Friday, 27 March 2009

Institutionalized sexism in the Metropolitan Police Service gave rapists freedom to terrorize women

Two very high-profile, recent sexual assault cases have uncovered the immense failings of the Metropolitan Police in investigating and prosecuting rape. Two weeks ago, John Worboys was found guilty of 19 charges of drugging and sexually assaulting 12 female passengers, including one case of rape, and is thought to have attacked more than 500 women during his 13-year career as a licensed taxi driver.Worboys "was arrested by police in the summer of 2007 but was freed to attack scores more women, at least 30 while he was on bail." The case triggered an internal review by Scotland Yard, which found that the Metropolitan police failed to investigate dozens of rape allegations because officers did not record them as criminal offences. In the Worboys case, one of the victims was told by a police officer to "fuck off, black-cab drivers don't do that sort of thing".

In a more recent case, Kirk Reid was convicted yesterday of 2 counts of rape, 3 of assault by penetration and 21 indecent assaults. It emerged during his trial that
He had been identified as a suspect for a series of sex attacks in 2004 and crossed the police radar at least 12 times, but no one pursued inquiries into him. He went on to attack at least 20 women.
While most of these newspaper accounts treat the issue as one of bureaucratic failing from the perspective of the Metropolitan police, who sound duly apologetic but hardly outraged, another story in the Guardian follows the experience of Rebecca, a victim of rape who at the time was 15 years old. After her mother noticed her constantly crying, taking several baths a day, not sleeping and having nightmares, she told her mother that she had been raped and the two filed a complaint.

But as time went on mother and daughter became increasingly concerned that no arrest had been made. This was despite the fact that officers had been given a mobile phone number, address and car registration details for the alleged attacker.

Unknown to them, this was not the only failure. No attempt was made to obtain forensic evidence from the flat where Rebecca claimed she had been raped. No one went to the local shop where she had gone in a distressed state afterwards, and although both her mobile phone and the man's were sent away for examination, the wrong tests were carried out. By the time this mistake was recognised it was too late to obtain the correct information.

The defendant was found not guilty. [Following emphasis mine]:

Earlier this month it became clear just why the case had floundered. Having made a complaint about the police handling of the investigation, a damning internal inquiry revealed a string of mistakes that had been made by the inadequately supervised, overburdened and untrained police constable who was left - in breach of the Metropolitan police's own rules - to handle it. This showed that there weren't enough detectives in the elite Sapphire sex crimes unit; in fact, the unit's then manager was pleading with her superiors for more staff, pointing out that the car crime, burglary and robbery teams all had more detectives. Another senior officer in the Sapphire unit told the inquiry that it was "not at all" a priority for management, claiming the motor vehicle crime team had greater priority.

There can be no clearer statement on the way women are valued than the fact that the safety of cars is prioritized above the safety of women.

The [rape] conviction rate remains at a dismal 6.5%, compared with a figure of 34% for criminal cases in general. The government estimates that between 75% and 95% of rapes are never reported to the police, but of those that are, only a quarter end up in court, and complaints persist that women are not being taken seriously, witnesses are not being interviewed and potential evidence is going uncollected.

Representatives of Women Against Rape, which worked alongside Rebecca and her mother on their complaint against the police...believe that one way to change this is for heads to roll when specific failures are identified. "They won't solve anything until people are held to account," says the group's Ruth Hall. "It's not enough to say lessons have been learned - they've been telling us that for 30 years."

The group also suggests that there needs to be a distinct change in police priorities. "The problem really starts at the top and this report proves that," says Lisa Longstaff. "The priorities for downgrading rape and under-resourcing rape in relation to other crimes are set by the very highest in the police. It's about orders from the top that make it clear this is a priority crime to be investigated ... In many cases the police just aren't doing the job once someone reports a rape to them. They're not interviewing witnesses, they're not taking forensic samples, they're not visiting the crime scenes. They're dismissing a lot of reports because of who the woman is and the circumstances in which the rape took place - if she's been drinking, or she's young, or has a history of mental health problems, or is an immigrant."

More on Institutionalized sexism in the Metropolitan Police Service...:
Police took four years to arrest serial sex attacker
Metropolitan police accused of institutional sexism over serial sex attacker cases

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