Rape Victims Routinely Set Up To Fail

“Why do the police spend so much time and resources setting victims up to fail?” (Professor of forensic psychology)

“As a defence lawyer a primary objective is to rigorously test and challenge witness credibility” (UK QC)

A decade ago I embarked on a journey to improve the standard of investigation for survivors of Rape and Serious Sexual Assaults.

Why?

Because those standards were inconsistent, a post-code lottery, too often incompetent, and led directly to tragic loss of life and ruination families. Moreso, as ‘contact offences’ they are all ‘theoretically’ detectable given competence and tactical use of evidence throughout the case management process.

During this ‘journey’ I was able to ‘forensically’ review the case management of many hundreds of such investigations, every stage exposed and subject to rigorous scrutiny, in 48 specific cases the reviews were supported by a senior investigation officer and a lead specialist CPS lawyer.

The outcomes were largely unappreciated, ignored, or not understood by decision-makers and influencers.

One output was the dissection of the process a complainant follows having decided to make a report to the police when considered against the fragility of memory and the concept of ‘memory as a crime scene’. That process is captured in the following images which are extracted from a presentation ‘Memory as a Crime Scene” that I’ll try to embed later in this article:

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The diagrams were a crude attempt to illustrate the business process stages that, believe it or not, a complainant was likely to endure and the contamination of memory that inevitably ensues and prompted the observation by a leading forensic psychology professor at the head of this article: “Why do the police spend so much time and resources setting victims up to fail?” The impact of this concept should be considered alongside that of ‘Active Defence’ which links directly to the defence lawyers primary responsibility to rigorously test and challenge witness credibility.

How topical as we daily witness one collapsing prosecution after another.

One clear ‘action’ was to try and reduce the number of process stages thereby reducing that contamination.

One response? Create a Serious Sexual Offence Investigation Unit and staff it primarily with uniform/response officers with little, if any, investigative experience or competence, and set them unrealistic and unachievable objectives!

A less obvious outcome led me to the concept of the early ‘cold-storing’ of witness testimony in those cases which were self-referred to Sexual Offence Referral Centres (SARCS) but NOT reported to the police, by far the majority. and amounting to thousands nationally. Just as physical exhibits are taken and stored in the event a complainant changes their mind or simply needs a few days to think things through.

The solution? Digitally record the ‘first account’, as ‘forensically’ uncontaminated as possible, probe and clarify as appropriate, and ‘cold-store’ alongside the DNA swabs and other physical exhibits. At least offer a Self Administered Interview (SAI) if appropriate (another topic!)

Please don’t get me going with the argument that Forensic Medical Examiners (FMEs) take written notes, not worth the paper they’re written on but that’s another post!

Conscious of content the bottom line:

Inertia and inaction despite every effort to engage decision-makers and not one response to repeated approaches to central government or those purporting to represent the best interests of victims.

So what drives this post and article?

Simple, too many destroyed lives and futures and waking up to this report today on a current rape trial:

“Frank O’Donoghue, QC, for Mr Olding, referring to notes taken by professionals at a rape crisis centre hours after the attack, asked why she had provided an “utterly inconsistent” account of events. The woman replied: “I think you are underestimating the state of shock after you have been raped.” (Times 08/02/18).

I conclude where I started:

“Why do the police spend so much time and resources setting victims up to fail?” (Professor of forensic psychology), and

“As a defence lawyer a primary objective is to rigorously test and challenge witness credibility” (UK QC)

If any reader feels able to forward to someone who can influence policy or is interested in knowing more about the issues and outcomes do feel free to contact me. I will try and attach the full presentation which includes some useful tips on memory, investigation, and interviewing.