Saturday, 26 March 2011
Another day, another dollar, another serial rape case in court. London has had rather a run of these disturbing cases in the past few years and along with the fear and havoc they bring to people's lives, they have one other thing in common...the Metropolitan Police has fucked them up royally.
The organisation entrusted with protecting and serving the most vulnerable people in the country's capital has time and time again proved that as soon the crime involves a penis, they can't cope. With a combo of disgust, misogynisy, hypocrisy, inepititude and intransigence, accompanied by two fingers firmly stuck up at anyone who has the misfortune of becoming the victim of a sex attacker, they have managed to leave a trail of cocked up investigations that have destroyed lives, terrorised communities and left John Worboys, Kirk Reid, Robert Napper and Delroy Grant amongst others to attack hundreds of women (and men) over the past twenty years alone. These cases have been all over the press, discussed at length in the media, formed the basis of a restructuring of the Met, given the public a new view of their police force and kept the Independent Police Complaints Commission in business almost single handedly in the past three or so years. But the information they have imparted to anyone who has reported a rape in Greater London in recent years, hasn't been at all shocking. We have known for years through personal experience that when it comes to investigating rape, the Met can't organise a piss up in a brewery.
Instead of reading each example of barely believable incompetence and total contempt of victims as we unfold the Metro each morning on the Tube, we had a ringside seat. While trying to report our own rapes and sexual assaults and to do our part in regaining control of our own lives while trying to protect others from experiencing the same life changing events, we were treated to a truly nightmarish sequence of affairs at the hands of the very people we should be able to trust. Despite growing up where I did, I was brought up to have faith in the police and taught from a very early age that if I had a problem I should find a policeman. So when I was raped and my life fell apart around my ears, I did just that. Frightened and confused, I went to the police, hoping that they would help me out and support me as I tried to seek justice for what happened to me, taking the pressure off and allowing me the chance to get back on my feet. Instead they took what shreds of dignity and belief in the goodness of the world I had left and trampled all over them until they pushed me to a spectacular nervous breakdown and left me feeling even more violated than the morning I woke up confused and bruised in a Soho street.
Admittedly this reaction shouldn't have been a total shock to me. They'd been at best ineffectual and at worst devious and threatening when I'd reported my first rape earlier that year, but I put that down to a three month gap between attack and reporting, a lack of forensics, reluctant witnesses and a well connected attacker with a good grasp of the law. I'd agreed to having the rape recorded as a 'no crime' in return for a crime reference number and a police report to the Homeless Person Unit to try and sort out the housing mess going to the police had in part caused. I also didn't have the chops for an argument with the law and was happy enough to not take it any further. But when I found myself confused, injured and without a single memory of what had happened to me, a mere five months later, I wanted to know what had happened to me badly enough to rock up to another police station and ask them to help me find out. After all, this time I had evidence a-go-go, witnesses up the wazoo and mere hours between the attack and the report. What could go wrong?
It turns out everything. And more. From the moment I was handed over to the specially trained officers of the much lauded and trumpeted Sapphire Unit who exclusively deal with sex crimes, my life fell down a rabbit hole in a traumatic journey that would completely change how I felt about myself and the world around me and left me unable to ever countenance dealing with the police again no matter what happened to me in the future. It would become the greatest regret of my life and it would last for almost four years before stopping. It was beyond my wildest fears or the bleakest parts of my imagination and still provokes an incredibly visceral reaction in me now, in part because right from the start, my intuition told me I was doing the wrong thing and had I listened to it, I could have walked away and possibly saved myself years of turmoil. Instead, ravaged by the self doubt and fear created by being raped twice in eight months, I put my trust wholeheartedly in the officers assigned to me and literally from the start they betrayed that.
Trying to be honest from the outset, I told the uniformed officers assigned to babysit me while Sapphire arrived that I had previously reported a rape. Half a packet of fags and almost two hours later, the CID lot made it to Charing Cross from St Johns Wood. My previous report wasn't mentioned, but I was fairly sure they'd been reading it rather than sitting in Saturday morning traffic or picking up coffee and croissants. We then had a weird moment when the four coppers in the room opted not to tell me I needed to have a forensic medical exam, but have another policeman tell me this on the phone while they chatted about weekend overtime.
