Police need to believe victims when investigating a crime

Victims’ Commissioner said: “Referring to a victim of crime as a ‘complainant’ would be a great step backwards in the treatment of victims and survivors.”

The Victims’ Commissioner has today spoken out against Sir Richard Henriques’ report and the portrayal of victims of crime as ‘complainants’.

Delivering a speech at South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner’s Victims Showcase Event in Rotherham, the Victims’ Commissioner Baroness Newlove, asked delegates to consider how victims of child sexual abuse may feel when they are coming forward to report crimes against them.

Baroness Newlove said:

“By the very nature of the crime, victims of sexual violence and abuse may find it more difficult to come forward and report what has happened to them.

“In recent years, we have seen a conscious decision by many authorities to change their approach to how they treat victims of sexual abuse. This has led to a climate where victims feel able to report the crimes they have suffered and in an environment where they feel safe.

“The police especially, have made great strides in changing the way they deal with victims and survivors of sexual abuse. One of the most important changes is that they ensure victims are listened to and that their accounts are believed.”

However, the Victims’ Commissioner is concerned that the police are on the precipice of taking a step backwards in how they investigate sexual abuse cases and treat victims involved in these cases.

Baroness Newlove continued:

“Sir Richard Henriques’ recent report about the Metropolitan Police’s handling of a number of non-recent sexual abuse cases, gives me serious cause for concern.

“He argues that the police should start from a position where victims are not believed when they report a crime, and that the police should be impartial, so they can conduct unbiased investigations.

“He also argues that when such allegations are made, the person making the claims should be referred to as a ‘complainant’ and not as a ‘victim’.

“I believe that if these recommendations are accepted, the police will be taking a significant step backwards, undoing much of the progress made to give victims the confidence to come forward.”

Further addressing the debate on whether the police should refer to victims as ‘complainants’, the Victims’ Commissioner went on to say:

“Belief and acceptance of the events a victim has experienced, makes up a huge part of helping a victim towards their recovery.

“An important part of this is for victims to know that they are not ‘complainants’. I simply cannot understand this terminology. Victims of crime, any crime, whether they have visible scars or not, are just that – victims. They do not become victims only at the point when a perpetrator is convicted.

“They have not asked for the crime to be committed. Nor are they asking for a complaint to be resolved. It is the State that brings a case against a suspect, and it is the State who brings an offender to justice.”

Baroness Newlove commended the bravery and courage demonstrated by those victims who have come forward to speak about the crimes against them. And, in addition to taking the victims’ view into account, police officers have a duty to investigate cases diligently, gathering evidence and establishing the facts.

She concluded this part of the speech by saying:

“I do believe that good policing delivers justice – justice in ensuring that guilty individuals are convicted and justice for victims to feel able to come forward. And we need our police to deliver both.”

A full ‘check against delivery’ version of the speech can be accessed here.