Scotland Yard staff to be trained in psychological effects of rape

// 24 February 2010

Det Chief Supt Caroline Bates, head of Scotland Yard’s first dedicated rape intelligence unit, has pledged that every woman reporting a rape will be interviewed by an officer trained in the psychological effects of the crime:

“I train my staff to understand the psychological effects of rape,” Bates said. “[Victims] might not come forward right away. They have flashbacks. Their first version of events may change. Sometimes they are embarrassed. They have to tell their most intimate details to strangers.”

She said the nature of the crime made some victims reluctant to admit certain details straight away. “You can get disclosures later, for instance they may say ‘I had a bit to drink’ or ‘I had sex with my partner earlier in the day.’ Our job is to search for the truth.”

Bates described as “outrageous” the mindset of officers who believed the word of John Worboys, the black-cab driver and serial sex attacker, above numerous victims who reported his attacks. She said a victim-centred approach should encourage more women to come forward and get more cases to court.

“Our officers will believe the victims, however unbelievable their story may be. Their job is to keep an open mind and not to make judgements. Unfortunately that was not done in the Worboys case.”

This is good news, and should surely be practised by all police forces, but I’m a bit perturbed by her comments about disclosures involving drinking and prior sexual activity. Without any further context it’s hard to tell what she’s getting at, but it does smack of classic victim-blaming.

Comments From You

Kirsty // Posted 24 February 2010 at 10:22 am

I understood her comments about drinking/previous sexual encounters not as victim blaming, but as a comment on the culture of victim blaming and how it affects the disclosures of rape victims. In the example of drinking – I know that when my friend was raped a few months ago, we were very reluctant to mention that we’d been drinking that night as we were worried the police might take our claims less seriously.

gadgetgal // Posted 24 February 2010 at 10:22 am

I think the comments on drinking and sex prior to the assault were more about how the victims are less likely to say it straight away because they feel (wrongly) guilty about it in some way – from all her other comments, including the one about how women WILL be believed, no matter what the circumstances are, I think it was just pointing out that they need all the information to get the convictions, and at the moment officers aren’t trained to deal with the fact that not all the facts may be forthcoming straight away. She seems pretty straight up about it, it’s quite a refreshing thing to hear – would be nice to be able to believe it will happen (sorry, I’m feeling somewhat cynical today)!

Laura // Posted 24 February 2010 at 10:29 am

@ Kirsty and gadgetgal – Yes, that makes sense, I hoped her comments were intended that way. I’m sorry about your friend, Kirsty.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 24 February 2010 at 11:11 am

Whilst I welcome the fact police officers working within the ‘rape intelligence team’ will have to undergo compulsory training, no mention was made of the length of time given to this training. If it is only one or two days then that will be unsufficient. Training police officers with regards to the pyschological harm males who commit sexual violence against women and girls is complex and cannot be undertaken with the minimum of training.

Time and again only minimal training is given to officers with regards to the complexities of how and why male sexual violence against women is endemic and commonly ignored/disbelieved.

Announcing training is one thing – but implementing it is another as well as having an effective evaluation system in place in order to ensure such training is sufficiently to change ingrained and embedded misogynistic myths concerning women who report a male(s) has/have raped them.

Det. Supt. Int. Caroline Bates made a very unfortunate comment wherein she said ‘“Our officers will believe the victims, however unbelievable their story may be.’ This in itself will easily be taken as somehow proving that most women/girls when reporting to police a male(s) has/have raped them, their accounts are commonly viewed with scepticism by the police.

I’ve yet to hear/read claims that when victims of crimes such as car theft, property theft, mugging (only if it involves a male committing this offence) report to police, their stories are viewed as ‘unbelievable.’

Not forgetting of course contrary to widespread claims – no woman is ever responsible for supposedly causing a male(s) to rape her. But then given our male supremacist society is only concerned with protecting men not women even the psychological effects of male sexual violence committed against women continues to be subject to male-centered interpretation and women-blaming.

