Victimology and Mental Health

Here’s what just some criminal justice professionals think about victims of crime who have mental health problems:

  • They will be unreliable witnesses in court;
  • Their version of events in an incident must be inherently flawed because they have mental health problems.
  • Supporting evidence must be available to support their allegations which would not be necessary for ‘normal’ victims.

I don’t aim these accusations at the police alone, the CPS have had their problems too, but national mental health charities have long lobbied that the police need to improve their responses to victims with mental health problems.  I have seen this for myself:  I remember once being at a morning meeting in the police where a senior officer was being told, “last night there was an assault at [the local mental health unit] where a s3 patient has assaulted another s3 patient.”  Without further information she replied, “Well that’s not going anywhere is it?”  Well, not unless you investigate it and gather the evidence it’s not, no.  What if the victim is competent to give evidence; what if it’s all on CCTV; what if three other patients and five nurses witnessed the assault?!!

Justice doesn’t stop at the hospital door; victims of crime are entitled to a proper, professional response.  At the same time, it is fair to say that victims with mental health problems do represent an additional challenge because particular legal procedures can  apply to victims and witnesses who are vulnerable and / or intimidated under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.  This would potentially include a victim with mental health problems.  Special interview procedures can apply, whereby specially trained officers conduct video interviews in lieu of written statements and it is all done in a way which should minimise the potential for suggestibility – vulnerable people saying what they think the officer wants to hear.  Furthermore, particular procedures can apply at court to make giving evidence easier or fairer.

So I don’t immediately understand why victims who have mental health problems can’t have their allegations taken as seriously as any other victim?  Of course, some patients’ account of their crime reveals cognitive problems of a type that can render some evidence unreliable, and very rarely all evidence.  But not all patients and all evidence all of the time.

The police and the broader criminal justice system deal all the time with victims who tell part of a story; who blatantly lie and who contradict themselves and / or other available evidence or make mistakes.  Sometimes this is because they have made a genuine error of recall during a short, unexpected and frightening incident; sometimes because they were drunk.  Imagine saying, no drunk victim can be report crime because their evidence is inherently unreliable?!  It would be greeted with outrage and rightly so, yet we seem to be in this position sometimes with mental health victims.

One of the cases of which I am most proud in my career for victim care and investigative tenacity involved a man who had mental health and substance abuse problems and I’m going to narrate the tale:

He was being repeatedly and rapaciously targeted by a local drug dealer:  robbed, extorted, abused, threatened, held hostage for days and from time to time being made to work as a slave.  He was assaulted for the fun of this man who continuously tortured him with verbal abuse and violence.  Every time this man suffered an offence, he reported it to the police and one day he reported it to my team (I was a sergeant at the time).  We established quickly, because he told us, that he was a repeat victim so we established the extent of this.

He represented a serious challenge as a victim / witness: he was almost constantly drunk; he frequently failed to show up for appointments during the investigation; his personal hygiene represented a very serious impediment to an operational officer spending an hour in a small room at a police station to take a statement.  My constables kept saying, “I can hardly stand to breathe in there” and this was no under-statement.  He was a very poor soul who had been arrested for shoplifting alcohol many times from the local mini-supermarket, such was his alcohol addiction, so he had many convictions for dishonesty which made him a prosecution witness nightmare.

When he reported the latest robbery to my team, we established that there were approximately one dozen reports in our area with him as a victim which were either being handled by CID, another policing area or by other teams in our area, where he lived.  Always the same offenders.  Meanwhile, I had a constable who wanted to be a sergeant who lacked some credible investigative experience of more challenging crime investigations so I asked her to gather all the reports from everywhere else – we didn’t experience much resistance, if I’m honest.  I said to my PC-come-Sergeant, “Go prove”: and she did.

It took MONTHS of effort; I remember the number of failed appointments to get statements from the victim; the number that were rescheduled because he was drunk; the inconsistencies in his evidence.  But I also remember the look on her face when she came back from Crown Court after having hunted down the victim to get him to court because he was drunk again and forgot.  Four year in custody for the offender.  What a result.

Of course the police and criminal justice system also have responsibilities to deal with offence investigations where victims are patients in psychiatric hospitals and other kinds of care institutions.  We’ve seen this most recently at Winterbourne View in Bristol but there have been other cases.  I’m going to do a separate blog post on that issue, as it’s a subject in its own right.

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7 thoughts on “Victimology and Mental Health

  1. This is a good post. Too many judgements are made too quickly by people, in all walks of life/careers, about mental health issues. As soon as you say the words mental health, you can almost physically see the persons mind closing. Like a big door slamming shut in your face. Everybody deserves to be treated fairly and not to be ignored, for any reason. If you had seen/heard of someone in a wheelchair being abused in anyway you would expect the Police to do all they can to ensure the abuser gets his punishment. So why shouldn’t anyone with any type of Mental Health/substance abuse issue be allowed the same courtesy!? Sorry if this is a bit muddled or waffling. I’m just nearing the end of my night shift. I like reading your posts a lot, they’re very interesting, well written and easy to understand.