Things took a more hectoring tone as I sat in the back of the police car en route to the hospital. Looking at me in the mirror, the male sargeant fired questions at me, asking if I had my period and when I'd last had sex. Understanding why they were asking those things, I was happy enough to answer. I was less sure why the WPC was handing me a piece of paper and a pen and asking me to write down the name, address and telephone number of the last guy I'd slept with so they could double check the details or why they needed to know if I used tampons. Everything felt like they didn't believe me and each question, particularly those barbed and accusing queries outside the hospital about my previous rape, dripped with suspicion and distrust. And just in case I hadn't quite got the message that I couldn't be trusted and thus wasn't deserving of respect, these officers chatted on the phone, ate fried chicken, laughed, joked and watched the football next door to where I was having an incredibly intimate medical exam for the next three hours.
Once this was finished, they tried to whisk me away for questioning at the police station without either a pair of knickers to change into or a cup of tea, but were no match for a nurse who insisted I ate something first. Two biscuits and some clock watching later, I was taken to the station where I met the investigating officer in charge of my case. I'd assumed he'd been hard at work finding out what had happened to me, but when left alone in his office, the only signs of activity came from two goldfish and partly read copy of The Murder Book by Jonathan Kellerman. I was questioned further and told I'd need to come back the next day to have my injuries photographed by the police photographer and like a pupil at the end of a odd day's school, excused to go home....even though I was homeless, broke and stranded on the other side of town to where I needed to be. They basically told me to call them if I got busted without a ticket on the bus and said they'd be home too late to tuck their kid into bed if they drove me home.
The tone was set. Feeling shaken up, utterly lacking in confidence and believing that as policemen, they must be right, the next few encounters with the officers on my case were a similar mix of interrogation, irritation and inertia. Told that because I had no memory of the night, I mustn't talk to others about the case until I gave my statement (almost two weeks later), I had no way of knowing what the officers were up to. Meeting with my SOIT (or sexual offences investigation trained) officer to pick up my missing bag which had been handed in was a bizarre afternoon of chit chat and coffee drinking spent together that he later denied had ever taken place. I was told two months later nothing had showed up in my tox screen and the calls about my case dwindled until January next year when I received a voicemail from the senior officer saying they'd investigated all they could, hadn't got anywhere and were sorry, but were closing the case. Not utterly surprised by this, I wouldn't have been bothered if he hadn't signed off with the positively Jeeves and Wooster-esque 'toodle pip' in a Welsh accent.
I picked up my never forensically tested clothes from the police station and attempted to do the same with the rest of my life. I did quite well too until one sunny day in late June when the fragile balance of my life crumbled completely. Hungover and at a friend's house early in the morning, I received a call from a brusquely efficient policewoman who informed me in one breath that my case wasn't closed, had never been closed, she had taken over and needed more information from me to see if I'd been gang raped since the original documents didn't tell her enough. This was the first time more than one attacker had been mentioned and in that moment, I felt like I'd been assaulted all over again. The sun stopped shining in my world and my nightmare began in earnest.
I realised that the police had never ever bothered to investigate my rape. My clothes weren't checked, my friends weren't interviewed, my photos hadn't been looked at. My rapist(s) had never ever felt the long arm of the law so much as near them. And the feeling of having had a safety net protecting me after being drugged, taken against my will and raped on the streets of London by a man I couldn't identify was ripped away from me, leaving me utterly devastated. Within a week I was back on antidepressants, wracked by severe anxiety and unable to sleep due to what I discovered later was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Furious and with even more questions in my head than when I reported in August of the previous year and desperate to regain control and get answers, I made the slightly demented decision to write a letter of complaint to the Met about my case, pointing out all their flaws and hoping they'd sort it out. Still touchingly naive about the police, I thought it was a bit like writing a snotty letter to British Gas and it'd all be done and dusted in no time. I briefly engaged the services of the IPCC, but ran away screaming when they sent me a four line letter with eight spelling mistakes, including my name. Instead I sat down and bashed out a letter with some help from my family, but without engaging a solicitor, even though Legal Aid would have covered it and sent it to the most senior officer at the station I could find.
It was the start of almost three years o a complaint which would see my case opened and closed like a bus window, 16 officers interviewed, the shocking discovery that my underwear from the night of the rape had ended up pinned to an office noticeboard as a joke, meetings with coppers all the way to Assistant Chief Constable level, intimidation, threats, midnight phone calls and forgery from the Met, along with the agonising discovery that my rapist was most likely an organised serial attacker who had preyed on others and ultimately an apology for (their words, not mine) 'an almost completely worthless investigation'.
