Many women and feminist campaigners will not be surprised by the findings of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that 26% of rape and other sexual offences are not being recorded. This is amongst the 800,000 cases which are reported to the police but are “no-crimed”. It keeps the statistics low and creates a culture of disbelief about the victim.
The findings make a mockery of the police service being an impartial body supporting all victims of crime. Given the grave failings, the police service is increasingly vulnerable to legal challenge for procedural failings and a culture of rampant sexism and hatred of women.
The report reveals the reality of institutional misogyny within the police service. It takes huge courage for rape survivors to come forward in the face of societal stigma and shame. A patriarchal society deems it is a woman’s fault for taking an unlicensed cab; her fault for drinking too much; for walking down a poorly lit street. The perpetrator is never to blame. If a woman seeks recourse to justice there is the added pressure of knowing that her report may never be taken seriously or will be removed from the official records.
The failure of the police to take crimes against women seriously is one piece of the narrative. What of the cases of sex discrimination within the police service itself? PC Carol Howard was one of the high profile cases of sex discrimination this year. The findings of the case revealed that the police told staff to destroy records of evidence detailing the discrimination PC Howard experienced.
In these cases – where the police are not taking female victims seriously, and where there is a campaign to undermine and destroy the professional career of female staff – the police are shown to be partial, unjust and institutionally failing in protecting female victims or protecting the dignity of its female staff.
The police are bound by equality law and must ensure they are not unlawfully discriminating against groups named in the Equality Act 2010, including women. They were found in breach of that when it came to PC Carol Howard. The HMIC’s findings indicate that they are also failing to protect women when they report cases of sexual violence.
The police need to make huge changes including increasing its diversity at the highest levels, not just on gender but on race and disability. A more representative workforce will reflect the community it seeks to serve. Most important, there needs to be a change in culture: policies are only as effective if there is the culture of believing victims and challenging institutional misogyny that pervades the police service.
Otherwise, similar to the Fawcett’s Society’s challenge to the coalition’s government’s budget, which was seen to unfairly and disproportionately impact women, the police service is open to the charge that, through their reporting processes and culture, they are unfairly discriminating against women. Specifically, women are being treated differently to men when they take cases to the police: they are disbelieved; their cases are not recorded or their cases are being removed.
If there is a legal challenge to the police service it will hold the service to public scrutiny and lay bare how women are being failed on a daily basis.
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Huma Munshi is a writer and poet. She is passionate about addressing inequality through her writing. She writes about feminism, tackling honour based violence, forced marriage, mental illness, culture and activism, She is a regular contributor for the F-Word, Open Democracy and Time to Change. You can follow her on Twitter at @Huma101 She sees writing as a mechanism to overcome trauma and connect with others.