  2. This is true. When I was sexually assaulted they said they couldn’t rely on my testimony because I have Bi Polar Disorder (and severe PTSD as a result of the assault). It’s ironic that they aknowledge the condition that happened as a result of being sexually assaulted but not the assault itself… I’m going to share this. Thank you for posting

    1. i take zyprexa before i go to sleep and sleep soundly but i wake up with my pijama pants off… i’m scared that the medication impediments my perception of wether i’m being assaulted at night or not. I had a child while in mental hospital

  3. Very informative and balanced article, just remember these people often suffering from temporary drug induced mind states/psychosis in mental health facilities for the first time are given drugs that make them hallucinate and increase their drug induced psychosis and also make them totally uninhibited. Don’t believe me? just look up side effects of Zyprexa and Haloperidol, which is what they are using instead of benzodiazepams. So in other words the drugs they make them take instead of the common sense approach of making them sleep off their street drug effect, actually make them far more insaner and increase their drug induced psychosis,And thats exactly why male nurses molest, tamper and rape female patients and get away with it,

    1. I’m going to publish this comment, despite it’s outrageous generalisation at the end. Let people debate that one if they want to. The fact remains the vast majority of NHS staff are extremely committed professionals, working in a dreadfully underfunded, often dysfunctional system. Moreover, most male nurses do not ‘molest, tamper and rape’ and many of the small minority who do have been prosecuted. I can recall seeing at least half a dozen news stories in the last few months of psychiatric nurses being successfully prosecuted for offences including sexual offences against patients, and they weren’t all men.

      I’ll leave it there but let others who wish to do so argue back. The ongoing debate about psychiatric drugs and the efficacy of treatment is well documented and better explored on other blogs which I assume you’ve read?

  4. Do you know what an amphetamine induced psychosis is? And what do you think the ethical common sense correct treatment is? Look it up on Wikipedia, its not Zyprexa or haloperidol, I notice you didn’t debate that. Ive got 14 national rehabs and drug clinics, the head of the south Australian drug and alcohol services, the number one female psychiatrist in Australia, all saying benzodiazepams for the first five days and up to ten days, and not to make a diagnosis until then, the waylaying of drug induced thought, a massive dose of ascorbic acid, some L-Tyrosine, vitamin b, and sleep to eliminate the drug from the body are the correct way to treat a transient temporary drug induced psychosis, not a real psychosis before its anything, and these committed professional are feeding them hallucinogens within the first 24 to 48 hours, turning up their drug induced condition, diagnosing them, and making them involuntary prisoners in a hostile environment on debilitating drugs that mentally and emotionally traumatizes them, then and for the rest of their lives in most cases, i don’t call that committed or not criminal , do you? And as far as the rapes and tampering goes these drugs also make them totally uninhibited, and as you will be aware they are also isolated for the first three weeks, more than often without visitation rights, or witnesses, or family to report whats happening to them, thats a fact. not even a phone call. thats happened to me. And when rapes do happen only a small percentage get reported because the victims are being held against their wishes and may never get out if they turn on the captors, whether you think thats right or true or not true, doesn’t matter, what matters is what the victims are thinking experiencing and feeling, and i can tell you this much, I have personally reported rapes and the police even agreed the girls were too scared to go ahead with charging the offenders, i also know that another witness was made to give a date and time of the offense when they had her hallucinating on Zyprexa which made them electrocute her because of what the Zyprexa did to her, and the male nurse got away with rape because she got the wrong days date, I also begged the mental health facility to change the sleeping arrangements where they potentially had a male lunatic deviate, a female, a male tripper, a female , a bloke who knows what his mental state was , another female, two days later a girl was raped, they scoffed at me, and said don’t tell us were irresponsible or don’t know whats going on, they couldn’t even see what was going on around the corridor in the night or day. and they wouldn’t ring the police , i had to, so don’t tell me either mate, im talking from reality , what actually happened, and i know happens all the time, their not the only ones i know have said they were sexually abused in their either, but the ones i told you about are definitely for real, this one facility had 12 deaths in one year of people under their care, so whats a rape or two or three with that type of record. And in your own words half a dozen in the last few months, HELLO! i bet you don’t publish this. I thought you were a cop, who against? the oppressed,? your certainly not a cop for mental health your their mate from what i can see, one of the compliant happy to push the drug cart, people. Working for The psychiatric gangster corporation, the psychogambino family, the people who fire pills for bullets. The poison bullets used by the gangsters of mental health, and psychiatry are aimed at your brain and heart, they will no doubt stop you worrying about what concerns you in the immediate, because they make you so fogged up you cant think straight or normally anyway, but most people who have any sense of what matters in care, will know that your thoughts and feelings are exactly what you need to investigate, in order to deal with the concerns, and issues you need to deal with, to grow, and find your way out of the fog thats causing you the despair you might be feeling, im not saying that for some, its not a bad idea to have some of that despair stopped, in the temporary sense, so as you can have a rest emotionally and mentally for the moment, and some encouragement and nurturing to get you going again, and to be able to then start to be able to take a look at the issues concerning you, but as soon as that immediate despair starts to disperse, its time to start to take the poison away, the poison isn’t meant to be a lifetime thing, its meant to be what it is, a crutch, to help you until you can walk again. Thats how i see it anyway, your entitled to see it however you do, as long as you don’t force it down my throat or anyone elses, is that fair enough to you? I guess not.

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