When will they believe us?

From disregarding allegations, to opaque police procedure - the police are failing victims of assault. 
Written by Sally Bunkham
March 19, 2021

From disregarding allegations, to opaque police procedure – the police are failing victims of assault. 

 

The Met failed Sarah Everard. Her (alleged) murderer – an off duty Met Police Officer – was already known to the police for separate allegations of indecent exposure. This is my story of how the police failed me too. 

 

A few years ago, a journalist interviewed me about my business, alone in a cafe garden. On 24th July 2019, out of the blue, he started sending me disgusting videos of him pleasuring himself and threats to rape me. 

 

I reported this incident immediately to the police. 

 

During the first police session, I felt a strong “we’ll do our best for you but our hands are tied” kind of vibe from the officers. They gave me two options. The first, that I could press charges. But they insinuated that this would be a time-consuming venture, and likely not to result in much. After all, his phone could have been hacked – even though I felt in my gut that it was him. 

 

The second option was that the police could track him down and issue him a warning. I was gently persuaded to go with this option. It would at least offer me some closure and would hopefully signal that the police were on to him and what he was doing was unacceptable.

 

The victim support team told me to curb my own routine, to “shake it up” so he wouldn’t know where I was. It was the height of summer, but they advised me to keep my windows locked. They would not say how long I should continue to do this. 

 

I called the police every few weeks to find out if they’d been successful in tracking him down. I was really keen for closure. 

 

It took two months for the police to get in touch. With an email, simply stating that they had “managed to ascertain his whereabouts and are satisfied he’s no longer a risk and will file my complaint”. 

 

This confused me. A quick google search of this name was all it took for me to learn that the police had located him because he was now in police custody. Charged for attacking a woman. In 2018. I was shocked. I felt failed and powerless. I also wished I’d had more confidence in my gut from the beginning. I’d allowed others to sow seeds of doubt in myself.

 

This new information proved to me that it was him who had sent me those videos, that he was indeed a rapist waiting to happen (if he hadn’t already). Armed with this fresh knowledge, I decided to press charges. 

 

I made an official police statement on 3rd October. This took place at the station, where I was also informed that he was in prison in Scotland. My case would be transferred to another police force. This, they told me, was “nothing to worry about”.

 

On 14th October, the man in question appeared in court. He was charged with attacking a woman but was found guilty of attempted robbery and given two years. The woman he attacked was so traumatised that she lost her job and her house.

 

I waited for the police to act in regard to my case. But nothing happened, despite assurances that he’d be interviewed and that I’d hear something soon. 

 

24th July 2020. Exactly a year after I reported the original incident. The same police officers who dealt with my initial report visited me late at night to say the Scottish Police have refused to investigate the case. Six months after a reported incident is the limited timeframe for the police to be able to do something. But I wasn’t told this, and now my case was a year old. They were sympathetic, but there was nothing more they could do.

 

I made 2 complaints to the police—one to the police force dealing with it and one to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. Neither complaint was upheld, even though it was admitted that there were some “lessons to be learnt”. We heard our Prime Minister use the same phrase in response to the treatment of the women by the Met Police at the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard.

 

What will it take for us, as women, to be believed? How many more women will be raped and killed? Shana Grice, instead of being offered support and protection when her stalking incidents are reported, was fined £90 for “wasting police time”? Shana’s stalker then went on to slit her throat and set her on fire, in her terrifying murder. What hope do we have?

 

The police are supposed to protect us. I feel anything but protected. Sarah Everard’s murder was a brutal and triggering reminder for me. It screamed, “It nearly was you. It was nearly someone else. It WAS someone else, and it WILL happen again.” It has been a sad reminder of all the aggressions that, collectively, women have had to endure.

 

In the spirit of this platform, I want to end in a call for action. In the dreadful aftermath of Sarah’s death, and as we learn more about those women the media has chosen not to write about (Blessing Olusegun, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, to name a few), we must call upon for the authorities to DO MORE.

 

In this swell of outrage, the public are being asked to share their experiences. A previously closed Call for Evidence on tackling violence against women and girls was reopened again on Friday, to catalogue such experiences, with Home Secretary Priti Patel insisting the Government has noted the level of public concern.

 

It’s so important that we use our voice. It’s the best chance we have to shape future policy. The link to the survey can be found here. Do it for Sarah. Do it for Blessing, Nicole and Bibaa. Do it for us all.

  

 If you have been affected by recent events in the news or just in general, text SHOUT to 85258 for free and confidential text support. 24/7. 

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