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The Met fail rape victims – again

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Police tapeCulture of disbelief uncovered at specialist rape unit.

An investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has exposed shocking failings by Scotland Yard’s specialist sex crime units.

Police officers are reported to have pressurised victims into dropping allegations of rape and to have failed to properly investigate sex attacks, even when evidence was available to them.

These appalling tactics were employed in an attempt to boost crime detection rates and meet performance targets in a number of London boroughs.

The IPCC report focused on the activities of the Southwark Sapphire team in London between 2008 – 2009, but according to the Guardian, similar practices took place in five other boroughs during the investigation period.

The Sapphire teams are tasked with investigating rapes and cases of serious sexual violence, but the report revealed the disgraceful treatment of many victims at the hands of the people appointed to protect them.

Women were repeatedly questioned by different officers, in breach of standard procedure, and encouraged to confirm they had given consent to their attacker.

Deborah Glass, Deputy Chair of the IPCC, said: “The approach of failing to believe victims in the first instance was wholly inappropriate.

“The pressure to meet targets as a measure of success, rather than focusing on the outcome for the victim, resulted in the police losing sight of what policing is about – protecting the public and deterring and detecting crime.”

One case in Southwark ended in even greater tragedy when Jean Say, a man who should have been investigated for rape, went on to murder his two children.

The detective in question decided the woman who made the rape allegation against him had consented to sex, so no forensics were taken and the police failed to question him.

Such an investigation may not have saved his children, but it would have at least flagged up his violent tendencies and put him on the police radar.

Vivienne Hayes, CEO of the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC), said this was “Yet another catastrophic outcome for women and children as a result of serious and endemic institutionalised failings within the police, and even more worryingly within a specific unit of the police set up to deal with rape and sexual violence.

“They are obviously not fit for purpose! When will the institutionalised sexism obviously rife across the country be properly and satisfactorily addressed?”

This is the fifth time Southwark’s Sapphire unit has been under investigation by the IPCC, and the ninth investigation into the Met’s handling of victims of sex crimes in London.

In 2010, the IPCC revealed ‘sustained failure’ in the Met’s investigation of serial sex offender Kirk Reid.

Reid is believed to have gone on to commit between 80 and 100 sex attacks after the Met failed to take DNA when he first came to their attention in 2004.

In 2009 he was convicted of 28 sexual offences over a 12-year period and jailed for life.

Another IPCC report in 2010 suggested that serial rapist John Warboys could have been stopped two years before he was convicted, had it not been for a culture which failed to take women’s allegations seriously if they had been on a night out.

John Warboys, an ex-porn star and up until his arrest a taxi driver, is suspected of drugging and sexually assaulting up to 200 women passengers over six years.

In response to the most recent IPCC report the Metropolitan Police said: “We have for some time acknowledged that previous investigation of rape and serious sexual assault in the MPS was below standard.

“The activities identified in this report came during that era and highlight specific issues within Southwark which resulted in unacceptable actions by local officers.

“It is as a result of such failings that we have made substantial changes to the investigation of rape and serious sexual assault, both in terms of structure and revised working practices.”

Writing on the Independent Voices blog, chief executive of Rape Crisis South London, Yvonne Traynor, said the police’s handling of rape cases has improved since 2009.

[We] are working a lot closer with the police, it’s a completely different story.

“We are being taken seriously, we are on strategy groups with the Met, they are trying to get it right.

“It’s an all-round concerted effort to bring bad guys to justice,” she said.

“The training is better. They have a psychologist who trains the officers to help them understand how women react to being raped.

“They no longer believe the stereotypical myths: if someone isn’t crawling into a police station sobbing, but standing upright and being coherent, it could mean she has been raped as well.”

However as recently as 2011, one woman reported police at Southwark Sapphire Unit failed to collect evidence and subsequently dropped her case.

Rape convictions in the UK remain disgracefully low, as this infographic from Left Foot Forward illustrates.

Disgracefully low: the UK has the worst conviction rate in Europe.

An estimated 79 per cent of rapes are not reported, with reasons including distrust of the police and courts, and the fear of being blamed.

It is disturbing – well, sick really – how entrenched sexist attitudes prevail in institutions such as the police, and the impact this continues to have on the way victims of sex crimes are treated.

In the meantime, as far as Sapphire goes, a total of 19 police officers from London have been disciplined, including three who have been sacked and one convicted of malpractice.

But several others have escaped any serious repercussions – and two have even been promoted.

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