If Kent Police think rape isn’t an emergency, they shouldn’t be in their jobs

It has not been a good week for police forces in the UK to prove they’re taking violence against women seriously.

On Tuesday, the damning Casey report was published, which found evidence of institutionalised racism, homophobia and misogyny across the Met Police force. After months of reports exposing sexually explicit messages between officers and missed opportunities to stop rapist David Carrick, it’s hardly a surprise.

Within 48 hours, another story broke – this time focussing on Kent Police and its attitude towards women’s safety.

An A4 piece of paper had been posted in the window of Maidstone police station. It was a sign that displayed a list of ‘non-emergency enquiries’ that could be reported online, rather than over the telephone.

‘Rape and sexual assault’ were one of the crimes included in the list.

It caused understandable upset on social and national media. The sign appeared to send the message that rape and sexual assault was not important enough to report as an emergency or worthy of a call-handler’s time.

While the backlash has been seen as yet another blow to women’s safety (women are in the overwhelming majority of sexual assault victims) it’s important to point out that anyone can be a victim of sexual crimes and all should be taken seriously and encouraged to report to police.

But whatever the age or gender of a victim, the tone of the sign felt dismissive and arguably cruel to anyone who had experienced such a violating and devastating crime. 

To view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a webbrowser thatsupports HTML5video

With the criminal justice system continually failing rape victims – only 1% of rapes recorded by police in 2021 resulted in a charge that same year – clearly more needs to be done to give survivors the justice they deserve.

If we are to increase the number of rape convictions, complainants must be reassured that what happened to them is serious and warrants emergency status. The sooner a crime is reported to the police, the more likely it is that evidence can be collected to secure a successful conviction – but what’s arguably more important is that victims get the emotional support they need as soon as possible.

Survivors need a compassionate human being to speak to after such a crime has taken place, not a form that lacks the ability to offer solace or comfort.

The sign was quickly taken down, with Det Ch Supt Emma Banks quick to try to reassure that Kent Police takes investigations of domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault ‘extremely seriously’.

But Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott said the sign ‘should never have been put up’ in the first place and described it as ‘completely wrong and totally inappropriate’.

Det Ch Supt Emma Banks urged anyone in immediate danger to call 999. But even that line of encouragement isn’t clear.

‘Immediate danger’ should not be the threshold for a 999 call for sexual assault victims. That puts the onus on them to decide just how dangerous their situation is after an assault has taken place.

If an attacker has left the immediate vicinity, it might leave survivors doubting whether they are still in immediate danger and whether or not that constitutes a phone call.

The intelligence of the person who typed up the sign must be brought into question, as they also listed ‘crime (wide range of options)’ as something that could be reported online, so it’s clear that they didn’t really understand whatever brief they were given. It makes you wonder what state our call-handling services are in to warrant such a poster. 

The list also included ‘missing persons’ as a non-emergency, which is highly problematic.

It’s a common misconception that a person must be missing for 24 hours before it can be reported to the police, which is an outright lie. It’s a myth that has largely been perpetuated through TV shows and films that portray police officers as being despondent to concerned relatives of missing people.

Yes, the majority of missing people turn up unharmed, but if a person is vulnerable because of their age (old or young), mental state, health problems or any other reason, then it should be reported immediately.

Despite this, some families of missing people have spoken about the police’s lack of urgency when they have reported their loved one as missing. If a person is vulnerable or has come to harm, the first 24 hours are vital if they are to be brought home to safety.

Of course we want to ensure that phone lines are freed up so that people who are in desperate need of police intervention get support and protection. Of course we must discourage people from calling 999 when it isn’t necessary.

But such nuisance calls include people calling to complain that their neighbour is playing music too loud, to report potholes or to make a complaint to the police. They do not include people reporting a rape.

The answer should not be to dissuade genuine victims from calling 999, but to increase the number of handlers who can take such calls.

Unless the Government makes a commitment to invest in women’s safety and provides a specialist emergency call service for victims of rape, then 999 continues to be the most appropriate method of reporting sexual assault.

Once again, instead of focussing on catching and convicting the perpetrators of rape, the police are asking women to change their own behaviour.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

Share your views in the comments below.

Source: Read Full Article