Claire // Posted 24 February 2010 at 12:28 pm

Every interaction I’ve had with the police regarding sexual offences has led to them giving offence. Some of that offence comes because they express opinions about psychology which are far beyond their competence, but they express with that arrogant knowledge that the police often have about “civilians”. However well meant this training might be, there will be idiot police officers whose amateur pscyhology is detrimental. Why don’t the police employ more properly trained pscyhologists instead, rather than fancying themselves as supermen?

Jeff // Posted 24 February 2010 at 12:44 pm

“Some of that offence comes because they express opinions about psychology which are far beyond their competence, but they express with that arrogant knowledge that the police often have about “civilians”.”

Policemen are civilians Claire, and a lot of them feel very, very strongly indeed about that.

Whilst I would welcome training to improve the interaction between police officers and women reporting sexual abuse, I certainly agree with Claire in that the best way forward would be the employment of proffesional psychologists who’s job is specifically to provide that sort of support.

Anne Onne // Posted 24 February 2010 at 1:30 pm

I also agree with Claire. I’m sure police would benefit from special training in handling victims, and I’m aware that there are plenty who are trying to do the best job they can. However, just like they’re not trained to deal with forensics, they may just not be able to deal with the nuances of working with deeply traumatised victims.

I suspect the answer is money. I don’t think there’s enough for this, much as though I would love to see it done.

Claire // Posted 24 February 2010 at 3:05 pm

Jeff

Two policemen I know refer to others as civilians, and refer to the non police trained staff who work at their station such as the IT people as civilians. That’s where I got the expression from. I think they fancy themselves as being in the forces or something. Fine if you tell me they shouldn’t be calling the public by that name, but they do do it. It’s the 99% of police officers who do this sort of thing who give the decent 1% a bad name.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 24 February 2010 at 4:11 pm

I’m with gadgetgal: it’d be nice to believe that this would lead to more rapists being convicted. But it probably won’t. And even if they do manage to get the police onboard, the judges and juries are still on the rapist’s side.

We’ll just have to see.

BareNakedLady // Posted 24 February 2010 at 4:40 pm

Jennifer’s comment:

“Det. Supt. Int. Caroline Bates made a very unfortunate comment wherein she said ‘“Our officers will believe the victims, however unbelievable their story may be.’ This in itself will easily be taken as somehow proving that most women/girls when reporting to police a male(s) has/have raped them, their accounts are commonly viewed with scepticism by the police.”

I don’t see that as unfortunate, I think that’s entirely appropriate. While the appropriate behaviour is to listen to a victim’s allegations with an open mind and to believe them, the reality is that a lot of victims themselves feel that they won’t be believed, and are deterred from reporting an attack for that very reason. Kirsty provides an example in the very first comment. It’s obviously not a good thing that the victim themselves could be seeing their ‘story’ as ‘unbelieveable’, but it’s a fact, and it’s exactly what Bates is trying to address.

Jeff // Posted 24 February 2010 at 5:06 pm

“Two policemen I know refer to others as civilians, and refer to the non police trained staff who work at their station such as the IT people as civilians. That’s where I got the expression from. I think they fancy themselves as being in the forces or something. Fine if you tell me they shouldn’t be calling the public by that name, but they do do it. It’s the 99% of police officers who do this sort of thing who give the decent 1% a bad name.”

Think we’ll just have to agree to disagree here, I know a lot of policemen, and I’ve never known any of them to refer to the public as “civilians”. Most of them got very angry at people making analogies between the police and the armed forces.

Janette // Posted 24 February 2010 at 5:10 pm

I agree with Claire. I too have worked with police officers and I would say the majority of them do refer to non-police personnel as ‘civilians’. Often in a joking or plain derogatory way. They clearly think they are superior.

If.

Only.

Jennyh // Posted 24 February 2010 at 5:11 pm

I am just really surprised and shocked that such training was not already provided. It’s a step in the right direction, sure, but such an obvious step only taken when the problem has been so huge for so long.

