K is for: Keeping Safe
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men” (John Dalberg-Acton, Lord Acton)
Lord Acton died in 1902, 120 years ago…. Human nature doesn’t change much then, does it?
In the wake of Sarah Everard’s abductor, rapist and murderer – a high-ranking Police Officer known ‘affectionately’ to his colleagues as ‘The Rapist’ – being handed a whole-life order for his despicable crime, it feels right that this week’s blog takes some time to look at and think about Keeping Safe.
I try hard to keep these blogs about my professional experiences, but this week I want to talk about a personal one, because we’ve been triggered…. Everyone (male & female) who hasn’t been believed; who’s had a complaint to the police laughed at, or not pursued; those victims who’ve waited days and weeks for a response from the police only to have them get it so excruciatingly wrong that the only outcome is further risk.
Let’s start with some facts –
Police officers don’t learn the law.
But if they DID learn the law, they’d be solicitors or barristers, not police officers.
Potential Police officers must declare all and any previous convictions at application BUT there isn’t a single type of conviction that will immediately disqualify someone’s application – not even theft or violence (both of these would be an absolute no-no for anyone wanting to work with children, say) and, guess who does the checking? That’s right! The Police…. From their OWN database.
Just for an additional giggle, I took this information from the website of a charity that supports ex-offenders and prison-leavers who are considering joining the force, sorry, service. (A very good charity, by the way – www.unlock.org.uk)
The same website tells us that due to the crisis in police recruitment, the vetting system and recruitment processes “have been slightly relaxed.”
In the main, potential new Police Officers have to have a degree but it can be in ANY subject…. So, your arresting officer may know absolutely nothing about the law, but they might be an expert in media studies.
This week, women specifically have been told by that same police service that they should:
“Be streetwise” about officers and the powers of the arrest (Philip Allot, North Yorkshire Police Commissioner – statement now retracted)
Ring 999 to confirm the validity of the officer
“Shout out to a passer-by, run into a house or wave a bus down”
Let’s take these one at a time, shall we…?!
The expectation apparently, is that women should know more about the law than the Police Officer approaching them.
I’m the daughter of the very first person to ever get a PHD in Criminology from Cambridge University and I can tell you that I have ALWAYS been told that police officers should be feared – not because of their power, but because of their stupidity.
I was told that if I was ever stopped by a police officer, I should ask for the EXACT nature – Act, Section and Specific Offence - for which I was being questioned, alongside the name, rank and serial number of the officer. ALL of these things should be made clear. If the officer is unable to tell me the answer, I should (politely) point out that they have no good reason to stop me and move on with my life.
I also grew up in South East London. I went to school around the corner from where Stephen Lawrence was murdered – he was my age and trust me, we ALL knew who he was even when he was alive… One of my best friends at school lived literally across the road from the bus stop where he was killed – you could hear the people at that bus stop talking from her bedroom…
There were two other kids from my own school murdered while I was there too – one of whom was chopped up in the street by a Triad gang.
There but by the grace of God…
Now, I’m a middle-aged, superficially middle-class white woman, so I can tell you that my own personal dealings with the police have mostly been as a victim, not a perpetrator of something.
But I grew up surrounded by friends who were young Black men – and I have to tell you, their experiences of the police were VERY different. They always told me, “Jessie, don’t let them take your goodness. Stay good.” And I never really understood it until I witnessed first hand, those same friends being handcuffed on the street and searched while I stood by not even questioned about the alleged street robbery, or drug deal, or driving offence, or, after the introduction of Trident, the “Under Stop & Search powers” searches they endured…
Ring 999 to confirm the validity of the officer… Hmmm… Have any of you ever tried talking back to a police officer?! I once had one tell me he was cautioning me because I pointed out that he was telling me that I shouldn’t have been parked on a zig-zig, whilst his car was also parked on a zig-zag…
Yeah, police are REALLY patient and not at ALL power hungry! He gave me two ‘cautions’ that day – the second one for having the temerity to ask his name, rank and serial number… (which he refused to supply) I checked – because: working with kids and stuff, I’m subject to an enhanced DBS check - and he in fact hadn’t given me ANY cautions as he hadn’t taken me to a police station or given me a written record… There was also apparently no complaint to be made as there had been no cautions – I did point out that issuing false cautions was a bit naughty, clearly a power play and therefore just intimidation and bullying. If nothing else, it was certainly an abuse of his powers… Apparently, I was the unreasonable one.
If there were any other service who checked the decency of their own staff, one might suspect that system to be a bit, well, biased… wouldn’t one?!
I don’t know about you, but if ever someone has shouted at me on the street, it’s usually been abusive! The ‘usual’ catcalls and whistles from men and the ‘usual’ vindictive, nasty stuff from women – personally I found the actual threats from the girls much more scary than the rampant hormonal charge of the boys….