I never found out who'd raped me. I did discover that even some of my friends weren't quite as they seemed on the night and the lies were never ending. I learned there were opiates in my bloodstream that night and my officers had lied, obstructed, destroyed paperwork, refused to investigate, hidden behind excuses about their home lives and slandered me at every turn even after they saw a medical report that stated without doubt I'd been raped. They didn't care enough to find out what happened, but treated me like an inconvenience who wore too much make up and deserved to be raped because she drank too much and talked even more. They lost my file, complete with hundreds of semi naked photos of my injuries and didn't tell me for months and told me my attacker might have filmed the rape so not to be surprised if it was on the internet. They left me crushed, with my belief in the police destroyed and the feeling that the world was a place of such unimaginable terror and danger that I was never safe to leave the house again. Their abandonment of me after bullying me left me feeling like I had a target painted on me, made bigger and easier to find if I wore a skirt or dress.
The fact that one of the officers did not receive the 'words of advice' he was disciplined with because he had moved to Dafyd Powys police sex crimes (who have almost as poor a rep as the Met on rape) and his new employers didn't think it was relevant, incensed me. I was driven to distraction by the fact that none of the other 15 officers were re-trained, advised, had their wages docked or made to move job or reliquinsh their position for cocking up my case to the point where they cheerfully admitted they couldn't charge my rapist even if he walked in and admitted doing it to me or anyone else. I did derive some comfort from the fact my case was one of six used (along with the Worboys and Reid cases) to show the egregious behaviour of Sapphire and see it amalgamated into Homicide and Serious Crime rather than left for each borough to deal with as they liked, to hopefully improve the lot for future victims.
I'd like to tell you that this change in command has worked wonders and that things have improved, but I'd be lying (or hallucinating). The rape reporting rate continues to rise in London and the conviction rate continues to fall. John Yates still believes the highest rate of attrition lies with the police. Car crime still receives priority in some boroughs. Officers are charged with misconduct in public office for cases like mine. No criming continues unabated. Attacks described as some the worst Scotland Yard has ever seen are still mishandled for years and hundreds and thousands of victims have to live life knowing they've been let down, betrayed and left to try to piece their lives together knowing their attackers walk the street without so much as a slap on the wrist.
This cannot be explained by simple human error. It's just not possible for people to be that terrible at their jobs and never be fired, properly disciplined or questioned on it by superiors unless they just don't care about what they are doing. They might not care because they are disgusted by victims, because rape is seen (wrongly) as a woman's issue and they don't respect women, because they don't really think rape is a big deal or because they think the 94% of victims who don't see justice are liars or in someway deserved their rapes due to wearing a short skirt or having a drink, but only the utterly deluded could argue that they actually give a monkeys and try their very very best to catch and punish rapists. Instead they let them hone their skills and develop a cockiness that fuels re-offending and a belief that they are above the law.
All the shuffling and re-arranging the deckchairs on board as Sapphire's reputation sinks even lower do nothing ultimately if the Met refuses to acknowledge their problem with institutional sexism, poorly trained officers with old fashioned views and a structure that encourages the most difficult to investigate and expensive cases to be shelved at the drop of a hat. Recent Commissioners have been too damned chummy with government, preferring to soak up money and kudos than fight the corner of the weakest and most vulnerable while the divisions between the graduate educated top brass and the rank and file bred mistrust and made it harder for the brass to crack down on failing officers. This allows the culture of silence that lets officers behave like they did in my case and get away with it. Worryingly, the Met sets the pace for most other police forces in the UK and where they lead, others follow, making this an issue for everyone, not just Londoners.
I find it hard to forgive the police for their treatment of me. The only way I can deal with it is to put it to the very back of my mind and try and pretend it didn't happen, waiting for the mists of time to ease the feelings of burning indignation I still have. I find it harder to come to terms with their betrayal than the rape itself. The police wilfully and soberly on repeated occasions treated me like shit on their shoe. I was not an anonymous body in a skirt to them. They knew my name, my previous victimisation, my current vulnerabilities and still they degraded me, belittled me and ignored me, bullying and intimidating me on a regular basis. They made everything about my rape much worse and it is in spite of them, not because of them, that I have been able to move on. But I doubt I'll ever trust a man who has ever worn a tit on his head again...