Criticism of Police

Recently I have been criticised for my criticism of police – labelled as ‘anti-police’ and ‘cop hater’, all because I’ve dared to question the attitudes, beliefs or comments of some officers.

Whilst I don’t deny questioning or challenging certain negative behaviour from police officers (and feel justified in doing so), I have also given credit where it has been due.  Following the verdict of the court case in December, I took time to publicly thank those individual police officers, whom I had met via Twitter, for the time and effort they had each given to help rebuild my faith in the police service, without which I wouldn’t have proceeded with the court case.  I also published a blog https://wordpress.com/post/ivy1428.wordpress.com/86 to express my gratitude to all those officers who have had a positive influence on our lives.

Although I will always try to praise the good work carried out by those police officers who work hard and do all they can as often as they can to help those in need of assistance, this will not stop me questioning those whose attitudes, beliefs or behaviour warrants challenging.  Personally, I don’t think this amounts to being ‘anti-police’ or a ‘cop hater’.

I haven’t publicly shared the reasons for my initial critical view of the police service as a whole, but will share a little of my experience now which will hopefully provide some insight and offer an explanation for my negative views at times.

My sexual abuse was first brought to the attention of police in the late 80’s when I was 17.  Two A&E consultants contacted police over concerns of injuries they had uncovered during a hospital admission.  The police dismissed their written reports stating they had spoken to my alleged abuser who had denied any wrongdoing.  I was subsequently released back into his care.  I fully accept that the 80’s were a completely different era and incidents of abuse were not handled as seriously or as sensitively as they are now.

Imagine my utter disappointment then when I was encouraged to contact police in late 2014 to report on-going sexual and domestic violence, to be met with a police officer informing me that he didn’t believe me and that I had derived sexual gratification from my abusive experience.  25 years on and attitudes and beliefs didn’t appear to have changed much.

What followed were months of chaotic and disjointed investigations in which multiple officers from various different divisions and even different police forces were involved, none of whom were willing to share information or communicate with each other.

At the very start of the investigation I was asked to take part in a number of interviews which were used as a ‘scoping exercise’ to determine the complexity of the case, and to decide who would be best placed to manage and further investigate the case.  It emerged earlier this year (2016) following an internal review, that my case was initially handed to the DV Unit for them to manage.  Whilst they were prepared to investigate the case against my husband, they were not prepared to investigate the sexual offences carried out by his colleagues/associates whom he had involved in my abuse.  The case was subsequently handed to the Sexual Offences Unit for them to investigate.  They deemed the offences were linked to trafficking and passed the case to the unit dealing with trafficking for sexual exploitation.  However, because I was being trafficked by members of my own family my case didn’t fall within their remit.  As I had been forced into marrying my husband they passed my case onto the Forced Marriage Unit.  Once again, because my forced marriage was for sexual exploitation reasons and not due to cultural or religious beliefs they refused to take ownership of the case.  As each specialised unit had deemed that my case did not fit their individual remit, my case was eventually handed back to the original CID officer from my local Neighbourhood Poling Team for him to investigate.

As the CID officer from my local police station had not previously investigated any DV or Rape cases (his remit was burglary, theft, drunk/drug related offences, shop lifting and physical assaults) he decided he would only investigate the incidents which occurred within his geographical area, the rest he passed on to the police stations/forces in which the additional incidents had occurred for them to conduct their own investigations.  This involved a further 18 individual officers.  I requested that one officer be appointed as my ‘Point of Contact’ in order that I didn’t have to deal with each of these separate officers, but this request was refused.  I also requested that one officer be appointed to conduct the video interviews for each of the sexual offences involving the different offenders.  Again, this request was refused and I was informed that each of the separate officers would conduct their own individual video interviews.

I’m sure I do not need to explain the level of distress this caused.  I recall attending one interview with a CID officer from a different division.  Thankfully my IDVA attended the police station with me.  The incident he was investigating was a physical assault which had been carried out in his geographical area by an offender who had previously raped me.  Prior to the interview being conducted I was led into a meeting room with my IDVA.  There I was instructed by the CID officer that I was only to discuss the events relating to the actual physical assault during the interview, under no circumstances whatsoever was I to mention that the offender had previously raped me.  In his words, “that’s not my remit, I don’t handle rape cases, someone else will speak to you about that”.  After asking me if we were clear I was then led off to complete the interview.