The girls from the school where Stephen Lawrence attended were some of the scariest I’ve ever come across – the only time I was threatened with a knife by strangers in London was by girls from that school. When I stood my ground and told them they’d have to stab me for my jewellery, I wasn’t about to hand it over, they suddenly decided they were only joking. Not. Funny. I’m pretty convinced too, that had I handed over my jewellery, they wouldn’t have handed it back saying “Not really! You keep that, we were just messing with you LOLZ”.
When I got to school and reported the incident, there was absolutely no effort made to contact the other school, find out who these girls were (they’d have been easy to track down – they were still on the bus five stops after their school so they’d have been conspicuous in their absence!) It was ME, the victim, who got told off for standing up to them! The whole incident was painted as a shining example of my stupidity, not their criminality…
I DID once, when I was much younger, knock on the door of a random house because I was being chased by a gang, and although the person who answered the door was (shocked!) but decent, they certainly didn’t let me in to use their telephone to call home or the police, nor did they call the police for me.
They stayed on their doorstep talking with me for a few minutes before telling me that they thought it was safe now and went back to enjoying their evening. I don’t ever remember being as frightened walking home by myself as I was that night. That was at least 25 years ago and that person was (quite rightly, IMO) dubious then! Now?! I certainly wouldn’t open my door to a stranger at night and I don’t even live in London any more! Especially in this day and age of mobile phones and constant instant communication…
Wave down a bus…
That’s how you’re MEANT to attract the attention of the bus driver when there’s nothing wrong! Even with the best will in the world, how does a bus driver know whether someone’s in danger or just chancing their arm! I haven’t been on a bus for many years but I remember the abuse drivers used to get because they wouldn’t let people off the bus while it was stuck in traffic! They certainly wouldn’t have let anyone ON if they weren’t at a bus stop… And all that is before we get to the reality of bus drivers who don’t even stop where they’re supposed to – either because the bus is full up already or because they’re late; or before we consider those places in the country where buses are daily or weekly apparitions!
The thing that stands out most for me in all this is the narrative that prevention is better than cure.
Now, if we’re talking about unwanted pregnancies and chlamydia, I tend to agree – use a condom, kids! – but SURELY when it comes to the preservation of life, it would be a much better approach to make murdering and raping less attractive prospects, wouldn’t it?
The BBC reports that over the last five years – since the uprising of the #metoo movement, coincidentally – “cases reported to police – and initially recorded as rape – have risen sharply…. However, the proportion making it to court (prosecutions) in that time has more than halved”
In the year to the end of March 2020, 58,856 cases of rape were recorded but there were just 2,102 prosecutions. Interestingly, the same article makes no mention of the number of actual convictions, yet the CPS website is quite proud of its conviction rates, despite “the challenges [they] have all faced”.
I’ll bet one of my bum cheeks that the “challenges” faced by the CPS aren’t nearly as great as the ‘challenges’ faced by reporting victims. Victims who are fighting a system whose whole premise is innocent until proven guilty.
Given this catastrophic paradox, it’s easy to see that the victim will be the one interrogated, not the perpetrator and as such, the system supports the perpetrator’s view of entitlement – “If the system believes me before her, I must be right”
I already mentioned that my dad was a criminal solicitor – his mantra (and that of his colleagues) was that it was far better to let ten guilty people go free than to imprison even one innocent person…. This doesn’t bode well when, particularly in cases of sexual violence, there’s often just one person’s word against the other.
VICTIM: “I've been sexually assaulted’”
SYSTEM: "Where were you? What were you doing? What were you wearing? Were you drunk? High? Did you lead them on? Can you prove it? Do you have photos? Messages? Can you evidence a pattern of harassment?"
VICTIM: … “Ummm, I was walking home…”
SYSTEM: "So, you were on your own, were you?! *shakes head, rolls eyes and sighs… Will these women NEVER learn?!*"
SYSTEM to perpetrator: “An allegation has been made against you by *gives victim’s name, address, phone number, date of incident, location of incident, time of incident…"
PERPETRATOR: “I didn’t do it. I was in the pub with my mate”
SYSTEM: “Oh! Ok then…”
SYSTEM to victim: “Perpetrator denies the allegation and his mate says he was in the pub with him so as it’s two against one…”
VICTIM: “But… CCTV, Witnesses, there was A BUS DRIVING PAST, 28 million Uber drivers with dash cams…”
SYSTEM: "If you carry on pursuing these false allegations, we’ll prosecute you for wasting police time and provide the perpetrator with the names of local Legal Aid solicitors who can help them to sue you for defamation of character. They’re a very rich and powerful person, you know – they couldn’t possibly have… Oh, and by the way, under the FOI act, we’ve given the perpetrator your name, address, phone number, place of work and inside leg measurement – they have a right to know who’s accusing them of such things.”
