Victims and The Police Research Paper

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The way the police respond to reported crime is a delicate balancing act. While it is almost universally accepted, and a key component of police culture, that they should prioritize apprehending the offender, complainants and victims often have broader expectations of what services the police should be offering them, and a successful detection and prosecution may not be their priority.

This research paper considers police support for crime victims in different countries. However, because variations in the ways in which the police handle victims of different offense types are arguably just as notable, four contrasting offense types are considered: burglary, where the victim is generally considered “deserving” but where detection rates are low; homicide cases, where indirect victims may also be perceived to be suspects; and domestic violence and rape, both examples of where the police have traditionally been criticized for victim blaming.

Police Support For Victims

It is important that the police provide a satisfactory service for victims for a number of reasons. For example, the police are highly dependent upon the public, and especially victims, for bringing crime to their attention and providing leads on the offender. Victims who feel that the police do not provide an appropriate response may fail to report crimes or even take unsanctioned vigilante action. Moreover, despite the emergence of victim assistance programs in many countries, the police service is still the main agency with which victims have contact. As a result, police response to victims may be their most significant post-crime experience (Mawby 2007). Most important though, victims deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect.

However, traditionally, police forces in a range of countries have provided a very poor service for victims, with the result that they have often exacerbated the effects of the crime, promoting secondary victimization rather than support. This is particularly the case in countries where the police system is (or was) organized on paramilitary lines, as in colonial and communist societies and in many parts of continental Europe (see chapter by Mawby). However, cross-national studies, including the international crime victims survey (ICVS), indicate that victims’ criticisms of the police are reflected across a broad range of industrial societies, including the USA, England and Wales, and even Japan, and that criticisms cover lack of interpersonal skills, poor response, failure to take the incident seriously, and not keeping the victim informed of further developments, as well as failure to apprehend the offenders or recover stolen property (van Dijk et al. 2008; van Kesteren et al. 2001; Zvekic 1998).

Given the extent of victims’ criticisms, it is scarcely surprising that policies have been implemented in a number of countries aimed at improving police services. Approaches adopted by police services in the USA include specialist police training in victim-oriented work (Rosenbaum 1987) and enhanced police support (Skogan and Wycoff 1987). In the European Union, legally binding minimum standards of victim treatment came into force in 2003 (van Dijk et al. 2008). These included the requirement that victims be treated with consideration and respect by the police and kept informed about investigation and prosecution decisions. Additionally, some countries have introduced more specific requirements and services. For example, in the Zaarstrad area of the Netherlands, Winkel (1989) described an initiative that incorporated both specialist training for the police and additional support for victims from the police. Also in the Netherlands, a series of guidelines for police and prosecutors were issued, requiring the police to treat victims sympathetically, provide all the relevant information, and, where necessary, refer them to other agencies, and victims now have a right to cite the guidelines should they subsequently take legal action against the police (Wemmers and Zeilstra 1991). A similar approach has been adopted in England and Wales, with the 1990 and 1996 Victims’ Charters spelling out expectations of how the police should respond to victims and the 2005 Code of Practice detailing the police’s obligations (Mawby 2007).

The introduction of international and national standards suggests a greater victim orientation of the police in many countries. However, evaluations of different initiatives indicate a resistance to change. A traditional emphasis upon action, excitement, and “real” police-work means that the police often accord a lower priority to work with victims. In fact, despite legislative and policy changes, there is considerable evidence that victims’ satisfaction with the way the police have responded has fallen. For example, the 2005 ICVS shows a general decline in victim satisfaction, with the most notable fall in England and Wales, the USA, the Netherlands, Canada, and Sweden (van Dijk et al. 2008). National surveys sometimes paint a different picture. In England and Wales, for example, the 2009/2010 British Crime Survey (BCS) reported a rise since 2008 in victims’ satisfaction, with 37 % very satisfied and 32 % fairly satisfied with the police in 2010 (Flatley et al. 2010). Nevertheless, the same survey reiterates earlier findings that victims are more critical of the police than are other citizens.

