It takes a lot of courage for women to report to the police when they’ve been through such a devastating crime as rape. The fear is that they won’t be believed and that is part of the modus operandi of the perpetrator. Plucking up the courage to talk to a police officer only to be disbelieved and then sent away – and for nothing to come of it – is therefore just horrendous.
I can understand that kind of situation may have occurred in 2008-09. We tried to work with the Metropolitan Police’s specialist Sapphire unit, but it rather felt like we were a thorn in their side rather than them taking notice of what we had to say. In those days, somebody working on the front line didn’t have a senior officer overseeing what they were doing. That was the problem: the service was as good as the person delivering it. Officers were seconded to the sexual offences unit as part of their overall training. You had people who didn’t want to be there.
When somebody’s life has been devastated, it’s almost like being raped over again for you to go and be told that nothing has happened and that you are not believed. Now that we are working a lot closer with the police, it’s a completely different story. We are being taken seriously, we are on strategy groups with the Met, they are trying to get it right. It’s an all-round concerted effort to bring bad guys to justice.
The training is better. They have a psychologist who trains the officers to help them understand how women react to being raped. They no longer believe the stereotypical myths: if someone isn’t crawling into a police station sobbing, but standing upright and being coherent, it could mean she has been raped as well.
Officers now have to apply to work on rape cases. They are trained, they have supervision from senior officers, and they show so much more empathy.
The Home Office has provided money for independent sexual violence advocates, as a lot of women were terrified of walking into a police station because they had to do it on their own, and now they don’t have to. This case is highly disturbing, but thankfully it’s all moved on.
Yvonne Traynor is chief executive of Rape Crisis South London