Fewer than three out of every 100 domestic violence incidents reported to police result in a conviction, an official inspectors' report indicates.
One out of every four violent crimes are domestic offences
And only one in four are even recorded, says the study by police and the Crown Prosecution Service inspectorates.
Police receive one domestic violence call a minute, and two women a week are killed by current or former partners.
But the study said reports of incidents needed to be taken more seriously by police and prosecutors.
Only 118 out of 463 incidents were recorded as a crime and the true total should have been 260, says the report.
HM Crown Prosecution Service
Inspectorate (HMCPSI) Chief Inspector Stephen Wooler told BBC News: "Sound policies are now in place but what has to accompany that is a change in culture."
One out of every four violent crimes are domestic offences and the government has declared them a priority.
But the HMCPSI and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary report says too many offenders are still escaping justice for crimes affecting so many peoples' lives.
Solicitor General Harriet Harman, who commissioned the report, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "For too long, it's been regarded as not really a criminal offence, and many people who commit domestic violence do not see themselves as criminals.
"They regard themselves as upstanding members of the community."
She said it would take time for attitudes to change, given that 20 years ago, police officers thought that addressing domestic violence could jeopardise their careers.
A domestic violence bill being introduced in March would include
"stay away" orders to keep offenders away from victims, she said.
Inspectors said they recognised the commitment of front-line staff but found few had
received in-depth training in dealing with domestic violence cases.
No one in control rooms had been trained how to handle initial calls from victims, which can set the tone for the whole investigation, inspectors found.
And minimum standards of investigation at the scene were often not met - few officers, for example, took photographs of victims' injuries.
Arrest rates for domestic violence incidents reported vary from 13% in some forces to 63% in others, the report said.
More needed to be done to minimise the harm done to children who have
witnessed domestic violence in the home, inspectors said.
Sandra Horley, chief executive of charity Refuge, said: "Sadly many of the women we help do not receive the protection and support they need and deserve from the police and courts.
"Whilst there have been signs of improvement, the reality is that many women and children are left vulnerable to attack in their own homes."
A CPS spokesman said: "Work is in hand to produce a national domestic violence training package for prosecutors and case workers."
But he added: "As the report shows, it is not enough that policies, guidance and training packages exist, they must also be applied by every prosecutor and case