An overview of the Hendriques report into Operation Midland was published by the MET Police on Tuesday.
Much discussion surrounding the issue of believing the victim has followed. Turning to social media in the wake of the report, I have seen countless serving front-line police officers relentlessly repeating the mantra “Accept nothing; Believe no-one”.
I wish to express my own personal views on why I consider this mantra to be so very damaging to victims.
Following a visit to my local SARC (Sexual Assault Referral Centre) after a particularly violent rape, I was encouraged by support workers to report the on-going abuse to police. I followed the advice and went to my local neighbourhood police station and requested to speak to an officer. I spent just over an hour with the officer giving him a very brief overview of the abuse. When I had finished, he put his pen down, sat back in his chair and stated, “my job as an officer is to accept nothing you have told me and to believe no-one’s version of events”. He then continued, “I don’t believe what you have just told me because firstly, things like this simply don’t occur in our green, leafy, middle-class area. Secondly, you appear to be an educated woman and educated women don’t allow these sort of things to happen”. He finished off his insult by saying, “and anyway, you derived sexual gratification from the experience”. I walked out of the police station feeling utterly humiliated and degraded, so much for being told things have changed and progressed within the police service.
I am sure that would have been the end of my involvement with police, however during my visit to the SARC a risk assessment had been carried out and forwarded to MARAC (Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference). At 9am on the morning following the MARAC conference I was called into a meeting with my IDVA and a police officer from the Public Protection Unit. During this meeting I was informed by the police officer that they had assessed me as being of high risk of being murdered by my husband. Due to the severity of the on-going violence the decision had been made and agreed by all present at MARAC that for the safety of myself and my children, I was required to leave the family home within the next 24 hours.
I still find it incomprehensible how having given both police officers the same information, the front-line officer can respond saying he doesn’t believe anything I told him, yet a second police officer from a different unit within the same police force, can state I’m at significant risk of being murdered. The stark contrast between being believed and not believed.
My decision to visit the SARC was not taken lightly and was most certainly not a spur of the moment decision. It is something I considered at great length. The over-riding factors which influenced my decision to ultimately contact the SARC were:
1)I needed medical attention as I was injured as a result of the frequent rapes
2)Attending the SARC did not require me having to report the abuse to police.
My sexual abuse lasted 39 years and involved multiple abusers. From a very young age I was taught that if I ever dared tell anyone, especially anyone in authority, what was happening, I wouldn’t be believed. In fact not only would I not be believed but I would be the one in trouble, I would be the one investigated and most likely go to jail for my part in what was occurring, for my wrong-doing. As this message was given from such a young age and repeated frequently by my many abusers, it was a message which I wholeheartedly believed and never questioned. Fear of speaking out and not being believed and the consequences thereof ensured my silence and kept me trapped in the abuse for 39 years.
I have spoken to numerous abuse victims since and many repeat the same story – fear of speaking out and not being believed keeps them silent.
As a victim deciding on whether or not to seek help, I turned to the internet and social media to see what options were available to me.
If I were a victim turning to social media now for the very first time looking for options, and I saw first-hand front-line police officers openly and publicly stating that should I choose to report my sexual assault to police, the events as I described them would not be accepted nor would they be believed, then you have lost me at the very first hurdle. If the door to the option of me reporting my assault to police has been well and truly slammed in my face from the very first knock, then you have lost me at the first opportunity and you have played straight into the hands of my abusers. My abusers have warned and threatened me that you would not believe me and you have simply confirmed those threats.
Do police officers honestly believe that a victim would voluntarily come forward and report sexual assaults having been informed that their account will not be believed or accepted? Do they honestly believe that a victim wants to put themselves in the position of being humiliated and told they are not believed?
This is the very real danger and concern I have of seeing the mantra “Accept nothing; Believe no-one” incessantly repeated.
The second concern I have following the publication of the report, is the large number of individuals (including serving police officers) calling for victims to be investigated for attempting to pervert the course of justice for those cases in which:
1)The victim retracts/withdraws their statement
2)The case does not proceed to charge
Figures were released last month of the high percentage of recorded cases of sexual assaults that do not proceed to charge. The majority of victims are already aware that they have a very slim chance of their case succeeding to court, let alone achieving a conviction. However, if they are now to discover that they themselves will subsequently face an investigation for perverting the course of justice simply because their case has not proceeded to charge, then once again the option of reporting the abuse is taken away. Very few victims will be open to taking that risk.
We need to consider very carefully the options provided to victims to encourage and enable them to confidently and safely come forward and report abuse, not threaten them into remaining silent.