Rape Victims Could Feel Pressured Into Handing Over Their Phones To Police Under New Policy
Campaigners have warned that victims of rape and sexual assault could be deterred from coming forward under a new policy requiring them to hand over access to their mobile phones and social media accounts.
Consent forms asking for permission to access victims' emails, messages and photographs have been rolled out by police in England and Wales.
Charities warn this move could lead victims to feeling 'violated and distressed' and even stop them from reporting the crime altogether.
Speaking exclusively to Pretty52, Sue Casey, Senior Independent Sexual Violence Advisor at Victim Support, said: "In handing over their phones, victims are being asked to give access to all of their most personal information including contacts, pictures and private messages.
"This could lead to victims feeling further violated and distressed - that they are in the wrong and being investigated themselves."
Statistics from RAINN show that 80 per cent of rape and sexual assault cases are committed by someone known to the victim - which means that being asked to hand over their mobile phone could deter victims from reporting the crime due to fears of legitimacy.
"If the victim has had any contact with their attacker this might make them less likely to come forward," Casey said.
While victims technically don't have to agree to give over their mobile phones, it is feared that refusing could risk the case collapsing altogether.
Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill, told the Guardian: "You can end up in an extreme case where there's there's outright refusal [by a complainant] to allow access [to mobile phone contents] ... and that can have consequences for our ability to pursue a prosecution.
"We are not interested in someone's mobile device just because they have one ... It's [about] having a conversation to take them through [the process] if there's material on a device which forms a reasonable line of inquiry. There are some pretty hard and fast rules about the circumstances in which private information ends up in the hands of a public court."
The Centre for Women's Justice is preparing a legal challenge in response to the standardised consent forms for victims.
A spokesperson for the charity said this morning: "Our legal work together with Rape Crisis nationally and other front line organisations has led to serious concerns about excessive disclosure requests being made of women reporting rape and sexual assault.
"This is clearly having a deterrent effect on the reporting of rape allegations with some women dropping out because they don't want police and defence legal teams trawling through their intimate and personal histories."
Olivia, who recently reported a rape to the police, said: "The data on my phone stretches back seven years and the police want to download it and keep it on file for a century.
"My phone documents many of the most personal moments in my life and the thought of strangers combing through it, to try to use it against me, makes me feel like I'm being violated once again."
Harriet Wistrich, director of CWJ, says it's not surprising that women reporting such a violating offence should feel further exposed by the change.
She said: "Most complainants fully understand why disclosure of communications with the defendant is fair and reasonable, but what is not clear is why their past history (including any past sexual history) should be up for grabs.
"We seem to be going back to the bad old days when victims of rape are being treated as suspects."
Featured Image Credit: Unspalsh/ Emiliano Vittoriosi