Crime Reduction

09.12.16

Significant corruption fears as 436 claims of police sexual abuse revealed

Abuse of power for sexual gains by police officers has been revealed as a serious problem in a new report.

The latest annual overview of police legitimacy from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) looked at the problem for the first time. Data was imperfect because of different forces’ recording processes, but the review found that 436 allegations of abuse of authority for sexual gain were made to police forces between 2014 and 2016, with only one force receiving no allegations.

A number of allegations were made against the same individuals, so in total, 334 police personnel were accused, consisting of 306 police officers, 20 PCSOs and eight staff.

Mike Cunningham, HM inspector of constabulary, said: “This is the most significant corruption challenge for the police, as it betrays the trust of the public – particularly some of the most vulnerable people in society.

“Forces need to become far more proactive in rooting out this most serious form of corruption, rather than only dealing with it once it has been reported, and ensure every preventative measure is being taken if they are to continue to hold the trust of the public.”

In particular, the report highlighted concerns around exploitation of people who come into contact with the police through domestic violence cases, who were involved in 39% of allegations.

A survey of domestic violence support staff found that 16% had received complaints from victims about police officers exploiting their position for sexual purposes. Of these, 35% said that the victims had not reported it to the police.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of domestic violence charity Refuge, called the report “horrifying, but unsurprising”.

“The police are meant to protect the public from harm; how can women be expected to report their abuse, if they fear the police will abuse them all over again?” she said.

The report also warned that police could be failing to take allegations of this nature seriously, with less than half of the allegations referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

It urged all forces to review all allegations, make referrals to the IPCC if necessary, and establish effective procedures for referring future allegations, within the next three months. Mike Castle, chief executive of Victim Support, argued it was critical to maintaining public confidence in the police that all complaints were referred to the IPCC.

The HMIC added that all forces should then implement a plan, within six months, to collect intelligence on potential abuses of authority.

It also called on forces to reassure members of the public that they took allegations of this abuse seriously, and to implement strategies for preventing it, after finding that many police officers could not define their expectations for appropriate conduct beyond ‘common sense’.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson, the National Police Chief’ Council (NPCC) lead for counter-corruption, commented: “Abuse of powers for sexual gain is a betrayal of our core responsibility to protect people from harm. It is the most serious form of corruption and it can never be justified or condoned.”

He added that the NPCC was developing a national strategy to “route out the disease”, which could involve new training programmes to spot the warning signs and a national helpline.

Home secretary Amber Rudd said she had met with the NPCC and the College of Policing to discuss the report, which she called "a matter of profound concern”.

“The misconduct discovered in this report is shocking,” she added. “It undermines justice and public confidence and there is no place in the police for anyone guilty of this sort of abuse.”

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