Ten days later I was sat in a Multi-Agency Case Conference Meeting attended by over 15 professionals.  The Police Safeguarding Officer handed over her report in which it stated that I had refused to co-operate with police by refusing to provide a police statement for the rape by this individual.  I was beyond speechless.  My IDVA immediately interrupted the meeting to state that she had attended the police station with me 10 days prior and had been present when I was instructed by the CID officer not to discuss the rape.  The Chair of the meeting interjected by stating that the CID officer referred to, was not currently present at the meeting to either confirm or deny what had been said, and therefore the report stating I was refusing to co-operate with police would stand.

That is one of the main reasons I will not trust what a police officer tells me.  When a police officer can instruct you to not disclose information, you comply, and they then go on to write a report stating you refused to provide information ……. There are simply no words for that level of betrayal.  From that moment on, any meeting that I am required to attend with police I won’t do unless accompanied by legal representation.

Whilst all of this was going on, we were also being relocated multiple times for safeguarding reasons.  Even when we moved to a new force area, the DI in charge of our safeguarding requested that the investigation process be consolidated and overseen by one specialised unit in order to better facilitate our safeguarding.  His request was refused.  As such, he found it impossible to try to continue to safeguard us with the number of individuals involved in our case and except for the one case which proceeded to court in December he advised and requested that I withdraw from all additional cases, a request which I agreed to.

I now have in excess of 250 pages from various reviews which have been carried out in relation to our case (Internal Review, Independent Review and Serious Case Review).  The reviews highlight all the errors which occurred during the management and investigation of our case.  Whilst I have received written apologies from every other agency involved in our case for the errors which occurred in their management and handling of the case, I have, to date, not received any apology from my original Police Force for the errors which occurred during their management and investigation of our case.

Whilst I have been assured that ‘Lessons will be learnt’ I am not convinced that any actions or changes have been implemented to ensure that the same mistakes do not reoccur in the future.

It is as a result of my own personal experience that I continue to challenge and question negative attitudes, beliefs or behaviour from within the Police Service as I would hate for any other individual to ever have to endure what we faced.  I don’t believe that my criticism amounts to being ‘anti-police’ or a ‘cop hater’ and hope that by sharing this little bit of my story will help provide more clarity as to why I choose to question and challenge.

 

DV-Safeguarding a Safe Address

Earlier this week, the case of Mary Shipstone (7) was reported in the news. Mary was murdered by her estranged father when the location of the safe house both Mary and her mother were living in after fleeing Domestic Violence, was inadvertently disclosed to her father. Mary returned home from school to be confronted by her father who proceeded to shoot Mary in the head in front of her Mother, Lyndsey. After killing Mary, her father then turned the gun on himself.

A serious case review reported evidence that details of their previous addresses or identity were also made available to the father by various agencies/organisations.

Attempting to keep the location of your safe address after fleeing Domestic Violence, is a constant battle and perhaps even, nigh on impossible.

My daughters and I have been relocated 4 times by police as a result of being identified as being at high risk of murder due to Domestic Abuse. Some of the relocations have involved moving to different counties which in turn has resulted in different Police Forces and different Local Authorities being involved in our case. Each of the relocations have occurred due to the location of our safe address being disclosed to my ex-husband by agencies (Social Services, Court) involved in our case.

A recent safeguarding error by the girls’ school has caused concern over the possible disclosure of our current location. It is these errors that I wish to highlight in today’s blog, as there may be many other Domestic Violence victims who could potentially face similar issues.

Both my daughters attend the same High School. When we joined the school, a safeguarding meeting was held with the school’s Safeguarding Manager, a Police Officer, and myself in attendance. The Police Officer provided a list of safeguarding measures which needed to be strictly adhered to and these were agreed by all parties.

