Innocent until proven guilty, but not if you’re reporting a sex crime

I doubt many burglary investigations begin with the police standing on an empty drive asking the victim, “are you absolutely sure your car isn’t in your drive, sir?”

Alice Jones@alicevjones
Thursday 11 February 2016 19:13
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Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe
Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe

Who’s the real victim in a sexual assault case? Is it the assaulted? The suspect? Or is it Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who has responded to attacks on his leadership of the Metropolitan Police by turning the blame on to the victims.

To extricate himself from the scandal around Lord Bramall, who was investigated for nine months before charges of his part in a VIP paedophile ring were dropped, the commissioner now suggests that police should not automatically believe victims who report sex crimes. “A good investigator would test the accuracy of the allegations and the evidence with an open mind,” he said. “This is a more neutral way to begin than saying we should believe victims, and better describes our impartial mindset.”

Of course, any crime should be investigated professionally and thoroughly. Of course hard evidence is required. And of course any allegation should be dismissed as soon as it is proved to be untrue. Innocent until proven guilty is the principle on which the British justice system stands.

And yet, sexual assault and rape have not historically been treated like this. For years the norm has been to cast the victim as a liar, to build up flimsy cases around non-evidence like the victim’s clothing or how many drinks they may have had. Rubbish? I doubt many burglary investigations begin with the police standing on an empty drive asking the victim, “are you absolutely sure your car isn’t in your drive, sir?”

When a 19-year-old student went to the police in 2007 saying she had been drugged and raped by her taxi driver, the police laughed at her and told her that she must have been drunk and fallen over. They arrested the man but he was released without charge. John Worboys went on to attack again and again, before being convicted in 2009 for crimes involving 12 women, though police believe his victims could number more than 100. It was this case, among others, that led the Met to adopt the stance that rape victims should always be believed in the first instance.

Arguably, the last thing that anyone who has been assaulted and has gathered their courage to report as much to a stranger wants is a “neutral and impartial” face. They want help and Hogan-Howe’s sceptical stance means that fewer will get it.

Conviction rates for rape are already far lower than other crimes, with only 5.7 per cent of reported cases ending in a conviction. In 2013, the government published a report which stated that only 15 per cent of victims of serious sexual offences reported them to the police. The reasons for not doing so were that it was “embarrassing”, they “didn’t think the police could do much to help”, that the incident was “too trivial”, or that they saw it as “not police business.”

Hogan-Howe’s stance will ensure rape and sexual abuse become increasingly “not police business.” Meanwhile, he has just had his £281,000-a-year contract renewed for another year – so I think we all know who the real victims are.

School is not for practising at being an adult

When she’s not rhyming Tesco with al fresco, Lily Allen likes to dabble in saying things. There was that time she declared feminism unnecessary and pondered why there wasn’t a male version of it. Now she has taken the Education Minister Nick Gibb to task over a speech in which he argued for a return to knowledge-based teaching.

Allen disagreed: “I left school 15 years ago and I’ve not used Pythagoras’s theorem once or even seen a Bunsen burner.” Really? No Trig on Top of the Pops, no Bunsens at Glastonbury? That is surprising.

Allen has turned out to be one of the great minds of our time, or quite a successful pop star. “Are they teaching children about how mortgages work, national insurance or how to fill out a self-assessment tax return yet?” she continued. The answer is, yes – maths and English are crucial foundations from which we learn to understand things like tax forms.

School is for learning, expanding the mind and exploring options, not practising at being an adult. Children do not need, as Allen solipsistically suggests, lessons in divorce. That sort of knowledge is better learned after the bell rings. In the meantime, a money-obsessed celebrity is the last person to give out advice about the things that really matter.

Thank you, but no thanks to the Academy

I’d like to thank the Academy... for banning thank yous. Winners at this year’s Oscars ceremony have been told to submit the full list of people they’d like to thank in advance, so that names can scroll across the bottom of the screen while the winners use their 45 seconds to say something more interesting before the orchestra starts up.

Uh oh. Having to make a proper speech might make the self-serving shebang slightly more interesting for the viewer, but I fear the result will be a lot more nebulous “messages” to the world. Given that Meryl Streep just declared “We’re all Africans, really” on the subject of diversity, I’d say that nobody wants that. What about awkward moments when the winner forgets to praise their co-star or director and everyone speculates about the reasons why? On second thoughts, I take my thanks to the Academy back.

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