We welcome blogs from anyone with an opinion of issues in or affecting the police service, providing they are not party political, defamatory or containing inappropriate language.
Today’s blog comes from Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, national policing lead for adult sex offences.
Last week police forces around the country ran targeted campaigns focussing on how they deal with rape and sexual offences, the support victims should expect and the realities of the judicial process.
As National Policing Lead for Adult Sex Offences, I was keen to use the opportunity to generate an intelligent, honest conversation around some of these issues. Working with national media and using social media allowed the discussion to take place.
Rape and sexual offences are uniquely damaging crimes for the victim. The impact on their lives is immense and the journey to becoming a survivor is an extremely difficult one for many. It is important that police, or other agencies in the criminal justice system, don’t make that process harder.
There are many victims who feel that the police have treated them sensitively, professionally and supported them as far through the process as they were willing or able to go. At the beginning of week, an extremely brave rape survivor, Jordan Hart, waived her anonymity to talk to Channel 4 News about her experience and to call for others who’ve been raped or assaulted to come forward and report it to the police. Jordan credited her support officer Debbie, a Sexual Offence Investigative Techniques officer (SOIT), with helping her through the process.
But there are also survivors of rape who feel that they have been let down by the police. On Channel 4 News, I was shown a film of another woman who felt that she didn’t have the support of the police officers when she reported that she’d been raped by an ex-partner.
Throughout the week, I have made clear the standards of service that victims of rape and sexual offences should expect from the police. They should expect to be listened to, believed and supported by the police as well as to be offered the support of specialist support workers. They should expect the police to do everything they can to bring the offender to justice. I am disappointed and angry when officers don’t meet those standards so I understand why others are too.
Training, supervision and leadership all reinforce these standards as does dealing with issues robustly when officers fall short. My role as national policing lead is to advise and help police forces to drive up their standards so the experience of reporting to the police and the subsequent process is as good as it possibly can be.
In both media interviews and on Twitter, I have been challenged about times where the service or individual officers have got it wrong. I have been honest that we don’t always get everything right in rape investigations. Sexual offences are complex to investigate and prosecute, and victims’ needs and reactions vary from person to person. But we do learn from our mistakes. All the changes we have made in the way police deal with sexual offences - specialist training of officers, the introduction of early evidence kits, greater access to sexual assault referral centres and working closely with support groups - are changes that have emerged from looking at ourselves and realising that we can do things better.
Last week I said it was important we are honest about the realities of prosecuting rape. Some criticism came from people who felt that raising the fact that 30 per cent of prosecutions don’t end in a conviction would put people off reporting. I disagree.
Firstly, I was absolutely clear it is always worthwhile reporting. It allows police to respond, it opens up access to support services: we need more people to report. Secondly, if I were to suggest that going through the criminal justice process as a victim of rape would be easy, that would be dishonest and would not, I believe, create trust. To increase reporting we need to increase people’s confidence in the police response and confidence is fundamentally based on being told the truth.
During the Twitter Q&A some people also found the hashtags we used - #InFocus #Rape - offensive. Hashtags provide a quick and easy reference for people searching on Twitter for particular topics and we wanted to make that search process as simple as possible – especially for those who might be looking for advice or opinion anonymously. We asked what others on Twitter thought and many found it sensible and clear, but we’ve taken the negative feedback on board and will consider hashtags carefully for this topic in future.
I didn’t want to deliver a single message last week; I wanted to have a conversation about a very complex and emotive issue. Some of the criticism highlights the strength of feeling and the difficulty that police forces have in trying to deliver campaigns to prevent rape. In interviews over the course of the week, I said very clearly that rape is rape and blame lies solely with the offenders. But I was still accused of victim blaming, as were other forces.
Just as we do with other crimes, many forces provide personal safety advice within rape campaigns, as well as targeting potential offenders. I understand why people are so passionate about the need for us to get this balance right, but it is disappointing when a message which could help protect individuals and prevent crime is misrepresented, because it impacts on people’s confidence to seek our help.
I do feel that we have been successful in having an open and honest debate and I want to thank all of those who’ve engaged with us and been a part of that, whatever their perspective. The work doesn’t stop at the end of last week; public engagement will help us continue striving to encourage reporting and improve the police response.
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