The way the police respond to victims of different types of offense also varies markedly. Local or national priorities, plus different perceptions of the precise impact of different offenses, mean that agency interpretations of need – and, perhaps more importantly, desert – vary. In some countries (such as England and Wales), the needs of burglary victims have been prioritized, although this is changing (Mawby 2001). In others (like the USA), there has been a greater focus on victims of violent and/or sexual crimes (OVC 2001), partly reflecting feminist influence on early initiatives and partly the high homicide and rape rates. A rather different distinction in the types of victim receiving specialist police support is the recent development in tourist areas of programs dedicated to helping tourist victims. While in some countries, such as the Irish Republic and the Netherlands, such services are provided out with police departments, in others, including the USA, South Africa, and India, specialist Tourist Police units exist.

Because of the stark differences between the ways in which the police handle victims of different offense types, the following sections cover four contrasting examples. The first focuses on burglary, where the victim is generally considered “deserving” but where detection rates are low. Then we address police response in homicide cases, where the police often have to balance the need to treat surviving relatives as both indirect victims and suspects. Finally, we consider domestic violence and rape, both examples of where victim blaming has traditionally featured on the agenda.

Police And Burglary Victims

The circumstances of police intervention in cases of domestic burglary are quite distinct. Firstly, in most cases, the police are called in to a “cold” crime, that is, some-time after the incident occurred. Secondly, and as a result of this, detection rates are low, in England and Wales currently about 13 %. Thirdly, in most cases, the status of the complainant as an “innocent victim” is not disputed, although in some cases, the police may suspect the complainant of an insurance scam or similar and in others they may blame the victim for not protecting their property adequately.

Despite low detection rates, victims tend to be relatively positive about police handling of their complaint. In the UK, for example, they tend to be more positive than victims of violent crime, where detection rates are higher and less critical of the police than victims of vehicle-related crime (Mawby 2001). However, the most recent ICVS suggests that burglary victims’ criticisms were directly related to the specific circumstances of the offense. Thus, 30 % of critical victims complained at the time it took the police to respond, an indication of the fact that the police give low response priority to “cold” crimes, while the low detection rate is reflected in criticisms that the police failed to apprehend the offender (cited in 58 % of cases) nor recover stolen goods (49 %).

Research by Mawby and his colleagues assessed victims’ feelings about the way the police dealt with them (see, e.g., Mawby 2001), comparing cities in two Western European countries (England and Germany) with three former Warsaw pact countries (Poland, Hungary, and the former Czechoslovakia). They addressed three general questions vis-a-vis police services: How do the police handle complaints of burglary, how far do burglary victims from East and West Europe share similar perceptions of the police, and to what extent are their assessments of the police influenced by policing traditions, their perceptions of the crime problem, and by the services provided by the police today?

In general, victims from Poland expressed considerably more criticism than did those from the other four countries, including Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Differences were pronounced when those who expressed any dissatisfaction were asked what it was about the police response that they disliked, using a similar pre-coded checklist to that of the ICVS and BCS. Overall victims were most likely to cite lack of feedback, the fact that the crime was undetected, property not being recovered, and criticism that the police did not do enough or were not interested. However, while lack of feedback was one of the most common criticisms in all five countries, in other respects, the emphasis was different. Most notably, whereas in England victims were also most likely to criticize the police because they “did not do enough” or were “not interested,” in Eastern Europe in general, and Poland in particular, the most common complaints were that the crime was not detected and that property was not recovered. This parallels Zvekic’s (1996) analysis of the second ICVS and may relate to the fact that in these countries, far less victims were insured. Arguably then, insurance compensation may mean that criticisms of police reactions are more muted than they otherwise would be.

Victims were also asked how sympathetic they felt the police were when dealing with victims of (a) burglaries, (b) disasters like fires and floods, and (c) rape and sexual assault. Although responses varied with each situation, overall respondents from Poland and Hungary were about as likely as those from England to see the police as sympathetic, and it was in Germany, with its militaristic policing tradition, that victims were least likely consider the police sympathetic. Victims also felt that the police would be most sympathetic in the case of a burglary, less so for sex crimes and in disaster situations. This may indicate that victims felt the police had been particularly victim-oriented visa-vis their burglary. On the other hand, it may reflect a real difference in police response to the three situations, a conclusion that is in line with the ICVS data discussed above and may reflect perceptions of the “innocent victim.”

