can monitor their whereabouts, enforce a curfew and ban them from going within a certain distance of a victim’s home.

The pilot will launch in the East and West Midlands before it is rolled out across England and Wales next year, the Ministry of Justice said.

Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, welcomed the pilot as a “positive step forwards in protecting victims”.

“By blocking perpetrators from contacting victims, the Unwanted Prisoner Contact scheme sets an important standard that the criminal justice system will not be used to further domestic abuse, making a difference for survivors’ safety, recovery, and freedom from abuse,” she said.

“For too long, the onus has been on victims of domestic abuse to protect themselves from harm.”

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Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said: “Survivors of domestic abuse show great strength and bravery in coming forward, and it is right that every tool is used to protect them from further harm.

“The tagging of prison leavers at risk of committing further domestic abuse is a further protection we are introducing to help victims rebuild their lives and feel safe in their communities.”

But Labour’s shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said the government had a “shameful record of ignoring domestic abuse”.

“This pilot is a pathetic effort to stem the rising tide of violence against women and girls that has skyrocketed on their watch,” he said.

“They’ve stood idly by as domestic violence has more than doubled since 2015 yet the number of prosecutions has plummeted by half.”

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Officer ‘took advantage’ of woman

The development coincides with a special report by Sky News that revealed a police officer was able to take advantage of a domestic abuse survivor by having sex with her in a women’s refuge while on duty.

Shannon Mulhall was distressed and vulnerable when she called the police and was taken to the refuge – but when she arrived, one of the officers sent to protect her stripped naked and made sexual advances towards her.

Disgraced Humberside Police officer PC Simon Miller now faces years in jail after admitting the improper exercise of policing powers.

He becomes the latest in a line of police officers who have eroded public trust in the police through their actions.

Read more:
‘Chilling’ surge in use of tech to control abuse victims
Failures leave ‘potential victims at risk’

In a move that seeks to address the public’s concerns, the government announced on Thursday that it would give police more powers to sack rogue officers.

Police officers who are found guilty of gross misconduct will face automatic dismissal while those who fail vetting checks can also be fired.

The move comes following a series of scandals engulfing the police, including the murder of Sarah Everard by serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens and the unmasking of former police constable David Carrick as a serial abuser and rapist.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley, who had been pushing for changes to police regulations to make it easier to sack rogue officers, welcomed the development.

“I’m grateful to the government for recognising the need for substantial change that will empower chief officers in our fight to uphold the highest standards and restore confidence in policing,” he said.