Trigger warning: This post discusses rape, rape culture and abuse of power
The police, as we know, have a horrible track record regarding rape. Allegations are often not taken seriously and, in some situations, the police actively fabricate paperwork to make cases go away. It is hardly a surprise that the vast majority of rapes go unreported.
The women who have been let down by the police after finding the courage to report their rapes know this best, and three of them are suing the Met for the terrible treatment they received. Two claimants were attacked by serial rapist John Worboys, who might have been caught earlier had the police listened to the women.
The police didn’t listen. In fact, the opposite was true:
“It rings in my ears, the officer saying ‘a black cab driver just wouldn’t do it’,” she [a survivor] said.
“It felt like they didn’t want to know. In my dreams I’m screaming ‘why won’t you believe me?’.”
My heart goes out to this woman. The crushing dismissal of her report, after such a horrifying violation has happened.
The behaviour of the police here is one of the more overt manifestations of rape culture: not believing the survivor. Maybe the officer acted in good faith, not meaning to maliciously throw out a rape case (as some have). Maybe the officer had just absorbed a few stock phrases and attitude from rape culture.
It doesn’t make a difference. The police have a unique position of power: ultimately, they get to decide if they can be bothered to help a rape survivor. Every moment of following rape culture logic is failing the survivor who asked for their aid. Every piss-poor half-arsed investigation is failing the survivor who has asked for their aid. Every fraudulent document throwing out the case is failing the survivor who asked for their aid. These survivors have chosen to pursue a certain course of action, actively engaging with the state to ask for its aid.
And they are being failed.
Who benefits from this arrangement? Rapists. Each time this happens, things get a little easier for rapists. They know they can get away with it. They know that the odds are in their favour because the state will help them out.
Rape culture only ever benefits rapists, and the police are using their power to reinforce it.
Between 2008 and 2012, there have been 56 documented cases of rape, sexual assault and harassment. In many of these cases, the complaints have been covered up and the survivor disbelieved. In a frighteningly large number of the cases, no criminal charges were ever brought. It is hardly surprising, then, that the police have a vested interest in keeping rape culture in roaringly good health: they are benefiting from it.
I am wholly critical of the notion that the power the police have could ever be used for good, to help overturn rape culture from the top down. At best, police can only be as progressive as the society that spawned them, so they will still be steeped in rape culture. This is without factoring in the psychological effects that turn all coppers into bastards.
There is vast room for improvement before the revolution, though. They can, quite easily, stop so actively reinforcing rape culture by starting from a position of always believing the survivor, even when it’s their mate who stands accused. They can, quite easily, actually bother investigating rape cases properly, respecting the courage of the survivor to come forward. Improvements are possible. I wish I could be less pessimistic about the police force’s will to try.