Derbyshire rape victim says new police consent forms 'can seem to undermine the belief of the victim'
A Derbyshire man who was raped when he was 11-years-old by his Scout leader says new police consent forms 'can seem to undermine the belief of the victim'.
New consent forms asking victims of crime to give police permission to access information such as messages, photographs and emails from their digital devices are being rolled out across the country.
But there are concerns the forms will stop people - particularly rape victims - from coming forward to police because they will not want their personal information searched.
And victims of crime have even been warned that if they do not hand over their phones, then they risk their attacker walking free.
Currently, victims of crime cannot be forced to hand over their digital devices - which can lead to crucial evidence being missed - and has caused some cases to collapse.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Mark Hill, says this action will only be taken if there is a 'reasonable' line of inquiry.
Gabriel Poole, 19, from South Normanton, was raped by his Scout leader, Robert Bustard, of Jacksdale, Nottinghamshire, in 2013, when he was 11.
He bravely waived his right to anonymity to speak to the Derbyshire Times in March to encourage other rape victims to speak out. Bustard was jailed for 14 years in September 2014.
Gabriel said that had he refused to hand over his phone to police, then he might never have got justice for what happened to him.
"In my case, I was so young that my phone did not have much value," he said. "I did not have much information on my phone. The key to the investigation being found was Robert Bustard's messages to me in which he admitted what he had done. If I did not surrender my device, then this would have stopped me from receiving justice."
Gabriel also said that he can see 'both sides of the argument'. He told the Derbyshire Times: "It allows the police to deepen their investigations and check the credibility of accusations but it also can seem to undermine the belief of the victim. Many people put their hope and faith in their mobile phone and it is their hand held companion which is used for their everyday life. To lose this as a source of comfort and know that every detail of it could be being inspected, could illicit more anxiety and distress for them after an already traumatic event. I see the logic behind the decision but I do not think the emotional response has been thought of."
Asked whether he thinks it will stop rape victims coming forward to the police, Gabriel said: "I think it will definitely raise questions for victims, are the police inferring that they are not being believed and want to add further supporting evidence? Are their devices being examined for other content that doesn’t relate to the matter? I think this is going to create tension and stress between victims and the evidence gatherers, in this case the police. The victims need to be treated not as suspects, we forget that this is how some behaviours can come across as. We need to be showing to believing people and treating them as vulnerable and believed whilst respecting innocent until proven guilty on the other side. The balance is hard."
Sally Goodwin, chief executive of SV2, a Derbyshire service which offers support to victims of sexual violence, said: "We can see where the new ruling has come from and how it could be interpreted as a negative and another way of potentially using phone data for victim blaming, which we would of course be very unhappy about, as others have already pointed out. If it was used in this way it would definitely have a negative impact on confidence to report rape in the future, which would be a backward step. We need to remember that it is still very rare that victims lie about a rape or sexual assault.
"In reality this already happens in some investigations where victims hand over their phones voluntarily. Of course, it makes them feel vulnerable, it would make any of us feel that way as there is so much personal information on our phones these days. The point of it though is to pre-empt any issues that the defence might raise at court which put a victim and the prosecution on the back foot and may have a negative impact on a case. It could be something which could have been dealt with and clarified quite simply in interviews as part of the investigation thereby reducing the opportunity for the defence to use it in court. The police should only be concentrating on content on the phone which is relevant to the investigation and if this is handled professionally it will reduce the impact on the victim.
"Victims of rape in Derbyshire who are unsure about whether or not to report to the police can get support from SV2 and we will explain what the process of reporting and investigation means for them. They can then make an informed choice about whether or not to report."