How a British Army Rethinks How to Handle Sexual Assault Cases

The unpretentious low-rise building on the back alley in central Bristol is a bold experiment for British police to change the way rape and sexual assault cases are handled.

Since April, Avon Somerset police officials in western England have introduced a more sensitive approach aimed at reversing the steady decline in the rate of rape and sexual assault complaints leading to convictions. I will.

Police are required to focus on understanding and investigating the behavior of alleged attackers, rather than focusing on the credibility of the victim.

Many of the most important conversations take place in an unmarked backstreet building known as the “Achieveing ​​Best Evidence” (ABE) suite. The facility is designed to reassure claimants of all ages, with a comfortable sofa for recording interviews and better support and understanding.

Known as the “Project Bluestone,” the program was quoted Friday as a template for a new approach to the entire criminal justice system in England and Wales aimed at changing the investigation and prosecution of sexual violence cases. It was.

The government is facing particularly strong pressure on this issue due to protests following its disappearance in March and subsequent death. Sarah Evalard.. Wayne Kusens, a police officer at the Metropolitan Police Department, Acknowledge sin Kidnap and rape Everlard without entering the plea that killed her.

Flower Compliments in Memory of Sarah Everd of Clapam Common, Southern London © Andy Rain / EPA / Shutterstock

The decrease in the rate of rape reports leading to prosecution focus of Demo wave It followed the disappearance of Evalard. Of the 55,130 reports, only 1,439 were convicted of rape in England and Wales during the year to March 2020. The system suffers from both a surge in complaints, partly spurred by the #MeToo movement, and an incapacity following a decade of austerity cuts.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland on Friday apology He told rape victims that the low conviction rate was “not enough.”

Charlotte Leeson, one of Project Bluestone’s Avon and Somerset leads, said that historically much of the attention in sexual violence investigations focused on issues such as how much the victim drank. Said. Scholars advising the project, led by criminologist Betsy Stanko, who previously worked for the Mayor of London’s police and crime office, challenged the power to look at the problem in another way.

“Betsy and her team helped us think about how we use intelligence to think about the suspect’s behavior,” Leeson said. “this is [attack] Target?was [carrying out the attack] What motivated you to go out that night? “

Charlotte Leason states that the project required police officers to look at issues related to sexual violence in another way © Jon Rowley / FT

This approach also sought to reduce pressure on victims, Leeson added. Plaintiffs were often urged to promptly provide all evidence to see if it could be substantiated in court. Pressure can urge victims to withdraw cooperation.

“The current challenge is to put the victim at the center of the process and to have the support and time to provide evidence in a comfortable and appropriate way,” added Leason.

Even some who usually criticize police records of sexual violence support Project Bluestone.

Andrea Simon, director of the end of violence against the Women’s Union, said the initiative was “incredibly valuable” as scholars thoroughly audited what went wrong.

“Moving to a suspect-centered approach where someone’s criminal history and their background are more important will improve the experience of the judicial system for victims and conduct investigations in different directions.” Simon said.

At the ABE Suite, one police officer involved in applying the new approach, Kate Douglass, said he sought to reduce the time it takes for police officers to conduct their first interview after plaintiffs’ first report. Due to pressure on resources, the military had previously left a considerable gap before interviewing an increase in the number of people reporting historic sexual crimes.

“Whether this crime was committed 50 years ago or two hours ago, they are still overcoming it,” Douglas said.

Detective Richard Marsh, who was involved in the process, said Stanko and her team were police officers about disclosing to the defense team everything that could damage the incident found on the victim’s phone. Said he suggested that he was too thorough.

The process of disclosing evidence found on mobile phones helped create significant new delays before the case was brought to court, giving up many victims.

“What scholars are saying is that finding something that seems bad to the victim in any way is that we are overkill,” Marsh said.

However, the question facing the Bluestone approach is whether it will yield results when it is tested in further pilot studies and potentially deployed throughout England and Wales.

Simon said funding is one potential issue. The government has stated that it wants to carry out more pilots in more areas in two years, but has only provided funding for one year.

“At this point, the majority of rape victims feel that the pace of reform is too slow to have to wait a few more years for the country’s response to rape investigations to improve,” she said.

Nevertheless, the prosecutor said he was pleased with the progress of the project. Victoria Cook, Chief Prosecutor of CPS Southwest, said the focus brought by Project Bluestone brought “a closer partnership between police and CPS.”

Staff at The Bridge, a sexual assault referral service run by the NHS at the Central Health Clinic in Bristol, also pointed out signs of encouragement. They said police officers had improved communication with the victims. Victims are often referred to services by police officers for medical examinations to provide evidence.

Bristol’s Sexual Assault Referral Service, Bridge Service Manager, Nicola Shannon © Jon Rowley / FT

The service also tracks the “referral rate,” which is the percentage of patients who are referred directly by a practitioner and feel confident in pursuing criminal accusations after contact with staff.

Nicola Shannon, Service Manager at The Bridge, did not give an exact number of how referral rates changed, and was careful to attribute the changes entirely to Project Bluestone.

But she says: “We noticed that referral rates doubled in March and April, and in May and June, so something changed.”

How a British Army Rethinks How to Handle Sexual Assault Cases

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