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Anonymity, belief important in abuse cases

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EVAW coalition, Henriques report, Metropolitan Police Service, remarks on victims and belief“If media reporting on rape cases were less sensationalised we would be in a better place.”

A review has been carried out by Sir Richard Henriques, a former High Court Judge, in which he examined eight investigations, including cases from Operation Yewtree; Operation Midland and Operation Vincente, and has been published by the Metropolitan Police Service.

Operation Yewtree was the investigation into abuse first by Jimmy Savile and then by others; Operation Midland investigated claims of a murderous Westminster paedophile ring, and Operation Vincente an inquiry into a separate allegation that Conservative politician Lord Brittan raped a 19 year-old woman.

Henriques’ report contains 25 recommendations that are relevant to law makers and policing nationally, and it highlighted a number of what he calls ‘significant failings’ in Operation Midland.

The 25 recommendations include saying that those who make complaints should be referred to as “complainants” and not as “victims” throughout the investigative and judicial process and that the instruction to officers to “believe a ‘victim’s’ account” should cease.

Responding to this, the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), a leading coalition of women’s organisations, said it was alarmed at many of the report’s recommendations regarding the way the criminal justice system responds to sexual violence.

Sarah Green, the End Violence Against Women Coalition’s co-director, said: “We are concerned about multiple recommendations in the Henriques report, including those on anonymity for sexual offences suspects and police ‘belief’ of victims.

“It is a misrepresentation to imply that current police practice involves police officers unconditionally believing those who report a sexual assault.

“After years of extremely bad treatment of rape victims, what we’re supposed to have now is police procedure where the complainant is simply treated respectfully, where police engagement with them takes their account seriously, and where the investigation is full and not subject to rape myths – basically prejudices about who “real victims” and “real perpetrators” are and how they behave.

“And in reality, there can still be major problems with reaching this standard of conduct, due to inadequate training, inadequate resources and the worrying speed with which some cases are dismissed.

“This style of police practice, which is comparable to the way the police would treat victims reporting other kinds of crime, is absolutely not the blanket belief which this report might imply.

“The focus on victim credibility and “false allegations” in this report is harmful and unfair,” she continued.

“And this at a time when an enormous social change is under way in relation to sexual violence, with never before known numbers coming forward to seek justice and more often to seek advice and counselling.

“Support services like Rape Crisis have had an enormous rise in the numbers of women contacting them about assaults they have never disclosed before.

“Our society has for years looked the other way and failed to support survivors or to act to prevent assaults in the first place.

“As we start to turn the tide it is exactly the wrong time to fuel prejudices about the rate and likelihood of a false allegation being made.

Research shows this is absolutely not the case, and in fact rape is an extremely under reported crime related partly to the fear victims can have of being judged by those they report to.”

“Finally, some of the broader police, political and social debate around rape and the justice system has become toxic.

“It is sad to see some police commentary become politicised.

“At a time when more survivors than ever before are seeking support, we need to be mindful of how myths are perpetuated, whose voices are being heard, and what survivors say they need.

“If media reporting on rape cases were less sensationalised, and if more were done to uphold the presumption of innocence,” she pointed out, “we would be in a better place.”

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