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Michelle Thomson MSP urges petitions committee to back plan for police to record accurately the sex of someone charged with rape

Police Scotland has also responded to the committee

Michelle Thomson MSP urges petitions committee to back plan for police to record accurately the sex of someone charged with rape

More than 12,800 people have signed the petition

A public petition calling for authorities to record the biological sex of those charged with rape is to be kept open as MSPs seek further evidence.

The decision follows the intervention of Michelle Thomson MSP, who was raped at the age of 14. She disclosed those details in the House of Commons while serving as an MP.

In a letter to the Scottish Parliament's Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee, the Falkirk East politician stated: "The sex of the perpetrator is hugely relevant to the victims of such crime. Rape is a crime of power perpetuated and carried out by biological men."

The Scottish Government has stated that rape "is defined in law as involving penetration by a penis without consent and is, by definition, the act of a male body".

Under current Police Scotland practice, sex and gender are used interchangeably, with identification recorded "based on how individuals present", the single force has said. 

The petitioners have raised concerns about the impact of this practice on data and on victims. More than 12,800 people have signed the petition, which is brought by feminist policy analysis group Murray Blackburn Mackenzie, who argue that "policy-makers have elevated gender self-identification principles over the need for accuracy, without due consideration for victims".

Thomson said she had "no wish to comment further" on her personal circumstances but there is "a significant gap in the evidence being presented" on the issue.

She said: "There has to date been no serious attempt made to conduct the type of qualitative research needed to understand the consequences of conflating sex with gender on those who have been raped. This, despite the knowledge that rape can create lifelong psychological impact for many victims."

The petition seeks to have the Scottish Government issue a requirement to Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) to record the biological sex of people charged with or convicted of rape or attempted rape. The group says this is important for data accuracy, trust in official statistics, public policy, media reporting, research and "trust in public bodies".

In a submission to the committee, Police Scotland states that it uses sex and gender "interchangeably" within its records. The sex or gender identification of individuals is based on "how they present unless and alternative gender is disclosed". The force has said a person's self-identified gender is "of no relevance" to the charge but that in order to charge someone with rape it is "evidentially critical to ascertain if they have a penis or surgically-constructed penis".

Thomson said this "disregards the context in which crimes of rape are committed".

However, Martyn Evans, the chairman of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), has stated that the force is reviewing internal policies and recording procedures on sex and gender, with papers to the SPA board stating that discussions have taken place between Police Scotland and the Scottish Government on the matter.

Ruth Maguire MSP requested that the committee seek further information on data recording processes from the Scottish Government, saying: "Sometimes when we talk about data in these matters, it can all be a bit cold. At the centre of this issue are women who have been raped and the consequences of some of the practices that are being spoken about here are, frankly, devastating for the victims of that particular crime."

 

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