The following questions were submitted to the Metropolitan Police’s Joint Engagement Team for the South East police by Bexley residents and workers to ask questions around their work to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). Below are the questions and responses from the police.
The context of VAGW
What kind of situations would be considered Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)? E.g., would catcalling be a crime?
VAWG is very broad and can be from the most serious offences such as murder or rape to exposure, voyeurism including up skirting. It also includes domestic abuse, which is the most common form of VAWG reported.
Catcalling may be a public order offence if the offender intends to cause or causes alarm and distress. Even if it has not caused distress, it is something the Police would like to know about as it is certainly a trigger behaviour that Police will use to direct patrols or consider in proactive and preventative measures. If catcalling is repetitive then it could fall under harassment.
The message is to report to the Police; however, it can also be reported to Street Safe which is a national online reporting tool which can be used to report anything from anti-social behaviour to fly tipping. Street Safe is a useful tool as they share their data with the Police and with the Council for multi-agency response. You can flag areas of concern on the Street Safe website.
It’s important to remember that VAWG does not just happen to women and girls, and if these kinds of abuse happen to men, boys and non-binary people to, we want you to report it to us. The term VAWG just recognises that the majority of these crimes happen to women and girls.
All of this can be reported directly to the Police. Call 999 in an emergency or if the crime is occurring at the time, or otherwise call 101, visit the station, or visit Report a crime on the Metropolitan Police website. If you have a hearing or speech impairment, use our textphone service 18000 or text us on 999 if you’ve pre-registered with the emergency SMS service.
What is the number of VAWG crimes in Bexley so far this year? Is that an increase or decrease?
There is an increase so far this year. This may, however, be due to a confidence in reporting and increased awareness of VAWG.
There has also been an increase of 0.5% of sanction detections where punitive action has been taken, from community resolution through to prosecution. This stands at 13.6%. Over the last couple of years, figures have been impacted due to lockdown. Burglaries are down but domestic offences have gone up, for example.
Here is a breakdown of the numbers of allegations from 30 November 2021 to 5 December 2022 in Bexley:
- Total - 5312 offences
- Domestic Abuse - 3,340
- Violence Against the person - 579 (this includes anything from common assault to grievous bodily harm)
- Other Offences - 513
- Harassment - 525
- Serious Sexual Offences - 214
- Rape - 86
- Exposure & Voyeurism - 36
- Stalking - 19
Naturally not all of these will be VAWG, for example there are other forms of harassment and violence against the person, but VAWG abuse will make up part of those numbers and so it’s important to highlight them.
What is the process if I am to report a sexual crime to you? E.g., what steps can I expect to take place? Can I request to speak to a female police officer to make a report or to liaise with throughout the process?
After calling 999 or reporting at a police station, your initial report will be taken by the first available officer. At this point a female officer can be requested. This report will not be in much detail initially but will ask ‘what, where and who’ so that we can establish what kind of crime has happened and gather best evidence.
If it is flashing or touching, the officer attending will likely remain as the investigating officer but will refer you to Victim Support for additional assistance.
If you are reporting Rape or serious Sexual Assault, you will be allocated the on duty SOIT (Sexual Offences Investigation Trained) officer on the day you report; you can request to have a female SOIT throughout the case (most are female anyway). However, you may prefer just to remain with the first officer to minimise the times the story is recounted, and they will remain your contact throughout the investigation and court process. Your SOIT is there to support and explain throughout.
If you are reporting within 7 days of a rape, you will be given the opportunity to go to a Haven (medical centre) to carry out an examination to get all medical forensic evidence we can from you by female doctors and medical staff.
Your account will be taken in a video interview conducted by your SOIT, which can be quite emotional due to the detail required but it is hoped that this will minimise the need to give further evidence in court.
Although the support does not have to be taken, we also offer referrals to ISVA and IDVA independent support agencies specialising in survivor support of DA and Rape.