The school operates a computer program called ‘School Information Management System’ (SIMS) in which the personal details of each and every pupil, along with an ID photo is stored. All teachers and admin staff have access to this system. SIMS allows for each pupil to be placed into their Form Class on the system. A hard copy of each Form Class (including each pupil’s ID photo and name) is printed out and stuck on the wall of each Head of Year’s Office.

Last school year (2015/2016) my eldest daughter was in Year 11. On the last day of their lessons (June 2016, prior to writing their GCSE exams), the Head of Year took all the hard copies of the Form Class lists (which included photos and names of all the pupils), fanned them out on his desk, and took a ‘keepsake’ photo. He then uploaded this photo onto his personal, official Social Media Sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) with a ‘goodbye and good luck’ caption. The photo was also uploaded across the School’s Official Social Media Sites. My daughter’s class happened to be the top list and her photo, as well as new name, were clearly visible in the ‘keepsake’ photo. The photo was uploaded in the afternoon, however we only became aware of its presence on Social Media after 5pm that day. By this time the school had closed and I had no way of speaking to anyone to have the photo removed. The photo remained on Social Media throughout the night, being shared countless times across all Social Media platforms by numerous school pupils.

I was only able to meet with the Safeguarding Manager the next morning at 9am. The photo was removed from the school teacher’s own social media sites as well as from the School’s official sites but, as previously mentioned, not before it had been shared by pupils countless times across a variety of Social Media Platforms.

Two weeks after this incident, my youngest daughter’s year were holding a charity fundraising event at school during lunch. Both the girls know they are not permitted to appear in any school photos. If they are aware that any photos are due to be taken they make sure to inform the person taking the photo that they cannot be included, and take every precaution to step well out of the shot. On this particular occasion, my youngest was not aware that anyone was taking photos. A teacher had come to take photos of the charity event in order for it to be publicised, however she had not informed anyone that photos would be taken and she didn’t announce that she was taking photos. As such, my daughter didn’t notice photos were being taken and she was included in some of the photos. After lunch, once the charity event had finished, the teacher uploaded the photos onto all of the school’s official Social Media sites. Once again, we only became aware of the photos on Social Media after 5pm. The photos were shared by numerous pupils as well as being shared by the charity who the funds were being raised for. Once more, I had to wait until 9am the next morning before I could request for the photos to be removed.

As a result of these two mistakes, additional safeguarding measures have now been put in place – 1) The girls have been introduced to the Social Media Manager in person so she is aware of who they are. Any photos that are due to be uploaded onto the school social media sites from now onwards will be scanned by her, if they contain any images of the girls they will be deleted prior to appearing on the site (this however only includes photos being uploaded onto the school’s main social media sites, it does not include photos posted by teachers onto their own individual, official sites). 2) I have been given the mobile number of the Assistant Safeguarding Manager so I have a way of contacting a school official out of hours should a photo appear on any of the school’s sites out of hours. This will allow for it to be deleted as soon as possible without having to wait for the school to reopen the next day.

Unfortunately, I have had to attend a further two meetings this past week with the school for additional safeguarding issues.

Every teacher throughout the school creates their own individual subject page on ‘Google Classroom’. On their page they post teaching notes, assignments, homework etc. pupils can also email their teacher through these pages to ask subject related questions. Each child is provided a unique login which is required to access ‘Google Classroom’.

My eldest daughter has now moved up to Sixth Form in the school. Whilst I appreciate that Sixth Form is seen as a completely separate unit, classes are still held within the same school buildings, by the same school teachers as before. They have the same Head Teacher and the Safeguarding Manager still covers Sixth Form.

As with most schools, at the start of the school year there is a fairly significant change of pupils in Sixth Form, with some pupils having left the school and new pupils from other local schools having arrived. As a result of the changes, one of my daughter’s subject teachers accessed the SIMS database and uploaded all the photos and names of the pupils in her class, created a document containing these photos and names, and posted this document on her Google Classroom page. Unfortunately some of the pupils took screenshots of the document with the photos and posted it to their own social media sites.

