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Health News

Women with severe mental illness face high risk of attack

Victims say they are not taken seriously by police and fear being sectioned if they report assaults

Women with severe mental health problems are 10 times more likely to be attacked than the rest of the population, research published today has revealed.

Many victims with mental illness said that they were not believed by police or were even blamed. Others said they were unwilling to report attacks for fear of being sectioned.

The report, based on a three-year study by charities and universities, found that nearly half of all people with severe mental illness were victims of crime last year; many had suffered sexual and domestic violence. The report – despite coming the week after a man with undiagnosed schizophrenia was detained indefinitely for murdering a 16-year-old girl in a random attack on a bus – highlights how mentally ill people are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of attacks. It also reveals that 40 per cent of women and a quarter of men with mental illness attempt suicide after becoming the victims of sex or domestic crimes.

One woman, who went to police after being raped by her flatmate, told researchers she was left traumatised by the experience and began self-harming. “I was told that if the case was taken to court it would be really embarrassing for me because of my mental health and my sexuality. One of the officers said they thought I had made a drunken mistake and, as a lesbian, I was now embarrassed,” she said.

Some of the victims said their attackers preyed on them when they were unwell and less able to protect themselves. The report also found that severely mentally ill people were five times more likely to be victims of assault, and four times more likely to be victimised by their relatives, than the general population. Javed Khan, the chief executive of Victim Support, said: “It is nothing short of a national scandal that some of the most vulnerable people in our society become victims of crime so often, and yet when they seek help they are met with disbelief or even blame.”

Scotland Yard commissioned its own independent report because of concerns at their frontline role in dealing with the mentally ill. Commander Christine Jones, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: “Anyone reporting a crime against them expects to be listened to, taken seriously and treated with respect. They also expect appropriate action to be taken to investigate their case.

“We want to ensure people with mental ill health get that same, high-quality  service from the police.”