“Accept nothing; Believe no-one”

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.

Missing the Point

Much has been said over the past few days regarding the verdict of the Ched Evans rape trial. Campaigners supporting rape victims have spoken out of their fear for the way in which the trial was allowed to be conducted, together with the not-guilty verdict and how this will have a direct negative effect on future victims being willing to report these incidents.

Professionals from the legal field as well as the policing field have been quick to point out the legal reasons justifying why the victim’s previous sexual history was allowed to form part of the Defence’s evidence and calling on victims to not let this trial deter them coming forward to report any incidents of rape.

However, the point these professionals seem to be missing is, no matter how justified that legal decision was, the way in which the victim has been publicly degraded and humiliated by the Defence team throughout this trial, is the lasting and stand out memory many victims will remember.

I cannot believe there is a person out there who would wish to volunteer to be so publicly shamed.

Not only has the victim suffered such humiliation in the court room, but with the verdict of not-guilty she must now face a large section of society who believe that a not-guilty verdict equates to the suspect being innocent and that in turn leads many to believe and accuse the victim of lying about the incident.

Again, it becomes irrelevant for professionals to point out that a not-guilty verdict simply means the jury felt there was insufficient evidence to convict.

With so many members of society being willing to shame victims of not-guilty rape trials by labelling them as liars and calling for them to prosecuted for perverting the course of justice, there must be little wonder why future victims will look at the outcome of this trial and be reluctant to come forward.

Of course it doesn’t stop there. Sadly the victim has once again been named on social media, and the threat of legal action does little to dissuade those from continuing to break the law providing life-long anonymity. There have even been some despicable calls for the victim to go on and kill herself.

Having been through a rape trial myself, I know the devastating impact a court case can have, and I have yet to meet a rape victim who has been through the CJS and stated that the court case wasn’t a horrific experience.

Unless and until society as a whole, together with the Criminal Justice System, implements changes to stop this appalling treatment of rape victims there is no doubt that trials like Ched Evans will have damaging effects on future victims being willing to come forward and report incidents of rape.

Insufficient Evidence v False Allegations

*Trigger Warning: this post discusses rape

I saw yet another newspaper article today on a rape case in which the case did not proceed to the suspect being charged with any offence.
Immediately on being informed of this decision, the offender’s family and friends took to the media stating that the allegations were completely false and the victim had maliciously lied to police, fabricating this bizarre story.

Articles like this one have recently become a daily occurrence in the media, if not in the national papers then most certainly appearing in local community ones.

Despite every police force in England and Wales actively encouraging victims of rape or serious sexual assault to report these incidents, recent figures suggest that approximately only 20% of all rape cases are ever reported to police.

Of these reported cases only around 23% of rape suspects are charged and appear in court.

If we are to believe the media, as well as friends, family and those supporting the rape suspect, that insufficient evidence being found to enable a suspect to be charged with rape indicates that the victim was lying and falsely accused the suspect, then based on the above figures that would imply that 77% of all reported rapes are false allegations.

Just think about that for a minute ……. 77% of all reported rapes are lies.
That is what the media and supporters of offenders would like us to believe. Wow, just wow!

Of the 23% of cases which do proceed to court, less than 10% result in a guilty verdict. Again, the suspects who have been found not-guilty in court (over 90%) take to the media to declare their innocence and state publicly that the verdict proves the victim was lying and made false allegations.

What baffles me and leaves me completely speechless is why anyone would choose to make a report of being raped or sexually assaulted to police, and as a result, be interviewed about the assault if they were lying.

For the sake of impartiality, I acknowledge that some false reports of rape are made to police, however the true figures of false accusations reported are less than 5% of all reported cases. A far cry from the 77% which the media suggest.

Why anyone would subject themselves to a police rape or sexual assault interview if the incident had not occurred is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps members of the public think it is all too easy to make a false allegation. If you mistakenly believe this, then please give some consideration of what it is like being interviewed by police for a reported rape or sexual assault – it is far from pleasant, in fact it’s nothing less than traumatic.

I have undergone numerous video interviews for multiple rapes and sexual assaults, and it is not something I would wish to be subjected to again. Being asked:
“Were you penetrated; where were you penetrated (ie. vagina, anus, mouth); what were you penetrated with (eg penis, fingers, other object); how long were you penetrated for; what did the suspect do whilst penetrating you; did the suspect ejaculate; where did he ejaculate …….

If you think it is so easy to answer these questions then the next time you have enjoyable, consensual sex with your loved one, think about how you would feel if, when you next returned to work, you had to go to your boss and graphically describe every minute of your recent sexual encounter with them in explicit detail. Would you find that difficult to do? Now consider a rape victim having to describe all of that to a stranger dressed in a police uniform.

When a victim decides to report the rape or sexual assault to police, the victim is informed that there is absolutely no guarantee that the case will ever proceed to court. The CPS make the decision on whether a suspect is charged based on the amount of evidence available. If there is insufficient evidence then the case is closed and no further action is taken against the suspect.

Providing sufficient evidence is the hardest part. It is important to note that even forensic evidence providing semen is not in and of itself sufficient evidence to prove rape. All that semen provides is a DNA link to the suspect, but what it cannot prove is whether the sexual activity that took place was consensual or not which is key to proving rape.

Of course forensic evidence can only be obtained if the victim attends a medical forensic examination within a certain time frame of the rape occurring. As with the police interviews, I have no idea why anyone would subject themselves to a medical forensic exam if they were lying.

I have undergone 2 forensic medical examinations. I have the utmost respect for the medical professionals working within the unit and can’t praise the compassion, dedication and care with which they carry out their duties. However, undergoing a forensic medical exam is just as traumatic and unpleasant as the police interview. The physical exam took just over 4 hours. Each cut, wound and bruise meticulously measured, photographed and then documented. The vaginal exam was recorded on DVD in order to better record evidence for court. Numerous swabs have to be taken, each one recorded on the DVD & finally the internal examination to record injuries.

Why, just why would you subject yourself to that if you were lying?

Unless there is additional and undeniable evidence to prove the rape or sexual offence took place, it is increasingly hard to provide sufficient evidence. There have been a few recent cases in which offenders were found guilty because they (or a third party) had filmed the rape taking place and posted the footage online either via Snapchat, Facebook Live or Periscope. Without this sort of evidence or witnesses to the assault taking place, 77% of cases are closed due to lack of supporting evidence.

Before you jump to the conclusion though that those 77% of victims have lied and made false allegations, please consider the trauma they have been through as described above to make those allegations and ask yourself, does insufficient evidence equate to a false allegation – which every offender and their supporters would have you believe?