I again went into school to discuss this issue with the Head of Sixth Form (someone I had not previously met as my daughter has only just moved up into Sixth Form). I was astounded to discover that he was completely unaware of our safeguarding issues surrounding our Domestic Violence. Neither the Safeguarding Manager nor my daughter’s previous Head of Year had passed any of this information onto him. A complete breakdown of communication and vital information sharing.

As a result of this latest error, both girls ID photos have been removed from SIMS so as to avoid any further incidents.

Finally, yesterday my youngest daughter was informed that as part of their GCSE coursework assignments, some subjects will require to video pupils as evidence they have completed the work (in particular PE, English). Not every video will be sent off, however on completion of the work the exam board selects a random sample for moderation. The school is required to send the videos of the selected pupils off to the exam board. This of course poses a serious safeguarding issue for us – I have no way of knowing who will view that video (potentially the examiner could be an associate or friend of my ex, knowing he is still searching for us, our location could be provided to him via this route). I met with my daughter’s Head of Year yesterday to discuss this issue. As this is a new exam requirement starting this year (videos have not previously been required) she is not sure what preventative action can be taken and has promised to look into this issue for me. I await her feedback, I am hopeful that special circumstances can be invoked and either a moderator visit the school to view my daughter undertaking the coursework or that she be excluded from any sample group requiring videos.

To conclude, whilst all of these incidents occurring at school have been genuine ‘mistakes’, as can be seen in Mary Shipstone’s case, mistakes can have devastating and catastrophic consequences. The safeguarding of safe addresses for victims of Domestic Violence requires all agencies and organisations to work together cohesively. Every agency and organisation has a responsibility to have policies and procedures set in place to ensure that the costly mistake of inadvertently disclosing a victim’s safe address does not occur.

 

Mental Health and Suicide

*Trigger Warning: blog discussion on suicide

 

Once again I find myself making plans to end my life. I know within my heart that I will end my life one day. I have tried and failed on multiple previous occasions – you would hope by now that I would know how to get it right. This time I think, at least I hope, I have a fail-proof plan. I know the ‘where’ and I know the ‘how’, I’m just waiting for that final trigger for the ‘when’ to fall into place.

Not a day goes by when you read a statement, whether it be on social media or see it on TV or read it in the paper, “talk to someone, reach out and talk to someone, ask for help”.

Talk to who I wonder? Talk about what I ask? Sometimes the effort required to talk, the motivation to reach out, is simply far greater than the reward.

I have noticed my mental health declining of late. I am powerless to stop the deterioration and even more powerless to rectify it. I suppose, if I really think about it, it started to worsen within a few weeks following the conclusion of my allocated 24 trauma therapy sessions. The decline started slowly at first, and I doubt I even began to notice it, far less acknowledge it. However, things have become significantly worse over recent weeks, so much so that even I can no longer deny it.

I often hear people say, “it will pass; keep fighting; don’t give up; think of how far you’ve come, how much you’ve already survived; focus on the light at the end of the tunnel; never lose hope” etc. etc.

I find myself asking, “when will it pass – or more importantly how will it pass”? How exactly will this pass?

Imagine if we said to an asthmatic, “here are 24 inhalers to treat your condition, once they’re finished you will be required to manage your asthma on your own”.

Or

Imagine if we told someone suffering with diabetes, “here are 24 doses of the medication you require to treat your disease, after the doses are finished you will be required to manage the disease on your own”

Or

Imagine if we told an organ transport recipient, “here are 24 doses of immunosuppressive medication, once you’ve taken them your body needs to have learnt how to manage without them – don’t allow your immune system to attack the new organ”.

Or

Imagine we told an individual suffering with heart disease, “here are 24 doses of medication that will help keep you alive, after you have completed this course you will be required to manage the disease on your own”.

Would we expect any individuals with the physical illnesses listed above to be treated with only 24 doses of medication? Would we tolerate this sort of treatment?

If the answer to either of those 2 questions is ‘No’ then why is it acceptable to treat someone with a life-long mental health condition with only 24 treatment sessions? How can an individual with complex mental health problems be expected to self-manage the condition on their own?