Victims were then asked whether, over the last few years, “the police have got better or worse at handling the victims of crime.” Burglary victims from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and (especially) Hungary were likely to perceive an improvement rather than a deterioration in this respect. Victims from England were least positive, although in many cases, lack of police resources was cited as the main reason for a decline in police service. It is also possible that as specialist victim services have expanded in recent years in countries such as the UK, so the police have abdicated their responsibilities and instead referred victims elsewhere. In this respect, van Dijk, van Kesteren, and Smit (2008) note that levels of satisfaction with police response have dropped most in countries like the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the Netherlands where specialized victim assistance agencies have become well established.

International differences in burglary victims’ satisfaction with the police are at least partly due to the nature of police organization and priorities and the expectations citizens hold of their police. However, differences between countries are also, at least partly, due to police practices that may be crime specific. For example, in Poland, where victim dissatisfaction levels were considerable, it was routine for the police attending a burglary to remove door locks for “forensic examination,” a practice that actually did nothing to improve detection rates but unequivocally added to victims’ grievances!

Police And (Indirect) Victims Of Homicide

Homicide is a crime judged very much in context, not only in the public perception but also police perceptions, which can have serious repercussions for victims (Monckton-Smith 2010, 2012). For example, in policing terms, a so-called stranger murder will be approached very differently in the amount of resources and expertise it receives to a domestic homicide. Those homicides where the offender is immediately identifiable, and the victim is adult and an intimate partner of the killer, may well be processed by less experienced officers. In such cases, the police priority is not to handle the victims with skill, but to produce a file of evidence for court, which may impact on the victim experience. Also, as noted above, victims will be assessed as more or less deserving, and this can impact on the way they are treated. The primary victims are often perceived as more deserving the more intimate distance there is from the killer (Monckton-Smith 2010, 2012), and this has been mirrored in approaches to victims of domestic abuse where the outcome is not fatal (Dawson 2003). In this sense, the reputation of the primary victim can be attacked, especially in court, which causes further trauma for families who cannot defend their loved one and a more negative perception of their dealings with criminal justice agencies (Casey 2012; Monckton-Smith 2012). There are many aspects to a homicide which will make the relationship between secondary victims and the police more problematic and may lead to dissatisfaction. Despite the comparatively high clear-up rate for homicide (around 80 % in the UK), victim experience of their dealings with criminal justice agencies is significantly negative on the whole.

Because in a homicide the primary victim is dead, police contact will be with surviving relatives and friends (indirect victims) who are suffering from a severe and exaggerated grieving process (King 2004). Research has shown that in cases of homicide, it is the way that these victims are treated by the police that has the most significant impact on their overall level of satisfaction (King 2004; Kilpatrick et al. 1990) and that more careful consideration of the way indirect victims are treated can have a major impact on the extent to which they experience psychological trauma (Kilpatrick et al. 1990, p. 1). It is even suggested that those indirect victims who have no involvement with criminal justice agencies at all actually cope with trauma better (Casey 2011).

An added difficulty is that the families of homicide victims are more likely to have sustained interactions with the police, resulting from quite complex and diverse issues. Due to the seriousness of the crime, investigations and the court process can be protracted; there is much at stake for the accused and a high likelihood of a trial which is stressful for victims. Where offenders plead guilty, victims may have no involvement in the court process which leaves them feeling frustrated (Casey 2011; Kilpatrick et al. 1990). Unsolved cases can be investigated for lengthy periods of time, sometimes years, and then re-investigated if new evidence is discovered or forensic techniques are developed. Even successful convictions may become the subject of an appeal and further extend family interactions with the criminal justice process. Seemingly simple procedures like the release of the body for funeral can also take a long time while the inquest is completed, and the need for a postmortem, or very often, more than one postmortem, is carried out. This in itself has been a subject of criticism from victims who question the need for second postmortems and lengthy inquests (Casey 2011). In the UK, the former Victims Commissioner Louise Casey campaigned to have a process whereby all bodies are released to families within 1 month to try and make the process more efficient and easier for relatives.

In cases where no killer is identified, the process is especially long, and family suffering is even more exaggerated, with their need for justice frustrated by what might be perceived as police failings in the investigation, and anger may be directed at them (King 2004), creating a very complex and sensitive situation. Kutnjak Ivkovic (2008) found that the more contact that individuals have with the police, in general terms, the more dissatisfaction there is. So there is much scope for victims to feel dissatisfied with their treatment by the police in cases of homicide.

