Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

South London Press Column: Rape victims need to be able to have

Women have always feared that if they report a rape they won't be taken seriously, they won't be believed, or worse still, they'll be blamed.  And the police, prosecutors and courts have worked hard to put that right. But because that used to be the case, it’s really important today that the police take every complaint of rape seriously and properly investigate every single case.

But that is not what happens according to a report by the IPCC, the police watchdog, published in February this year.  They found that some police officers in Southwark made women drop their cases or just registered the complaint as "not a crime" if they thought they might be difficult to prosecute. Just to help boost the police unit's performance figures.
This had disastrous consequences. The police did not investigate when a woman complained she was raped by her violent partner. Instead the officer put on the records that it was not a crime as she’d consented to sex when she clearly said she hadn’t. The police missed the chance to put him in prison. The rapist then went on to murder his two children. 
Yet the police officer responsible was subject to no disciplinary action beyond a written warning.  To be sure that all police officers take all complaints of rape seriously there has to be proper accountability when an officer betrays the victim of a crime. How can you have in the police force officers who are prepared to say “no this wasn’t a rape” just because it was more convenient for their figures?
Sustaining confidence of rape victims through what is usually a long, drawn-out court process is absolutely critical. Even if the case reaches court, victims don’t always see the sentence they expect. A woman who had been the victim of a violent rape got in touch with me.  Her attacker had strangled her, raped her and cut her neck and face with a knife during the attack. She was concerned that his prison sentence was too short and that he was about to be released from prison early.
I contacted the Attorney General and urged him to refer it to the Court of Appeal as an ‘unduly lenient’ sentence. He referred it and the Court ruled that it was ‘unduly lenient’ and increased the sentence to an indefinite ‘detention for public protection’ for a minimum of 3 years.

It’s important that women can have confidence not just in the courts but that the police are determined to investigate rape and serious sexual offences.
As Southwark MP’s, myself, Tessa Jowell and Simon Hughes summoned the Met to a meeting in the House of Commons to tell us how they would address the failings the IPCC identified. We told the police that in order to make sure they really do deserve the confidence of victims they need to engage an independent organisation to go back to every the victim at the end of the process to ask if the police handled it well.
The Met has agreed to do this and we will be monitoring the results closely.
This is the only way the police will be able to satisfy themselves – and the public - that they have turned their back on their bad old ways and that they are entitled to command the confidence of women in London.

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