Today I attended a reception at Downing St hosted by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and ministers from a range of government departments to celebrate International Women’s Day.
One of the key things emphasised by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, was that women’s issues are just as important for men and it matters to everyone that we all tackle issues of violence against women.
The majority of people present were from voluntary sector organisations and survivors and families who have had to face the realities of these heinous crimes. These groups are carrying out outstanding work across the whole of this area.
Last week saw the release of the HMIC Thematic Inspection, Forging the links: Rape investigation and prosecution, which is followed this week by the launch of the government’s Teenage Rape Prevention Campaign. Both are very welcome; one to build on the progress that has already been made in rape investigations and the second to ensure we look to challenge some of the misconceptions around rape, whilst seeking to offer guidance and support to victims of sexual offences.
Forging the links, in contrast to previous inspections which have predominately focused on victims of sexual assault, looks at the management of suspects and in particular linked offences and serial offending. It welcomes the ‘comprehensive and recent work on the treatment of victims by the agencies of the criminal justice system’ and looks to build on this in areas where improvements can be made, such as the way intelligence is gathered and how it can be used to construct cases against suspects.
The report concentrates on the structures in place to identify and manage the use of intelligence; so vital when protecting the public. The emphasis is on how intelligence is used to identify offending behaviour, spot patterns and linked offences and on making sure systematic processes are in place to successfully bring to justice those offenders that commit serial offences.
Fundamental to understanding the risk and threat to the public within a force area is having a clear intelligence picture in the form of a current problem profile. This needs clear definitions around terminology such as ‘repeat’ and ‘serial’ offending which are not just about ‘stranger’ attacks. ACPO will need to work closely with other key partners including, NPIA, CPS and the Home Office to ensure these and other issues identified by the report are addressed. There is much emphasis and discussion at the moment around no-crime rates and the inconsistencies that exist across forces. The reality is that little will be gained in trying to compare figures unless we have some consistency in the way crimes are initially recorded.
I believe real gains can be made by forces introducing specialised teams, particularly those that involve co-location of police and CPS, which bring with them the consistency and professionalism that is so important when dealing with rape. Of course in this period of austerity, resources are at a premium but I really do believe that this is one area where a dedicated resource, linked to close partnership working with the CPS and support agencies, will achieve not only a professional response to the victim but address many of the shortfalls identified in the recent inspection.
A piece of work underway at the moment is looking at the costs and benefits of such teams and will, I hope, assist forces in making a decision on whether to introduce a team or not. Evaluating the financial cost of a dedicated team against the risk of a sub-optimal investigation will be difficult to achieve but I hope it will offer corroboration that forces need to look hard at the issues. Having first-hand experience of introducing a dedicated team and seeing the almost immediate benefits it brings, is one reason why I am so confident in promoting their existence.
In addition to professionally investigating rape, we need to act to try and prevent offences from happening in the first place and that is why I am so pleased to see the launch of the government’s campaign. Highlighting rape within the media and in particular amongst teenagers is key in trying to prevent a vulnerable part of the community from becoming victims. Asking them to consider what they think constitutes a rape and providing the support necessary to challenge unfounded perceptions, will be key. The campaign will also add support to other marketing initiatives, for instance the award winning 'Where is your line' campaign from the Havens and the school based campaign recently launched in Avon and Somerset.
In summary there are some real positives to be found in many aspects of how we now investigate and prosecute offences of rape. We work much more closely with our partners and as the recent inspection highlights, ‘â€¦the reactions of practitioners are far more attuned to the needs of victims...’. We need to constantly challenge ourselves to do better, to identify those areas which we haven’t got right, and not only offer victims the support they need but prevent them from becoming victims in the first place.
David Whatton is the Chief Constable of Cheshire Constabulary, and ACPO lead for rape and serious sexual offending.