It is fair to say that family and friends of victims have been sidelined by the criminal justice process, having few rights and no legal status in the court or police process. Many complain that the offender has more rights than they do and is given a more robust voice in proceedings (Monckton-Smith 2012; Casey 2012; Kilpatrick et al. 1990), and this is often most noticeable in those cases where families have been so frustrated by failings or weaknesses in the police response that they campaign for change.

It is the high-profile enquiries and reinvestigations resulting from homicide cases, which are the clearest demonstration of victim dissatisfaction. There is little research which documents the homicide victim’s experiences of the police in a generic sense but an abundance of individual examples. A prime example from the UK is the Macpherson (1999) enquiry into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 where the police treatment of the family was heavily criticized; the Bedfordshire police report into the Cambridgeshire police investigation into the murder of Claire Oldfield-Hampson, again criticized the way the families were dealt with (Cambridgeshire Police 2011). Similarly in Belgium, the police handling of the investigation into the murders committed by Marc Dutroux rocked public faith in the Belgian police and led to a complete restructuring of policing (Robbers 2008). The murders of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson in Los Angeles, USA, allegedly committed by OJ Simpson, brought significant criticism of the police; the murder of journalist Alfredo Villatoro saw Honduran Police Chief General Ricardo Ramirez el Cid removed from position, shortly after the removal of his predecessor, Jose Luis Munoz, for failings by police in the murder investigation of two university students (Fox 2012). There is a reported nose dive in confidence in the Nigerian police partly as a result of their failings in high-profile homicide cases (Adisa 2012). In some jurisdictions, it is corruption that is cited as failing victims; in others, it is arrogance and incompetence of the police. But across the world, it is homicide cases that have the most potential, it seems, to bring criticism to police services and to instigate change.

These high-profile criticisms into police handling of homicide cases have probably led to many of the changes which have sought to improve the victim’s experience. The relationship between the police and victims in any jurisdiction will be affected by wider relationships with the state which will also impact on police performance and attitude (Kutnjak Ivkovic 2008). The biggest criticism from victims’ families is police attitude, more so than prosecution outcomes and sentencing decisions. The key criticisms are that the defendant was treated better than victims (Casey 2011; Kilpatrick et al. 1990) with many families expressing the view that there was no aspect of the criminal justice response with which they were satisfied.

Varying levels of satisfaction have been found in the respect given to secondary victims, with some citing police responses as supportive, but lack of consideration was also cited as a key problem in other cases (Kilpatrick et al. 1990). Similarly in the UK, in one study, 76 % considered the police fairly or very supportive (Casey 2011), but this was often different where no offender was identified. The biggest issue here and in other cases was the lack of information given to families, and this has been replicated across all studies. King (2004) reports that some of the major complaints from indirect victims include being shown a lack of compassion, being given incomplete information, a lack of accessibility, ignorance of the grieving process by police, and dishonest answers to questions. A Russian study found that in more general terms, victim interactions with police were marred by rudeness of officers and a lack of trust (Kutnjak Ivkovic 2008).

Victims have long complained that they are not listened to, and in the UK, the USA, and Canada, among other countries, there are now Domestic Homicide Reviews/Fatality Reviews which are inclusive of indirect victims, giving them more room for a voice in the process, but these would only occur after an initial investigation. It has been suggested that more categories of homicide could benefit from such a process (Casey 2011). The introduction of Victim Impact Statements again addresses the need for the victim to be heard.

It is clear from the studies across the world that the way victims are treated is key to their satisfaction with the process, and dignity and respect are the main characteristics seen as lacking. It appears to be a recurring theme that sensitive treatment is what is required but also what is lacking.

Police And Victims Of Intimate Partner Abuse

Intimate partner abuse (IPA) or, more broadly, domestic abuse and violence is receiving unprecedented attention worldwide in an attempt to reduce its prevalence and respond to victim’s needs (Monckton-Smith 2012). It is a problem of global proportions. Despite the emergence of the notion of gender symmetry in domestic abuse which has precipitated much more sympathetic police responses to male victims, it is the case that the predominant victim group is female. They are killed at a far higher rate and receive more sustained, prolonged, and serious abuse than men (Stark 2007; Websdale 1999). It is also difficult in policing terms because even police departments with more liberal attitudes and proactive response policies are not really geared to respond to the most common forms of abuse against women, which may not be characterized by violence, but by what Evan Stark (2007) calls coercive control. However, coercive control is significantly associated with serious and fatal abuse.

