Their record in rape cases is abysmal – and they seem to resent accountability, preferring to improve PR rather than performance
theguardian.com, Monday 4 March 2013 09.00 GMT
Allegations of sexual violence and cover-up are threatening every institution. Can rape be dealt with when so many in authority are themselves guilty? Of course it can. But first the police, charged with enforcing the law, must change.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has investigated London’s Sapphire rape units nine times in seven years – that’s 19 officers disciplined, three dismissed, one imprisoned for fraudulently closing rape cases and another under investigation.
The latest IPCC report reveals the Southwark police policy to press women to withdraw or retract rape allegations. “This local standard operating procedure, authorised by senior officers, increased the number of incidents that were classified as ‘no crime’ and therefore increased the sanction detection rates for the unit” (by 25%-30%).
This was also policy in five other London boroughs. Fiddling the figures is fraud, and enabling rapists to go free amounts to criminal conspiracy. How many of the victims denied protection were raped again or worse? We already know that one alleged attacker killed his children. Were other women raped by these men? Did any victims denied justice take their own lives?
Further, victims who retract allegations can face prosecution. Layla Ibrahim and Gail Sherwood were both prosecuted in 2010 (as were at least 30 others). Both said they were pressed to retract under threat of prosecution. One did, the other refused. Both were imprisoned.
We have been campaigning against the prosecution of women who report rape. In 2011, 27 organisations signed our letter to the director of public prosecutions. He responded with guidance: the CPS should not prosecute women with mental illness, girls under 18 or victims of domestic violence. But he refused to acknowledge that negligent and biased investigations can result in jail for rape victims rather than rapists.
We are working with three women facing criminal charges. Several others were prosecuted for harassment after their rapists made counter allegations and were believed. Sex workers who reported violence were also prosecuted.
Last year, in a landmark human rights case, the daughter of a Women Against Rape volunteer won compensation from the police, following seven years of campaigning, after Southwark Sapphire lost evidence of the rape. The rapist was acquitted; we later learned he had been accused of another rape. A damning IPCC report found that Sapphire detectives were told to prioritise motor crime over rape. Four junior officers were disciplined. But the commander who set the policy went on to the National Centre for Policing Excellence – setting standards.
The IPCC now reveals that two senior officers involved in the case of serial sex offender Kirk Reid (who is thought to have assaulted between 80 and 100 women) were promoted, rather than disciplined. One later retired on full pension.
In 2009 and 2012 we met the heads of Sapphire. We demanded they stop promoting bad officers, and opposed their proposal to prosecute rapists for offences other than rape. We later wrote to DCI Duthie: “…resources will be diverted into gathering ‘intelligence’ for less serious crimes, avoiding a thorough investigation of the sexual violence allegations … Is it to do with officers having their own agenda rather than paying attention to what the victim reports?” We warned that “police priorities would again be skewed, the myth that rape is difficult to prosecute reinforced, and thus that there is no point investing too much into investigating it”.
We pointed to the separation of rape from domestic violence as a major obstacle, since more than half the rapes reported in London are by partners or ex-partners. Different units deal with each crime, so the full picture is hidden – cases are dropped or prosecutions fail.
Why do the police deal with rape so badly? Some are rapists themselves – a 2012 IPCC report, produced with the co-operation of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), looked at 54 accusations of sexual assault against officers. Some are sexist – a 2005 Home Office study revealed that many officers believed women are liars. Some are lazy or incompetent. Those officers who are committed to doing their job and seeing victims get justice clearly have less influence over priorities.
Like many in positions of power, the police seem to resent accountability. They have responded to anti-rape campaigning by improving their PR rather than their performance, and befriending the voluntary sector.
The IPCC helps them. Created to police the police, it shamelessly endorses the police claim that the problem is “historic” rather than current. In December 2012 the IPCC invited Eaves, Rape Crisis, NIA Ending Violence, Victim Support and the Havens to meet. The IPCC says all agreed that Sapphire, though patchy, has improved; all that is needed, it seems, is for frontline police to be trained in “informed consent” and “cultural issues”. Each one of these organisations (statutory or voluntary) is funded by the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice or the police. Those of us who are independent of police and government were not invited.
If senior officers were prosecuted when they pervert the course of justice, sexual violence investigations would improve. So would the behaviour of men, beginning with those in authority.