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By Robert Anderson
Last week, Mick Duthie, head of the Met’s Sex Crime Unit, Sapphire, unveiled a new set of initiatives. As a flagship force, the Met sets the standard for policing across the country. Unfortunately, in the case of Sapphire, the standard has hardly been glittering. Sex crimes reported to Sapphire have dropped by 14 per cent compared to last year. It is not that fewer women are being assaulted in London; it is simply that fewer women are coming forward to a force in which they have no confidence, with good reason. Last month a former Sapphire officer pleaded guilty to a catalogue of misdemeanours, from failing to investigate reported rapes to not pursuing suspects and falsifying police records. This has left 11 suspects at large. Gold-standard for policing? Hardly.
Now the Met’s getting tough on sex crime. Apparently. In an interview with The Guardian, Duthie claims the force would adopt ‘Al Capone style’ tactics to combat sex crime. Suspicion rises immediately: Italian-American mobsters are not known for dismantling the structures of patriarchy. Proposals included monitoring suspects and ‘picking them up’ for other minor crimes, alongside use of licensing laws to close venues ‘generating’ high numbers of sexual assaults. Forgive me if I’m being dense, but how does a pub ‘generate’ sex crime? It hasn’t got any hands with which to grope, or any mouth with which to catcall. Also, pubs don’t have penises. I was under the impression that men commit sex crimes against women. With hands, voices and penises. It seems that, yet again, the forces mandated to protect women are party to the continual effacement of the perpetrator. Displacing the true responsibility which lies solely with the perpetrator, the Met are undertaking wonderfully PR friendly, high-visibility tactics which further distance the sex offender from his crime. As the average victim-blamer will attest, the removal of drink and women from a situation may reduce assaults. Unfortunately, as a study by Psychology of Women Quarterly found, only 2.2 per cent of rapes occur in bars. “Ah yes, but isn’t the focus on the shadowy figure stalking the lone blonde home from a night out, sporting grubby mac and devilish leer?” Sorry, but the same study found that only 3.6 per cent of rapes occur outside. Furthermore, more than 80 per cent of rapists are known by the victim. So let’s play scenarios: the likelihood is that a sex offender will be someone the victim knows and the attack will occur somewhere that is neither in a bar or between a bar and elsewhere. So at what stage will closing down the bar have any effect on sexual assault?
For sure, bars and clubs are havens for less violent but profoundly demeaning instances of sexual assault. As evidenced by the Facebook group ‘Misogyny Overheard at Oxford’, Camera seems to be a hotspot for wandering hands and casual sexism. Would closing the place reduce sexual assault at Oxford? Simply, no. Would assaults continue to occur at Wahoo, Bridge or Park End – yes. Sex acts don’t occur because women are in particular clubs. They occur because sex offenders want to commit, and believe they can get away with, assault; the grope in Junction this week will become the sexist slur in the Bullingdon next week.
The perpetuation of offender-effacement and victim-blaming are also painfully evident in particular portions of Duthrie’s statement: “We need to educate people that if they go out and get hammered they are vulnerable, vulnerable to being assaulted, vulnerable to falling over and vulnerable to being raped.” The smooth conflation of responsibility here is staggering – apparently a woman is equally as responsible for tripping over as she is for getting raped.
While getting rapists off the streets is all well and good, it does nothing to change the fact that 93 per cent of rape cases don’t result in conviction. As Vivienne Hayes, CEO of the Women’s Resource Centre, told the Huffington Post Duthie’s plan will change little: “Keeping offenders off the streets by charging them with unrelated offences achieves absolutely nothing by way of changing attitudes or preventing future offences. It completely negates justice for survivors, heightening women’s feelings of disenfranchisement towards the Met Police.”
It is clear that this interview confirms the fears of those who have lost confidence in the police. Policy makers and enforcers continue to lay the onus upon the victim, not the attacker. They are happy to commit resources to ineffective policies and, most importantly, still cannot ensure that a victim of sexual assault will receive the justice they deserve.