There are now at least 45 countries with specific domestic violence legislation (Unifem 2010), but the most intractable problems are universally acknowledged to be in deeply held prejudicial beliefs about male and female gender roles and gendered behavioral characteristics, which can permeate the official response and undermine the spirit and practice of legislation, as well as direct the behavior and practices of individuals and communities (Monckton-Smith 2012, p. 25). It is well documented that victims of IPA have received poor attention from the police in the past with accusations that they were disbelieving, disinterested, and keen to minimize the harm (Stark 2007; Websdale 1999; Dobash and Dobash 2002). However, despite the changes implemented to improve the response to victims, Dobash and Dobash capture the criminal justice and political zeitgeist in claiming there has been great change and no change at all (2002, p. 21).

Underreporting of domestic abuse is a significant issue with many women not wanting police intervention for fear of antagonizing the assailant or as the result of cultural beliefs which construct wife abuse as a private matter (Hoyle and Sanders 2000; So-Kum Tang 2003; Sun et al. 2011). Many victims seem to desire police intervention to end the immediate danger or to calm the assailant down, but no more (Hoyle and Sanders 2000). The purpose of involving police appears to be an attempt to end the ongoing violence, rather than instigate the power of the law to achieve a conviction. Hoyle and Sanders (2000) found that police intervention rarely has this effect, and abuse and violence often continued. If the victim is seeking to remove herself from danger in calling the police, then she will need a particular response which acknowledges this and has the capacity to manage her safety. Such is the institutional frustration with women who either refused to cooperate with arrest and prosecution; that in the UK and USA, pro-arrest or mandatory arrest policies were implemented for domestic violence calls. The follow-up studies had mixed results suggesting that those men in the higher socioeconomic groups were most likely to be deterred from future violence, having more to lose (Schmidt and Sherman 1993). It is also the case, however, that while an immediate arrest may reduce the threat in the very short term, women without adequate resources to use that time window when the abuser is incarcerated will be in danger of repeat violence on his return and in the long term.

Unfortunately, in many cases where women do report IPA, there is a general dissatisfaction with police handling of the incident and the subsequent investigation, if indeed there is one (Stephens and Sinden 2000). Victims across the world complain that police officers are disinterested, hostile, or frustrated with victims for their reluctance to follow complaints through or permanently leave the abuser. It was found in one American study of trainee law enforcement personnel that their attitudes to women and IPA were significantly more censuring of victims than students in social work (Meyer 2011), suggesting that those entering law enforcement are holding discriminatory attitudes prior to any institutional influence. Studies in China show that those police officers who hold traditional attitudes which see women as “wives” and “home builders” rather than equal citizens are far more likely to be disbelieving and disinterested (Sun et al. 2011). Stephens and Sinden (2000) found that there were four key police demeanors noted by domestic abuse victims which caused dissatisfaction: minimizing the situation, disbelieving the victim, “we don’t care,” and “macho cop.” Similar to the findings in the treatment of homicide victims, domestic abuse victims were most satisfied with police contact when they were shown care and respect with listening and believing the most important characteristics (Stephens and Sinden 2000).

Meyer (2011) reports a study in the USA which shows that over 70 % of victims in their sample reported dissatisfaction with the police response, largely characterized by disinterest, but also that taking the report was a waste of time and effort. Research in China also shows that traditional attitudes to female gender roles are implicated in poor police response to IPA and a tendency to blame the victim (So-Kum Tang 2003). Even though China has specific legislation outlawing IPA, authorities still do not always consider IPA a matter for the police, sometimes refusing to even record the initial complaint (Sun et al. 2011). Respondents in this research reported they would be more likely to seek help from friends and family (Sun et al. 2011). Reports from Sweden show better victim satisfaction with IPA intervention, largely attributed to their social welfare approach to the problem which gives women more access to resources and state support which helps them manage their safety (Sun et al. 2011). A Canadian study found that not all victim groups have benefitted even where there are developments in victim treatment by the police. This study found that Aboriginal women experience violence at disturbingly high rates with their mortality rate from violence being three times higher than for non-Aboriginal women (Dylan et al. 2008). The police response was said to be marked by disrespect, dismissal and professional failure, and the revictimization of women by the system a common feature (Dylan et al. 2008).