Would we expect an asthmatic/diabetic/heart disease/organ transplant patient’s condition to improve without medical intervention? How then can we expect a mental health patient’s condition to improve without suitable mental health intervention?

To those who say, “this will pass, things will get better” ……. I re-ask the question, “how exactly are things going to improve, how exactly will this pass”? With no adequate mental health support or intervention, how will my condition improve?

For those who are unfamiliar with my background, I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe anxiety and depression 19 months ago. My MH condition resulted from 39 years of sexual violence, involving Child Sexual Abuse, Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation and Forced Marriage. As well as the sexual violence, I also endured 43 years of physical violence and psychological abuse.   Whilst the diagnosis was made 19 months ago following a Mental Health Assessment (late 2014), due to on-going criminal cases I was not able to access Mental Health treatment until January 2016. The NHS Psychiatrist and Psychologist who made the initial diagnosis agreed that a minimum of 3 years, weekly, intensive sessions were required to have any hope of managing my condition. However, due to the demand on local NHS Mental Health services and lack of resources I was allocated a total of 24 psychological therapy sessions with a specialised trauma Psychologist.

Whilst I acknowledge that I accomplished a lot during those 24 sessions, it was always going to be unrealistic to expect any significant or permanent progress. In the 12 months prior to starting the sessions I had 2 suicide attempts. Each and every day was filled with suicidal thoughts. It was a relief to finally notice that these thoughts had greatly reduced towards the end of the 24 sessions. Sadly, they have started to creep back in over time and once again I find they have become a daily occurrence.

I’ve been told to, “not lose hope”. Hope of what? Hope that I will fall asleep one night and wake up to discover that my memory of all the violence and abuse will suddenly have disappeared? Hope that next week the government will announce that thousands of fully qualified Psychologists have miraculously been recruited by the NHS and everyone requiring treatment will have immediate and long-term access to them? Hope that my debilitating panic attacks will unexpectedly disappear?

The thing is, my condition, my C-PTSD means that the 3 hours sleep I get at night is plagued with nightmares, the likes of which you can’t begin to imagine. I wake from one of these nightmares in the early hours of each morning with a debilitating panic attack that takes anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to recover from. My days are filled with flashbacks that I can’t control, with panic attacks as a result of basic triggers. Suicidal thoughts fill the voids.

As my PTSD worsens, so does my anxiety and before you know it, once again you are cloaked in the shroud of depression.

To be told to, “keep fighting” ……. Keep fighting for what? Keep fighting to endure the nightmares? Keep fighting to endure the panic attacks? How do you keep fighting the suicidal thoughts when the only welcome relief from these monsters is the welcome of death?

To me, suicide is a welcome relief from something which I can’t escape.

I’ve been told that I’m a survivor, no longer a victim. I don’t consider myself a survivor ….. yes, I survived the abuse but I have not yet survived the aftermath of that abuse and I genuinely don’t believe I will. I may no longer be a victim of actual physical abuse but I most certainly am a victim of the on-going psychological trauma that lasts a life-time.

There are those, my eldest daughter included, who say that suicide is a selfish act. Is it selfish to want to put an end to the demons? All I can say is, if you have never had to endure the demons you are a very, very lucky individual. My daughter has asked why I don’t love her enough to want to carry on living – I can’t comprehend why she would choose for me to suffer with the on-going psychological trauma. No amount of loving my children will erase the trauma.

I’ve also been told that because I’m good at being able to articulate how I’m feeling, that it is a good indication that my Mental Health condition isn’t that severe, or that I’m quite capable of coping with and managing it, or even more ludicrously, that because I’m talking about suicide means I won’t act on it.

No, being able to articulate how I feel just means I am blessed with the ability to be able to meaningfully put into words what I am experiencing. Just because I can vocalise the mental anguish I am experiencing doesn’t make it any less severe or make me more capable of being able to manage it successfully.

This blog has been both draining and mentally exhausting to write and I will end it now with how I started, which is to say that one day, when the time comes, I know I will end my life.

And yes for those who ask, I have tried to talk, I have tried to ask for help more times than I care to recall. It is an exhausting process and one which seems to have no satisfactory solution.