Gay victims of crime too worried to tell police: 'Tremendous anxiety' remains over officers' attitude to sexuality

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The Independent Online
HOMOSEXUALS still experience 'tremendous anxiety' about reporting crimes because of fears that police officers will focus on their sexuality, a conference on the issue was told yesterday.

This was exacerbated by embarrassment felt by those attacked in a pick-up or 'cruising' area, Philip Derbyshire, author of an eight-month study into homosexual victims of crime, told 'Violence, Sexuality and Equality', a conference organised by Galop, an organisation which aims to improve the relationship between police and the homosexual community in London, and the Association of London Authorities.

He said: 'People generally had to report the crime and then deal with raised eyebrows and oafish rudeness on the part of station staff.' One victim had commented: 'I felt that I'd put myself there and managed to get myself robbed . . . I mean, everyone in Islington (north London) must know about Highbury Fields, and I'd just look daft going to the police station. What would they say? 'Silly poofter, what does he expect?' '

Homosexuals were still fearful of 'coming out' to police officers even when reporting non-homophobic crimes such as robbery. 'Even when people had a good experience with police, they expected a bad response next time,' he said.

Mr Derbyshire had some good news relating to police attitudes - CID officers in Islington were praised in his study. Victims had been surprised by the civility and competence of the officers they dealt with.

In general, attitudes among police officers were mixed. Those displaying the most positive attitudes towards homosexuality tended to have gay friends or colleagues. But training schemes were seen as ineffective in changing attitudes, and were described by officers as 'irrelevant', 'non- practical' and 'like brainwashing'. Mr Derbyshire said: 'One of the strong feelings I had is that police officers are malleable, but the techniques and methods we need to achieve the change we are not yet sure about. It's no good using a mantra.' National guidelines covering all police divisions were needed, he added.

According to Joan Ruddock MP, the police and the homosexual community have traditionally seen each other as 'distinct and alien groups', with the latter viewing the police as 'bound to be bigoted and bound to be the enemy'. The fear that officers would concentrate on victims' sexuality when reporting crime was exacerbated by the possibility of prosecution over the contravention of the age of consent, she added.

PC Ian Brown, who will head a 'domestic violence and community support unit' soon to be launched by Hammersmith police in west London, said that the age of consent caused a problem when dealing with under-age victims of crime, who disclose while making a statement that they are sexually active.

'What would happen if the victim was under 21? It may well be that the victim would become a defendant,' he admitted. 'If we don't investigate, we will be accused of failing in our duty. If we do, we could scare away victims of crimes.' This was a problem the police could not solve. They could make recommendations to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but ultimately it was up to legislators.

According to Chief Inspector Roger Kember of the Metropolitan Police Community Affairs Unit, the Crown Prosecution Service has a guiding principle in such cases. 'They have the idea of the greater evil and lesser evil, ie if to enforce the lesser evil would allow the greater evil (the crime) to prosper,' he said.