Victims of IPA almost universally express similar problems with police responses which inhibit them from reporting and are related to cultural ideas of male and female gender roles which place women in more danger after reporting. There is a prevailing belief in institutional response to IPA that legislation to further conviction should be used and is helpful to the victim, but this fails to take account of victim needs which are largely about safety planning.

Police And Victims Of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is another form of offending which is receiving worldwide attention. As a result of human rights legislation and more inclusive and nondiscriminatory policies, in Europe and Westernized countries, the victimization of men is also receiving far more attention and practical support. Historically, similar to victims of IPA, victims of sexual assault have received poor service from the police, and this has been articulated in the strongest terms by victims and victim’s advocates. It was high-profile feminist campaigning that raised awareness of its prevalence and the damage it causes leading to widespread policy changes with regard to the treatment of victims (Monckton-Smith 2012). Sexual assault is a diverse offending category which encompasses a diverse victimology. The most common forms of sexual assault, however, are those perpetrated against women or children by male family members or acquaintances. Similar to IPA, this form of assault was largely hidden within the family. Pedophilia was made visible by feminist campaigning in the 1970s (Kitzinger 2004) and has become more openly reviled as time has moved on, with pedophiles perhaps being the most hated of offender groups. Despite this, child victims are still not always believed, especially where they are close to the offender (Kitzinger 2004). Similarly, rape is widely considered one of the worst of violent offenses, and it is perhaps this construction of the crime, as particularly evil, that protects offenders from conviction. It is difficult, after all, for a seemingly ordinary and plausible man to look like a “rapist” in this construction of the offense and offender (Monckton-Smith 2010).

There is still a belief that a “real rape” occurs in a public place, committed by a stranger to the victim, and involves aggravating violence and use of a weapon, a perception that is described as more akin to an aggravated rape assault (Kelly et al. 2005). This perception, however, is setting the standard for what “rape” is and reflects what Kelly et al. (2005) refer to as the “rape template.” This template reflects a very skewed idea of what a rapist or a rape victim looks like and even the victims themselves do not always identify their assault as a rape. The British Crime Survey found, for example, that “less than half of women who experienced an assault that met the legal definition of rape defined it as such themselves” (Kelly et al. 2005, p. 33).

Attrition in cases of rape is still extremely high and has been the subject of sustained research interest (Kelly et al. 2005). In the UK, the Fawcett Society claims that a rape is reported to the police every 34 min, but only 6.5 % will attract a conviction. Vera Baird reports that of those rapes where the alleged offender is charged by the CPS, 59 % will receive a conviction, suggesting that the problems are at the very start of a victim’s involvement with the criminal justice system. This is not a problem peculiar to the UK; it is a worldwide issue. Kelly and Regan (2001) found similar low conviction rates across Europe. For example, of the 468 rapes reported in Finland in 1997, only 46 resulted in a conviction; of the 1,962 reported in Sweden, only 115 achieved a conviction; and of the 424 reported in Norway, only 35 achieved a conviction. In the USA and Australia, similar problems are documented, suggesting a conviction rate of just 12 % (Kelly et al. 2005). South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual violence against women in the world, but it is estimated that only around 16 % of those reported attracted a conviction (cited in Monckton-Smith 2010, p. 4). The attrition rates are a stark reminder of the problems victims have with the police. As noted, most cases are lost in the very earliest stages, that is, where the victim either makes a decision to approach the police or not, and most are choosing not, and then in the initial investigation and early contact with officers. It has been found, similar to the experiences of indirect victims of homicide, that those women who have no contact with police and the criminal justice system are more less likely to suffer trauma (Sleath and Bull 2012).