It’s not hard to see why sexual crimes are becoming so rampant (excuse the poor pun) when there’s no real accountability and the system has already told the rapist – don’t worry, it's not your job to prove you DIDN’T rape her, it’s her job to prove you DID and as there were only you two there…
I dated a psychopath.
I was 20 at the time and he genuinely didn’t understand the word “no”. It had no context or meaning for him. At the time he chose me - that’s what perpetrators do, they choose victims – he was on trial for rape. The girl he was accused of raping was so terrified in court that she gave up halfway through and he got away with it.
I have no doubt he did it but he got away with it.
He went away telling everybody that he was innocent…. He wasn’t innocent, he was intimidating, and there’s a world of difference.
He used to tell me daily, “I’m 6’6” and 15 stone, what are you going to do about it, cunt?” The answer mostly, was nothing…. And on the few occasions I did challenge him, I was punished.
On one such occasion, I was taken in my own car to a house I’d never been to before where he recruited a bunch of VERY big and scary looking women to beat me up because he “couldn’t hit women”.
Among the other highlights of this 6-month relationship:
He held me hostage for two days and took my car keys, money and passport and smashed my phone
He went to my parents’ house while I was working one day and moved all my things to his house – when he picked me up from work (in my own car that I wasn’t allowed to drive) he told me I’d moved in with him now….
He waited in bushes and car parks for me
He turned up at my work kicking off that I was sleeping with my boss
He would drag me out of the car and beat me on the street, telling anyone who looked at us that they’d get it too
He recruited his brothers to watch me and his sisters to warn me
He was well known to the police and we were stopped often whilst out together but, in all that time, never once did any of those police officers ever ask me if I was OK or felt safe. Not Once. And they all knew what he was like – they had access to his criminal record, I didn’t. They were always very quick to reassure me though that they weren’t interested in me, just him…
Finally, after the two-day siege, I told my dad what was happening. He took me to the police station to make a statement and initially, we were fobbed off. “Well, there’s nothing we can really do if he hasn’t actually hit you…”.
At this point, my dad got out his Duty Solicitor badge, flashed it at the policeman (DC Nigel Chater, I’ll never forget him because in the end, he probably saved my life) and told him to look the psychopath up on his system. DC Chater sighed, rolled his eyes and swivelled round on his chair to tap tap on the computer. What happened next will stay with me forever,
DC: “What’s his name?”
ME: “XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX”
DC: “His DOB?”
ME: “XX XX XX”
ME: “XX XXXX XXXX”
DC: Sighs again…
As the information came up on the screen in front of him though, the policeman went grey. He became obviously disturbed by what only he could see and his entire body language changed. When he spun back round to face us, his eyes locked with my dad’s in a sort-of all-knowing way and he said to me,
“You’ve no bruises. The best I can do is arrest him for common assault and he’ll be out again later this afternoon.”
I told him that he’d already threatened to stab me and my wheelchair-bound grandmother with whom I lived and he said he’d put a red flag on the 999 system for us, meaning that if we called 999 from that address, armed response officers would be there within three minutes. I simply asked how long he thought it would take for one person to stab another…. Certainly less than three minutes.
I went away from the police station that day more frightened than when I went in – and I’d managed, by virtue of my dad’s professional position, to be taken relatively seriously.
The following day I got a call from the psychopath. He. Was. Livid! DC Chater had sent a riot van full of twelve officers to deliver him a letter telling him to stay away from me! He (the psychopath) had jumped out of a window to evade them, but he got the gist of it… The letter was very clear – if he came near me AT ALL, he’d be arrested for harassment. I called DC Chater to thank him and to tell him that I’d had a threatening phone call as a consequence. I was advised to delete the recording of the call as I’d used the word “Darling” during the exchange and that would be viewed as enough to render my whole story a lie….
DC Chater told me he deliberately hadn’t sent the officers to arrest him as the threat of arrest via the letter was much more powerful than the actual consequences of arresting him – once he was arrested, there could be no charge because there could be no evidence…. Just my word against his and as soon as the case was dismissed, the letter became ineffectual and he was free to start harassing me again.
Some (largely psychopath-free) months later I got a call from another police officer on a Saturday morning. I don’t remember her name but she was VERY pleased with herself that she’d just had officers go and arrest the psychopath and he was currently in a cell. She wanted me to give her evidence to charge him with something. DC Chater, as it turned out, was on leave so this woman had taken it upon herself to effectively, remove the ONLY safety net available to me.
