Criminal Victimisation

Today, Victim Support has published a substantial report on the prevalence of victimisation in those who live with mental health disorders – At Risk, Yet Dismissed.  It is a big piece of work, conducted by extremely reputable researchers from world-class universities like King’s College and University College, London.  It deserves to be taken extremely seriously, in my view.

Here are the resources for you —

THIS IS LONG OVERDUE

This report just documents what I’ve long known and all too often seen:  that the service given to victims with mental health disorders is not as consistent as those given to victims without.  More importantly, it documents the extent to which victims become victims because they live with mental health disorders and the extent to which people are often targeted precisely because offenders know that the criminal justice system will, more often than otherwise, fail to deliver a case against them into a court room.

This is why the criminal justice system needs to go the extra yard, to combat the stigma that pervades us all.

This report has far-reaching consequences and it contains so much of interest, I’ll probably do a couple of blogs on specific issues after this one to just the report more widely distributed.  Whilst I do hope that it’s read at the highest levels of policing and criminal justice because we have work to do; I also hope that many of the frontline cops who read this blog, just open the summary document above and read pages 6 and 7.  If you are intrigued by what it says, open the full report and read pages 30-40.  This will take you about ten minutes of your life and I hope you are both proud and ashamed, as I was, to read some of the feedback that is in there.

  • 45% of people with a serious mental illness were victims of crime last year – three times the rate of the general population.
  • 33% were victims of personal crime – assault, “mugging” or threats of violence.
  • 25% were victims of household crime – burglary, damage, theft.
  • Twenty percent of those with mental health disorders have been a victim of assault in the last year – this means people are five times as likely as the general population to be assaulted, but women are ten times more likely, with obvious cross-overs into domestic violence.
  • The report makes ten recommendations (p12 of the summary, p64 of the full report) about how to make the world a better place.

Much of this does not necessarily need a massive strategy with an action plan and months of training – certainly not from the police point of view, although senior leadership will be very important.  A lot of it is about individual police officers taking responsibility to accept the feedback offered and reflect upon it in terms of their professional practice ahead of your next encounter.

ISSUES FOR POLICING

Those interviewed in this study reported satisfaction levels with the police that were way below those reported by the general population.  Victims with a serious mental illness (SMI) were as likely to report things to the police as the general population, as likely to progress through the justice system but were less likely to report respectful treatment.  Of course, many people have positive stories to tell.  The report reflects this and I regularly hear on Twitter that patients think individuals officers have often been caring, compassionate and considerate.  Less often, I’m glad to report, I hear the opposite.  But I still hear it too frequently.

Attacking people with mental health problems because they have mental health problems is a HATE CRIME – it comes under the banner of “disability hate crime” for ACPO purposes and it should be flagged up as such, so force policies around dealing with hate crime can be implemented.  It is clear from this report that we have work to do, to improve.  Turns out, it’s not necessarily that hard for us to do so – just listen to what people say in this report, as a starter for ten —

  • Listen to what victims tell us – this is basic stuff for all victims, including other vulnerable or intimidated victims.  Why do anything differently for someone because they have a mental health problem?  Remember, even a specific vulnerability does not mean someone is less “reliable” as a witness.  Keep in mind the case of B v DPP (2009) – this is the GBH trial that was discontinued by the CPS because a victim with schizophrenia who ear had been bitten off “could not give reliable evidence.”  There was no reason to think this, beyond him having schizophrenia and the court ruled it a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention.  Police forces could be found similarly liable if they too quickly dismiss what they’re told.
  • Leading on from listening, actually believe what you are told unless of course, you have specific reason or evidence to do otherwise – in the case of “B v DPP”, there were several witnesses to the incident.  How we can disbelieve the likelihood that a grievous assault occured when a victim and several witnesses are saying it happened?  Even if we haven’t got immediately corroborative information (like injuries that need treating), how does the account offer up potential lines of enquiry to CCTV, witnesses and / or forensic evidence?
  • Validate this victim by looking for the evidence – Maybe you won’t find it: maybe it doesn’t exist.  But it validates the claim of victimhood if they are heard, believed and then officers investigate.  Also remember this when there are power differentials at play.  This could be a domestic violence victim with a controlling or oppressive partner; it could be a patient reporting institutional abuse in a hospital or care home.  Reports of crime by care staff of any kind, should be heard, believed and taken seriously.  We should go where the evidence takes us.
  • Don’t pre-judge what the CPS might say or what a defence barrister may do – remember: defence barristers will test the evidence of any witness against their client.  We have long since realised we don’t tell rape victims “you’ll be ripped apart by the defence” or that their personal sexual history may be brought up.  We dispassionately explain the justice process and support them through it.  As and when it is necessary to do so, officers in the case outline the reality of criminal trials to prepare people for what they are going through and use organisations like Victim Support to assist.  Telling a person with bipolar disorder who has been robbed that they won’t be believed will not help anything, nor is it necessarily true!  Finally, even if there were some aspect of unreliability in a victim’s evidence: this is true of many victims who do not have a mental health disorder and there could be corroboration that sets aside any demonstrable unreliability.  Imagine that “B” actually was unreliable for some particular reason: there were still independent witness to the attack.

There are many other aspects to the report and I encourage everyone to read at least the summary, which is only 12 pages long.  I will blog on a couple of other things when I get the time.

Something very important for me, is that I opened this wondering whether I’d read something about the victimisation suffered by people mental health disorders, comparing it to offending rates by people who have mental health problems.  You will have read the sort of thing I mean:  “people with mental health problems are X times more likely to be victims of crime than offenders”.  I admit I’ve never understood that, not least because research about such matters is poor – I’ve always just thought that understanding victimisation rates compared to the general population tells us more about what living with mental health problems can be like and it illuminates the cycle of exclusion, victimisation and inequality that is probably far more important in the end.  For that, this report is to be congratulated, read and taken all the more seriously because that is exactly what it does.


IMG_0053IMG_0052Winner of the President’s Medal from
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.


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