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The police, rape and victim blaming

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sussex police rape victim poster, rape, police, no crime, human rights actOne third of reported rapes were registered as ‘no crimes’; they effectively never happened.

A rape victim, falsely accused of lying in an(other) instance of institutional victim blaming, has won £20,000 in compensation from Hampshire police after suing under the Human Rights Act.

The woman, known only as Laura, was 17 years old when she was raped by Liam Foard following a night out with friends in Winchester in 2012.

Documents seen by the Guardian showed that two days after the rape was reported, detectives concluded that she had lied about the attack, and, weeks later, Laura was told she might face charges for attempting to pervert the course of justice.

And the T-shirt that Laura had submitted as forensic evidence was not tested.

Following the police’s accusation, Laura’s mental health started to deteriorate; she began to self-harm, and she attempted to commit suicide twice.

Laura’s mother, known by the pseudonym Jackie, filed a complaint about Laura’s treatment, and after a new team of officers reviewed the case and the T-shirt was tested, Foard was found guilty of the rape and sentenced to six years in prison.

Hampshire police have now admitted liability for false imprisonment and assault having breached its duty to avoid “inhuman or degrading treatment” as specified in the Human Rights Act.

Laura’s case is unfortunately not an exception.

Rape Crisis reports that not being believed, being blamed and feelings of shame and self-blame are some of the most common reasons women do not report rape to the police.

A government report released in 2013 estimated that 85,000 women in the UK are raped every year.

Of that figure, 28 per cent will never tell anyone about it, and only approximately 15 per cent of rape victims will ever report it to the police.

Katie Russell, spokesperson for Rape Crisis, points to a “culture of disbelief” within the police force, an attitude which has a revictimising affect on many survivors.

Last year, for example, an examination of the 43 police forces in England and Wales revealed that one third of reported rapes were registered as ‘no crimes’; they effectively never happened.

Victim blaming has also recurred frequently in the ‘stay safe’ campaigns police forces run.

Sussex police force were the latest to be criticised for their recent sexual violence prevention campaign in which a poster asked “which one of your mates is most vulnerable on a night out?”

The message called upon women, as potential victims, to be more aware of their vulnerabilities in public spaces, and  urges self-control and pre-emptive action, rather than addressing the perpetrator mindset.

The poster was withdrawn.

The notion that women invite rape upon themselves remains a prevalent social misconception, and victim blaming occurs often in public discourse and media coverage of rape crimes.

Rape victims are often assigned personal responsibility for their own victimisation, and frequently become new targets of abuse.

These are deeply entrenched cultural attitudes and place the onus on the individual as the site and cause of the crime, removing everyone’s thoughts and attention away from any systematic problems in the institutional approach to rape prevention.

Laura was able to use the Human Rights Act to hold the police accountable for failing to uphold their duties.

As the new Conservative government move forward with plans to repeal the Human Rights Act in favour of a new British Bill of Rights, there are concerns that a victim of a crime’s access to justice will be compromised, and their protection undermined.

Debaleena Dasgupta, Laura’s lawyer, speaking to the Guardian, said: “Many people wrongly assume the police have a legal obligation to investigate crimes.

“However, the only way victims of crime can seek justice for these sorts of issues is using the Human Rights Act, which imposes a duty on the police to properly investigate very serious offences.”

The Ministry of Justice told the BBC that there were other avenues, aside from the Human Rights Act, that victims of crime can pursue in cases such as this.

For example, under the right to review scheme, brought in England and Wales in 2013, victims can appeal against a decision not to bring charges or to discontinue a case once a prosecution has begun.

Chief Superintendent David Powell, head of Prevention and Neighbourhoods at Hampshire police acknowledged the handling of Laura’s case was ‘poor’, and said internal processes have changed as a result.

This change, he explained, means that “any decision by an investigating officer to discontinue a rape investigation or release a suspect with no further action has to be agreed by an independent panel chaired by an assistant chief constable.”

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