When I explained this to her she was peeved to put it mildly! She clearly felt that I was wasting her time and told me that making false or unprovable allegations was a serious crime…. I told her to “Fuck off” because her lack of actual investigation (i.e. reading her OWN files) was now directly responsible for my very real increased risk of being murdered… Serve and Protect my foot!
What do we think happened next?
Well, he didn’t murder me but he really wasn’t happy…. He started to wait for me, he broke into my car and fixed the sunroof so he could rip it off from the outside and pull me out through it by my hair. My grandmother watched from the window and called the police but I have to tell you, that was a very long three minutes… So long in fact that I drove off, desperate to get him away from my family. He clung to the car and it was only afterwards that I thought I could’ve run him over and been done with him! I’m told the police DID arrive that day but I didn’t see or hear from them.
Instead, I lost my job because I was late too often and everyone else was “a bit uncomfortable” with the presence of a psychopath. I had to be walked to my car by security and, after the first couple of days they admitted to me that they’d asked my employer to fire me because they were scared of him too - he’d visited them in their offices to have a little word…
It does have to be said that he left me alone after about three months – I heard he got arrested again and found a new victim to terrorise whilst in jail. For my part, I left London. I left my friends, family and safety net and I took a job at the other end of the country. I didn’t put myself on the electoral roll and my mental health was absolutely shot to bits. At one point the doctors were so worried about my anorexia, they said they’d hospitalise me and I was so terrified that’d mean he’d be able to find me, that I moved on again. Left my job, the few friends I’d made, and I headed down to the other end of the country (where I’ve stayed since).
I’ve never told this story before.
Not for any particular reason except that whenever I reached out to people for help and support, I was made to feel like it was all my fault – somehow I should’ve known better, I should’ve done different, I shouldn’t have been taken in by such behaviour, I should’ve just left…
At no point in the whole process – including DC Chater who did his very best to try and keep me safe – did ANYONE say to me, “IT WAS HIM. HE DID THIS TO YOU”!
Everybody asked why I didn’t leave; nobody asked why he didn’t stop.
Everybody told me what I should’ve done differently or what I should do next time. NEXT TIME?! Really?!
Everything was about making me feel like an idiot for falling for it rather than making him feel like the criminal and predator he was.
I should’ve known better…
I wasn’t the one being abusive! How was I the one at fault?! The answer was always the same, “You should’ve known what he was like, Jess.” How? How should I have known that? Should I have asked his ex’s for references?! There was no Clare’s Law then…
It took me years. YEARS to move on; in fact, I’m struggling a bit even writing this now, 20 years later.
There are still things that set me off – back in the day of Nokia phones, there was a particular ringtone that, if I heard it, would send me straight back there and it was a nightmare – everyone had the ‘kicker’ ringtone… Luckily, phones have moved on and the only time I hear it now is on a particular episode of QI where it’s a buzzer noise. Even now, I know who the panellists are on that episode and if I see it come on, I have to switch it off.
If you speak to people who know me personally, they’ll tell you that they don’t believe this of me. Not that they don’t believe me, but that they don’t believe I got fished in. I’m not that sort of person… I don’t take anyone’s shit. I’ll call you out soon as look at you – and it’s cost me! But unless you’ve been that terrified of someone, unless you’ve understood implicitly from just a look that you’ll be lucky to end the night without a broken bone, you have no idea what it’s like.
Keeping safe is hard enough when the people around you are intent on terrorising you. When you’re being shown the evidence that those who should protect you from it are even worse, that’s a hell of a rock and a hard place to be stuck between…
Anyone who’s tried to leave an abuser will tell you,
“Sometimes it’s better the devil you know.”
Don’t rape people
Don’t murder people
Don’t look on like it’s none of your business while someone else is being raped or murdered
Don’t ask victims why they don’t just leave, ask the tosspot abuser why they don’t just stop
Don’t be an enabler – silence enables violence – those Police Officers who were in the WhatsApp group with their colleague ‘The Rapist’? They’ve got Sarah’s blood on their hands too.
DO use Clare’s Law if you’re worried about someone
If you are in an abusive relationship, please, unless you’re in immediate danger, DON’T JUST LEAVE! We know that this will increase your risk of further abuse. Instead, check our resources page and find a DA service to offer you some support and advice; then have a look at our Safety Planning Tips. If you think your phone will be checked, delete your history.
If you’re in immediate danger, call 999 . If you’re unable to speak, press 55 on your mobile keypad and answer the questions you’re asked as safely as possible.
Pressing 55 ONLY works from a mobile phone.
JLTS also offers a range of therapeutic services for survivors of domestic abuse, including our Peer-2-Peer Support Service and signposting to other appropriate services. Please get in touch to see how we can help you.