The UK is one jurisdiction where it could be said that improvements for rape victims have been made, yet victims still report significant problems with the police response. The case of taxi driver John Worboys, convicted of 19 counts of rape in the UK in 2009, is a recent example of the prejudice victims of sexual assault can suffer from police. An IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) enquiry into this case found police to have given poor service to victims. The accusation, which was supported, was that victims were not believed and some were allegedly openly scorned. These findings show little improvement in police response from the time of the now infamous Thames Valley fly on the wall documentary Police (broadcast 18.01.82 BFI 2005) which revealed the institutional prejudice against certain victims of rape. MP Fiona MacTaggart said of the Worboy case:

I was depressed by the Independent Police Complaints Commission report into Warboys, because it showed that still there persists, even among specialist police officers, insufficient sensitivity to the experience of the victim of rape and an insufficient determination to treat rape as a major violent crime that must be investigated. (Hansard 2010, p. 180)

It has been consistently found that police and prosecutors overestimate the amount of false allegations and that victims are treated with skepticism (Kelly et al. 2005) and that there is a relationship between belief in the rape myths/ template and a failure to recognize sexual assault. Some of the rape myths include women lie about rape, only certain types of women get raped, women encourage rape in their manner of dress, rape is sexual, you can recognize a rapist by the way he looks, women fantasize about rape, rape is impulsive and spontaneous, rape is about passion, and a person who has been raped will be hysterical (Monckton-Smith 2010).

A culture of blame is held largely responsible for the poor response to rape victims by the police, and it has been found that even officers who receive specialist training show no decrease in acceptance of rape myths and levels of victim blaming. However, in the USA, it was found that officers experienced in rape investigation were less accepting of rape myths (Sleath and Bull 2012).

Research demonstrates that as rape is so traumatic, a sensitive response by police can be easily appreciated, whereas negative attitudes can have a devastating effect (Sleath and Bull 2012, p. 650). Sleath and Bull (2012) report, in accordance with other studies, that victims of stranger rape are considered less blameworthy than victims who knew their attacker; similarly, victims dressed in revealing clothes or who were intoxicated were assessed as more blameworthy. These kinds of attitudes are correlated with victim dissatisfaction with police responses to the rape; they deter women from reporting and lead to secondary victimization when they do report (Monckton-Smith 2010).

Summary And Discussion

Ideally, police response to crime victims should encompass a service approach alongside a concern to do everything possible to clear up the crime and provide justice for victims. Certainly, as the example of burglary illustrates, victims are concerned about detection and the return of stolen property. But victims also expect the police to respond sympathetically, to treat them as people rather than crime numbers, to provide help or advice where necessary, and to keep them informed of any progress regarding “their” crime. It is against these criteria, in addition to detection rates, that police services for crime victims need to be measured. Moreover, the balance between detection and service is not a zero sum equation. Police who respond appropriately to victims of domestic violence may prevent reoffending. Police who are sympathetic and supportive to all victims of crime may gain better cooperation from victims and consequently elicit evidence to identify a suspect and/or gain a conviction.

In considering police response to crime victims in different parts of the world, it is evident that there are some differences between victims of different types of crime. Of the examples detailed here, burglary victims, while somewhat critical of the police, are generally more positive about the services they receive, suggesting that part of the problem lies in the police being judgmental and stereotyping some victims, or victims of certain offense types, as more or less innocent (in terms of provocation) and more or less deserving (of any support). There are also international differences where traditional police practices in some countries may exacerbate the problems faced by victims, and new initiatives elsewhere may improve, even if only marginally, victims’ experiences. An example of the former is police practices during burglary investigations in Poland. An example of the latter is police practices around domestic violence in the UK, which are reputed to be pioneering in understanding and responding to the problems (Choi 2009).

Nevertheless, the depressing finding is that despite policy changes, the police are regularly found wanting in their treatment of victims of crime. The findings that victims who are in contact with the police frequently feel worse affected by the whole crime experience and are often more critical of the police in general than those who do not report their crime are sad indictments of police service. The reasons for this are, perhaps, twofold. In part, police failure to respond appropriately to victims may be a consequence of a police culture where excitement and action are prioritized over support and care. In part, and not unrelated, it might reflect the types of citizen who become police officers and the features that attract them to a police career. While legislation and policy initiatives aimed at improving police procedure are to be welcomed, it is only by changing this police mind-set that the service provided to victims of crime can be significantly improved.


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