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Rising tide

Rising tide

A rise in reports to police typically does not trigger a positive reaction. Rape can be one of the few exceptions given its oft-hidden nature. Numbers have risen year-on-year since 2008, including a significant spike a few years ago when the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act came into force. The largest increase, however, has been reserved for the first year of Police Scotland. With two weeks of the 2013-14 financial year still to go, reports had jumped from 1,372 in 2012-13 to 1,618 this year. It may prompt headlines voicing concern once official Scottish Government figures are published later this year. Yet, as police and those who work with rape survivors are keen to point out, the picture is not a simplistic one. Indeed, much remains, as yet, unclear.

Numerous factors have been cited as contributing to the near 20 per cent rise in the space of 12 months. Management data held by Police Scotland reveals more than a third of rapes reported in the last year have a domestic element to them, a proportion that is on the increase. In effect, greater attention to the investigation of domestic incidents nationwide is unearthing other crimes, among them sexual abuse. “I think there has been the beginnings of an increased public awareness that rape happens mostly between people who know one another and a huge amount within domestic settings,” says Mhairi McGowan, head of service at specialist victim support service ASSIST, who points to a “significant increase” in the number of people, once referred by police, who are disclosing rape in the context of domestic abuse.

Reported historic rapes – the so-called Jimmy Savile effect – have risen, though not by a significant number, according to police. More than a third of crimes in the last 12 months have been historic in nature, in that they have been a year or older by the time they were reported, while around 45 per cent of reported rapes in 2013-14 occurred outwith the financial year. It has been mooted that a standardisation of reporting practices has had the effect of ironing out the differences that had become ingrained under legacy forces. More broadly, the higher public profile that police have given tackling rape, through campaigns such as ‘We Can Stop It’ – an Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) awareness campaign relaunched at the beginning of March – have underpinned claims of an increased confidence in rape survivors to come forward. That remains hard to quantify, particularly given police are still trying to ascertain the actual number of individual victims within those 1,600-plus reported rapes. A question of whether the crime of rape is itself more prevalent is one that remains unanswered. A research group involving Police Scotland, the Crown Office, voluntary sector organisations, and academics, had been expected to hold a second meeting in March to try and fill in a few information gaps.

The causal factors aside, much has changed structurally in the past twelve months. Dedicated teams in the investigation of rape have become the norm throughout Scotland, in an effort not only to boost detection rates – when police are satisfied who has committed the crime even if a conviction is lacking – but in terms of victim engagement. As such, 14 units – one in each newly-formed division of Police Scotland – have been established with a national rape taskforce headed up by Detective Superintendent Louise Raphael operating out of Gartcosh.

“Having dealt with rape and sexual crime for quite some time at an ACPOS level – ACPOS formulated policy and guidelines and everything else you would expect – the trick was actually getting all eight chief constables to sign up to that and deliver on that at a local level. That wasn’t always something that happened very readily,” says Raphael.

Guidelines issued by the Lord Advocate in 2009, for instance, stipulated that the investigating officer for a rape should be at the rank of detective inspector or above. “I think we would be kidding ourselves on if we tried to convince anybody that right across the board every force was compliant with that,” she says. “There is no choice any longer, that’s an absolute directive and that’s monitored and regulated constantly.”

Additional training has been delivered to every senior investigating officer (SIO) across Scotland, in partnership with the NHS and Crown Office, while rape trauma has been given a more prominent role in training for sexual offences liaison officers (SOLOs), who serve as a single point of contact for victims.

A further process is now being mainstreamed – one that involves limited details being taken down from the victim at the outset of a report then a SOLO being deployed within 24 hours. Raphael insists a target of 100 per cent compliance with this 24-hour timeframe is being achieved. Press reports at the turn of the year suggested otherwise. “It is being met. We might be 99 point something per cent. You can imagine there are over 1,600 rapes now reported to us over this financial year so if you miss one individual for whatever reason then you’re going to fall short of that 100 per cent. But if we are falling short, the figures are such that that [non-compliance] is meaningless.”

But the most pronounced change the single service is keen to highlight is the rape review process. This started in Strathclyde and involves a full investigatory review of all rapes that remain undetected 28 days on from report to identify any evidential opportunities that have been overlooked. Few, if any, are arising, says Raphael, albeit dissemination of good practice is a by-product. Police Scotland has yet to reach its 100 per cent target – they’re sitting somewhere in the region of 77 per cent – though Raphael insists the hard numbers speak for themselves.

“We didn’t anticipate that we were going to see the increase in the number of rapes reported that we have done and so that is part of the reason why up until this point, we haven’t reached that 100 per cent. What I don’t want us to lose sight of is, actually, we made that commitment, we made the commitment for the right reason, and as it currently stands, that equates to 450 rapes, so yes, it might not be 100 per cent but the numbers are such that I don’t think you can argue with our commitment.”

Indeed, the commitment has been noticed. Equally so, says Sandie Barton, Rape Crisis Scotland helpline manager and national co-ordinator, there is now an openness to acknowledge where changes must be made. Under arrangements that predate Police Scotland, every individual who reports a serious sexual crime and is allocated a SOLO should, in theory, be referred through to the Rape Crisis national helpline for support.

“The reality is that doesn’t happen – what is agreed up there doesn’t always happen in practice,” says Barton. “But we have seen an increase in referrals since Police Scotland has come into place and I think the message is much more streamlined now that referral need to be happening [and] what are the systems that they need to be putting in place to check that it is happening [and] if it is not, why not.” As of last week, police referrals were 558 in the first year of Police Scotland, up 45 per cent on the previous. “They’re aware and we are aware that that needs to increase because, in a way, it’s not capturing all the people who are reporting,” says Barton. “There is definitely more that can be done.”

