Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Rape Debate

When Baroness Stern reported on her five month review regarding rape allegations I was moved to wade in with a response but held back to consider further. Having done so, I will now try and give a more measured response. I don't quite see it in the terms that Ellie Bloggs does but nor do I consider myself a chauvinistic ignoramus.

There is no doubt that rape is a very serious offence and has enormous ramifications for and effects upon victims. It is quite right that we treat all rape allegations seriously and proportionate resources are given to the investigation, the victim is treated appropriately and offenders are pursued rigorously. I have no doubt that we have failed to do this in a small number of cases and that more can be done to address this.

It is always difficult to gain convictions as the question of consent is always the issue. The focus on rape appears to be centred around the low conviction rate. I do not accept that we regularly disbelieve those that make rape allegations. I am pleased to hear that more focus is now being placed on how we deal with victims regardless of charging.

If all allegations consisted of a woman walking down the street and a man grabbing her, dragging her into some woods, battering and raping her and she scratches his face, his DNA is recovered from her nails; a conviction is very likely. Likewise, an offender that is a serial date rapist can be caught by using evidence from a number of victims that they met and dated and were raped. Unfortunately most allegations not so straightforward and generally reflect the lack of moral fibre in this country.

I think I can best describe this by outlining the last three rape allegations that have occurred in my area. The last one came from a young woman of 20 who met a 17 year old boy in a pub. They had been drinking and had been acquainted for an hour when they went outside into the pub car park to have consensual sex. The young woman wanted the boy to use a condom but he didn't have one and they had sex without. She then reported the rape. I fully understand that at any point this woman can say no and she was quite sensible insisting that he wore a condom. The problem is that what jury is going to convict a 17 year old boy of rape in these circumstances?

The second case was a University student who got very drunk at a University function and woke up in bed with another student in the morning. She believed that she had had sex with him but could not remember. She reported this two days later. The boy was arrested and claimed consensual sex had taken place. He was by no means a sexual predator and was in fact pretty meek and mild.

The third case was an estranged husband and wife. The husband would come round the house to visit the children and then the couple regularly had a drink and smoked cannabis. They also regularly had sex. On one occasion the woman claimed that she was raped as they had had sex and she had not consented to it on that occasion. The husband was arrested and claimed they had had consensual sex with his wife at least 20 times since he had left the marital home and he had never had sex with her against her will.

None of these cases resulted in a charge. I believe that in every case a thorough and proportionate investigation took place and in every case the woman's allegation was accepted and that she was treated appropriately as a victim. I would ask though, have we really failed any of these women? Should any of these men have been charged with rape in these circumstances? In my experience these types of allegation are the majority and extremely difficult to deal with. We generally do a pretty good job even though a charge has not been preferred.

I am very concerned that there is growing pressure to reduce the standard of proof required to convict more suspects of rape allegations. I hope this does not happen as I believe it will result in wrongful convictions. We need to ensure that we always do our utmost to convict rapists but we need to be careful not to allow the low conviction rate to result in changes to the law that might see innocent people being imprisoned.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Equality in the Police

This weeks Police Review asks the question, are women getting a fair deal in the promotion stakes? It is a fair question when 30% of recruits are now women but women in the senior ranks account for less than 10% of officers. The main conclusion of the article was to suggest that the police service needs to provide more flexible working for women officers. I think it is far more complex than that and not a situation peculiar to the police.

There are still far more applications from men to join the police than women but there are also far more potential recruits than jobs. The police could recruit 50% or more women but this would inevitably involve unlawful positive discrimination. South Wales is currently recruiting 54% and I question how they are lawfully achieving this. The fact is that the role is more attractive to men than women and I don't think this has anything to do with promotion prospects.

The police service has become introspective more than any other public service with regard to equality and ensuring fairness for all. Quite rightly, part time working was introduced in 1992 and flexible working and career breaks soon followed, giving men and women the opportunity to continue working while bringing up a family.

When I review officers flexible working requests, inevitably, they want to work from Monday to Friday between 8 am and 6 pm because that is what suits them and their child care. Little consideration seems to be given to the fact that policing is a 24/7 operation and our peak demands are evenings, particularly weekends. We cannot accommodate 10% or more of officers working Monday to Friday, day shifts when there is little demand at these times. I would also suggest that this is hardly fair on the remaining officers who have to work more anti social hours and who have less support when they are working. Flexible working needs to reflect this and if you want to remain operationally fit and ensure your career is not stalled, flexible working needs to include some evening and weekend work.

If you want a part time job at a supermarket they will tell you that there are jobs available after 4 pm when the store is busy with people shopping after school and work, and at weekends. If you cannot work those hours you won't get a job.

In my own Force we have recently had two female Chief Superintendents and an ACC. In every case these women have been supported by husbands whose own career has had to take a back seat while they have supported their wives and helped deal with many of the childcare issues so their wives can work the hours required to progress their careers to senior management.

The police service needs to ensure that women have the same opportunities as men in their careers and that part time and flexible working and career breaks are available to encourage women to stay in and return to work. That really is the end of their responsibility. The key to having more senior female officers is not allowing more women to work 9 to 5 in a busy operational 24/7 organisation, or to take career breaks and expect to return in exactly the same position as a colleague who has been working. The key surely is that more women who want families and also to achieve careers in senior management need to be having discussions at home with husbands or partners and asking for that support for their career and not allowing it to take a back seat while bringing up the family and supporting their partners. Unless you want family or nanny's to bring up your children, one or both parents needs to do this and it will inevitably curtail some career opportunities in almost any business.
You cannot both have your cake and eat it!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Reflecting on Sentencing

I received a letter recently from a victim of crime. We had contacted her to tell her that the young lad that had broken into her car had been charged and was off to Court. The victim was a Muslim woman and when I first read her letter I found it quite amusing and rather ridiculous. After further consideration I then thought it wasn't so ridiculous and wouldn't it be better if sentencing reflected her view on crime and the focus on public humiliation. I have copied her letter below.

Dear Sir,

thank you for telling me that the man that stole from my car has been caught. I would like to have his full name, his address and information on any crime he has committed before. I would also like the name and address of any of his family that are criminal.

The man should be made to write a letter of apology for what he does and if he cannot write I will help him but he must pay me.

The man should be made to sweep my street and he should wear a sign to say that he is a thief so that anyone is warned he is a thief and to watch him. He must wear the sign always out of his house until 6 months when he does not steal.

The man must pay to fix my car and any money he has should be taken from him until he has paid. He must not drink or smoke.

Mrs A

I do not want to open a debate on Sharia Law and I do not accept that it has a place in our society, but I think there are many aspects of the above view I would support. We have moved some way towards it with community punishment, but offenders are given specific tasks that avoid public humiliation. I think a more public penalty would not only serve as a deterent to young offenders but also allow the public and victims to see justice being done.

About fifteen years ago I saw a group of about ten young people doing community service. They were all in the town centre on a Saturday morning scraping chewing gum off the pavements. They all had their heads down cringing with embarrassment. I thought it was great. It only happened the once. The liberals I so love, in charge of community service, heard about it and instructed it must never happen again as we should not be humiliating these poor offenders.

Back to our car thief, he was a 16 year old lad on benefits and was subject of a supervision order. This means he had already been arrested and put into the justice system at least twice (Police Caution and Court Appearance.) For his latest offences, three charges of theft from vehicles he was fined £100 and his supervision order was to continue for its remaining 3 months. He was ordered to pay the fine at £4 per week.

I believe the victims proposed penalty would have had far more effect.