“Police Officers have got immense power. You know, they can change your life in an instant, by what they believe and what they don’t believe about you. And he made me believe…because of who he was, he impressed upon me that I was a willing party and that I was complicit.”
“The Police who are abusing their position, sexually and for other motivations, need to be stopped. Police Forces need to be doing more.”
Those are the words of women who were interviewed by HMICFRS (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary & Fire and Rescue Services) for their recent report on the subject of abuse of public position for a sexual purpose, entitled “Shining a light on betrayal.” The series of HMICFRS investigations on this subject, beginning in 2015, have helped this particular category of victims of Police corruption to have a voice which was previously often denied to them; and I am proud to have been able to help many such victims speak out in recent years.
Although progress in rooting out this form of abuse has been made, the report highlighted that some Police Forces in England and Wales have not properly vetted more than half of their Officers and civilian staff, and that this is a major concern given the Government’s proclaimed intention to find 20,000 new recruits for the Police profession over the next 3 years. Furthermore, several Forces were found to be entirely lacking in software to enable them to monitor how their officers and civilian staff use ICT (information and communication technology) systems. Often, in my experience, abusers working within the Police Force use computer database information, and indeed Police-issued mobile phones and other devices, to target and exploit their victims.
The report quite rightly criticises many Forces for being “far too slow” in combating this devastating form of corruption in public office; a corruption all the more iniquitous as it involves exploiting extremely vulnerable individuals who may not, at least at first, recognise themselves as being victims. One such person amongst my clients, was a woman with severe mental health problems with whom an officer had sex whilst she was receiving treatment in hospital following a suicide attempt.
Shockingly, there is as yet no national requirement to vet Officers who transfer between Forces. The HMICFRS report expresses “deep concerns” at the amount of Police staff who do not have correct vetting. This can lead to terrible cases of exploitation and abuse of highly vulnerable people including, amongst the clients I currently represent, a 13-year-old teenage girl, groomed and raped by an Officer who had visited her family home.
I think it is important to also highlight that abusers are not always Officers, but can include Police staff members employed in scientific, support or administrative roles within the Force. As the NPCC (National Police Chiefs Council) definition makes clear, abuse of position for a sexual purpose encompasses –
“Any behaviour by a police officer or police staff member, whether on or off duty, that takes advantage of their position as a member of the police service to misuse their position, authority or powers in order to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any member of the public.”
In light of the above, I was very happy to contribute recently to a documentary on this subject, “Exposure – Predator Police Uncovered”, which is being aired tonight on ITV, and I will conclude this blog by echoing the words of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary – If you are a victim of this form of abuse, or you know someone who is, coming forwards and letting your voice be heard is a vital step towards rooting out this corruption, and the historic Police culture of indifference or ignorance which enabled it to continue for so long.