Steps have been taken to try and smooth the process both before and during the reporting stage. A pilot advocacy project was launched in December in Greater Glasgow division with the intention of providing on-call support and guidance to those reporting rapes and sexual assaults. On the face of it, the idea is a welcome one, albeit it could take longer to achieve frontline buy-in having seen only a handful of call-outs in the first three months.

“There have been real challenges with that,” says Barton. “I know Louise [Raphael] has been on the case as [best as] she possibly can, but I think sometimes that is a case of people up here being very clear about why it is going to work but operationally, there is a bit of fear, there is a bit of a misunderstanding, not knowing what an advocacy worker does, and also, a bit of fear about [whether] the advocacy worker is going to be scrutinising or criticising their practice.”

A protocol is soon to be formally signed off that will allow victims hesitant of making a formal report to the police a means to test the waters. “If somebody would like to report but maybe they’re a bit fearful, maybe they’re worried they won’t be believed, or that there isn’t enough evidence, they can give the information to us, we’ll anonymously share it with the police who can check their databases,” adds Barton.

“They’re limited about what they can tell us, but they can sometimes give us an indication, ‘we’d really like to speak to this woman or this person’ and knowing that maybe there is somebody else this has happened to can sometimes be enough for people to think ‘this person might be a risk to other people, it wasn’t just me’ – because often people blame themselves – or maybe [that] there will be enough evidence to do something about it.”

While the public debate has, and will continue to, centre around the proposed abolition of the requirement for corroboration in criminal trials, there is another more imminent development preceding the criminal justice process getting under way that is likely to stoke some controversy. “There are people who are suspects for crimes, are named individuals for crimes, that for whatever reason, evidentially we just don’t have enough that would allow us to pursue that through the criminal justice process,” says Raphael. “But the actions of that individual are such that it causes us concerns. And I’m of a view that actually, we need to try and do something about that. We can’t just not do something about that, and we need to engage with those individuals. What we’re looking at is some form of warning to those type of people just about their conduct and the fact that, actually, you can’t continue behaving like that and that we, as the police, have got you on our radar and are aware of your previous conduct and we’ll be looking at you in the future.”

Raphael says the exact form such a system would take is still in the “development stage”, though she is hopeful it will be up and running and starting to deliver “some tangible activity within the next month or two”. Police Scotland’s legal representatives are being engaged throughout the process, albeit no issues have as yet emerged that would preclude them from taking such a step. A formal application process for a warning to be issued would be put in place, the reasons for an application being considered would be documented, and a risk assessment carried out to leave a clear audit trail. Approval would be at a level of superintendent or above.

“We wouldn’t embark on any of this recklessly, none of this would be done on a whim, for example,” she says. “There would need to be a pretty strong intelligence case to suggest that [for] that individual, we need to intervene... and actually have some dialogue with this person to try and discuss the errors of their ways, apart from anything else. It would be very unusual, for example, for us to even consider a warning on the back of an isolated incident. I am not saying that wouldn’t happen, but it would be very unusual. What you would more routinely see is perhaps a course of conduct that either escalates or is persistent enough to know that if we don’t intervene, actually there may well be a victim at some point further down the line.

“If that’s the case, and looking at it in very simplistic terms, if we have concerns about that individual because they have come to our attention on more than one occasion and we don’t do anything about that and something happens at some point further down the line, actually, we’re negligent in our own duties and responsibilities. So we need to intervene.”

Should a warning be delivered, it would be recorded on the Scottish Intelligence Database. As such, it would potentially form part of the disclosure process for particular jobs, confirms Raphael. “Which is why we couldn’t and we wouldn’t indiscriminately go out there and deliver warnings. We couldn’t do that, it would be completely inappropriate, it would be disproportionate, and we couldn’t and wouldn’t do it.”

Case Study

Tackling the silence

“What we need to be doing is surely going further up stream and preventing this happening and it’s down to a lot of attitudes,” says Chief Inspector Graham Goulden, national anti-violence campaign coordinator at Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit.

The scenario pictured is used as a trigger for discussion with older high school pupils about alcohol and consent, the issue of rape, and how bystanders can prevent such cases. It forms part of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) programme, started in 2011 and led by Goulden, which looks to promote a climate where bystanders can safely challenge aggressive and inappropriate behaviour by their peers that can give rise to violence.

Uniquely, pupils in S4, S5 and S6 are recruited and trained not only to deliver sessions – age appropriate of course – to younger pupils in their own school but to train up other local schools in how the programme works. The number of schools in which MVP is active – currently seven across six local authorities – will ideally be doubled within the next few months.

An extension of the MVP model is now being applied to the night time economy. Work started before Christmas after Goulden trained 40 licensing police officers in how to deliver a one-hour course to bar staff and bouncers. The rationale is to engage the bystander to spot signs of vulnerability and promote discussion of how intervention might be carried out in a safe manner.

In time, Goulden is hoping to hand the ‘Bring in the Bystander’ initiative over to Police Scotland for use as and when it’s needed across all 14 divisions, with added opportunities to embed within licensee training and widen use to the likes of taxi or bus drivers.

“With MVP and also ‘Bring in the Bystander’, we’re not trying to create experts in rape prevention,” says Goulden. “We just need people to be switched on to the situations and be more aware of the issue and more aware that, if your friend is vulnerable, if your friend is maybe acting not in the right way, do something about it.”

Read the most recent article written by Alan Robertson - Time for Michael Matheson to live up to his motto of ‘smart on crime’

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