Elmo // Posted 26 February 2010 at 10:27 am

Hi, this was discussed on womens hour this morning, but I only caught the last few minutes, I think they were interviewing the Det. Chief Supt who came up with it. You can probably catch it on iplayer

They discussed some quite important stuff, but they did keep going back to the point “if theres good evidence we want to make sure its brought to court”-which is the problem with rape cases, because often, there simply ISNT enough evidence (apart from verbal statements) to support the cases

A J // Posted 26 February 2010 at 1:07 pm

@ Elmo

That’s never going to change though – you’re always going to need at least some reasonably decent evidence for a case to be brought to court. That’s true of every crime. In that sense, the police do have to be slightly realistic. Though of course, that is no reason not to take every rape allegation extremely seriously in their investigations (indeed, quite the opposite!)

What the police *can* do is make sure they don’t miss evidence that *is* there. There is still plenty of room for improvement in that, unfortunately.

Sara // Posted 26 February 2010 at 1:45 pm

If the police would just do their basic step-by-step job and follow procedure (all outlined clearly for them in manuals) and not allow themselves to be sidestepped by misogynistic attitudes time after time, that really would be a great start.

And it’s not just the police. Someone said to me last week, ‘It didn’t help that she turned up for the (rape) trial wearing a mini skirt’. That was a criminal law solicitor.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 26 February 2010 at 2:05 pm

I know that as its a hard case to prove and you have to treat the defendant as innocent until proven guilty, but i hope at least, that even if conviction doesnt improve, that we wont see the victim as guilty until proven innocent, myths about male self control or women and girls (and boys) pushing a rapist to it, and that they will get taken seriously sensitively and respectfully from police to jury, and it wont feel like the “second rape” as ive heard it called. If this happened people would feel more confident to report, police would take it more seriously when there were multiple allegations towards one person, and the files and evidence would be kept up to date and filed, ready to access, unlike my friend being sent her clothes about 5 weeks later after they “found it in lost property.” she couldnt get anywhere near court because there was video of a girl that wasnt even her talking to the guy before. as it happens, she did talk to him before, in fact they were doing stuff before when she was totally out of it. she was pulled outside in that state, he said there was nothing she could do about it and she somehow managed to run away.

Mephit // Posted 26 February 2010 at 2:45 pm

I’m a bit hmm and a bit haw at the criminal law solicitor saying that it didn’t help that the witness wore a mini-skirt to court.

It seems a statement of a (very bad) fact. We do have to work with the society we have, and it’s sadly true that jurors would probably begin with rape apologist attitudes that mean what she wore would affect their perception of her credibility. (I also think that generally in court wearing a suit or formal attire is expected and those who don’t conform are probably taken less seriously than those who do).

Obviously what you wear should not mean you become ‘unrapeable’ or affect people’s perception of your credibility, but given the odds stacked against us, conforming to the social expectations probably gives a higher chance of success in those circumstances.

A J // Posted 26 February 2010 at 4:08 pm

@ Mephit

I’d have to agree with you, unfortunately. It’s probably better that the criminal lawyer is honest about it, because there’s no point pretending otherwise. Turning up to court in a mini-skirt is probably ill-advised in any circumstances, really. Whether or not that’s right, it’s the way it is. As a witness, you have to convince the jury to believe you, and their visual perception of you is a big part of that. Some women, in particular, on juries, are notoriously hard to persuade to convict in rape cases where they view the alleged victim as in some way ‘sluttish’, or less ‘morally sound’ than themselves.

Kristin // Posted 27 February 2010 at 11:35 am

Mephit and AJ, bit hum and haw. Yes, indeedy.

“Women don’t have the vote, my dear,” said Mrs Pankhurst to her daughter Christabel, shaking her head regretfully. “Whether or not that’s right, it’s the way it is. We do have to work with the society we have.”

Good thing she DIDN’T say that!

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