Easy Changes by the Police Could Save Women’s Lives
“What can be done to stop this?”. That was the question posed to me by a journalist when I was speaking to them about the endemic problem police forces have with their officers abusing women.
It’s a short question without an easy answer. But here are some starters for 10:
Sentencing David Carrick, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb observed that his offending started as soon as he had been vetted for his first police role. It is clear that Carrick abused his role as police officer to consistently abuse and assault women. He would use it to lure them in and he would use it to taunt them, telling them that they would not be believed as he was a police officer. The fact that he did not start his offending until the vetting procedure was complete illustrates how premediated his crimes were.
Once vetted to join, it can be that an officer is never vetted again. This is astonishing. Following Carrick’s sentencing the College of Policing has recommended that vetting is tightened up suggesting:
- Vetting being carried out again, regardless of time since last check, if there is a material change in a person’s circumstances, including any misconduct;
- Any person unable to hold vetting clearance should be dismissed from policing; and
- Adverse information or changes in circumstances that may impact on a vetting clearance must be assessed to mitigate any risks.
This does not go far enough. In my view vetting must be carried out annually to ensure that no material changes are inadvertently overlooked.
They must also be carried out by forces that the officer has not served in. The fact that Wayne Couzens and Carrick were known amongst their peers as “the Rapist” and “Bastard Dave” illustrates that a boys’ club atmosphere persists in some forces and those who are clearly a threat to the public are not reported internally. This must stop.
All Offences Recorded and Prosecuted
In my work I almost always see the same thing. Sexual predators starting off with what are considered low levels of offending, escalating to serious sexual assaults. The fact that a predator is a police officer does not change this as illustrated by Wayne Couzens. He started with indecent exposure before brutally raping and killing Sarah Everard.
Any offence, however minor it may appear to the police and CPS, must be recorded and prosecuted. This, in line with more stringent vetting, would go some way in ensuring abusers in the police are caught and held to account.
“I’m not victim blaming but…” – in the same way night follows day, the but will be followed with something that is exactly victim blaming such as:
- Why was she out alone?
- How much had she had to drink?
- What was she wearing?
The questions go on and on. And it is not only the public that ask these questions but the police too. And when they do, it means that the woman reporting her sexual assault loses all confidence in the system. If the police are unlikely to believe her then why should she even continue with reporting?
And so reports are abandoned, meaning conviction rates for sexual assaults remain appallingly low.
Police forces need to ensure all their officers are routinely trained in how to properly investigate sexual crimes and how to ensure victims are properly interviewed and made to feel safe.
At a time when forces are underfunded, the government need to step up and finance the training as opposed to just standing up in the House of Commons to share their sympathy for another family who’s wife or daughter has been abused by a serving police officer.
It’s time for deeds not words.