At all times, the investigation is victim led, which means if you do not want to go further at any time including proceeding to court, that is YOUR decision. However, all evidence will be stored, and the case will still exist. Colleagues in CPS and court systems are reviewing the f court system to try and empower and make victims and survivors feel able to proceed to court and feel supported more.
Court can be daunting for the victim. The police apply to the court for special measures to be put in place, for example a screen being put up so the perpetrator cannot see the victim and vice versa whilst evidence is given, being in a different room or on a virtual link. There are number of different things that can be put in place for the victim to feel most comfortable and for the police to give best evidence.
How will I be safeguarded if I make a report about someone I know and fear their retaliation?
Every report of crime is risk assessed. In some cases, we will give personal safety advise, or signpost to supporting agencies such as Refuge or CATCH*. In the most serious cases, we may request emergency accommodation via the council. We can flag and treat all calls with urgent marker on the police systems so that even if a call is made and nothing is said later on, it will be treated as urgent.
In some cases, alarms can be fitted in your address, but we can place an interim marker to respond as Immediate Call for any call to the address.
Where a crime exists, we will arrest the offender as soon as we find them. This gives the victim 24 hours to be able to make an escape route, via Refuge or contacting family etc. We can use bail conditions if we are unable to charge or remand the perpetrator in custody until court when charged.
You can apply for a Non-Molestation Order (AKA injunction) through court, preferably with a condition of arrest so that breaches can be enforced by police.
Background checks are done on addresses and if the person is known to police, there will be markers that come up. This also feeds into the calculation of required response times.
*CATCH is a group of charities - further information is available from the CATCH website.
How have the police responded to the Sarah Everard case? What can I do to keep myself safe if I am stopped by a male police officer and feel like I cannot trust them?
The MET have had to accept the sad truth that we found a predator of the worst kind using our profession to hunt from. Following the arrest and investigation of Cousins, intrusive investigations have taken place into his immediate colleagues resulting in criminal charges around inappropriate messaging. Other investigations have also been expedited and publicised.
Further, there has been a new team created by the current Commissioner to investigate allegations of corruption, bullying, misogyny and so on. This is alongside training delivered to every officer in recognising these behaviours and new internal and external anonymous reporting lines for corruption, like Crimestoppers, where you do not have to identify yourself. These allegations have and will continue to be taken seriously and where it is found to be likely that the officer has committed gross misconduct, it will result in dismissal or criminal charges.
We are actively seeking to remove these officers that commit the offences as they do not represent us and clearly do not stand for the values that we took Oaths to uphold.
98% of officers are doing their job in difficult circumstances. If you are not regularly involved in criminal behaviour you may not know how the police work.
Things to know:
- an on-duty officer will rarely be alone in plain clothes and even when in plain clothes, may have a camera and radio and/or telephone on their person to be in contact with control room. You can ask them to contact the control room to confirm for you he officer’s name and location
- they will require a cell before leaving so will have to make a call or radio call before going anywhere and will always be in contact
- they will always have to explain what and why they are doing something, although it may not look great such as restraining someone. We will explain our actions as soon as it is safe to do so. We do not recommend challenging an officer whilst they are restraining someone but once the situation is under control you are absolutely within rights to speak to officers
If you still do not feel that the interaction with the police officer is safe, then you can call 999 and get the officer checked out on the system and ask for warrant number to be checked. Shout/scream if you are not in a safe space.
Police are creating greater conversations, speaking to the community, and explaining processes and why things are done a certain way.
The Metropolitan Police have launched a new hotline for the public to share information about police officers and staff who abuse their positions. The hotline is available to report if you hear or know about a Met police officer or member of staff who trades police information or influence for money or other favours, leverages their police powers for sex or other personal benefits, abuses or controls those close to them or displays racist, homophobic, or misogynistic behaviour. The hotline itself is run by Crimestoppers and (if someone does not want to leave their details it can be anonymous). You can call it on 0800 085 0000 or also report online.
What steps can I take or what can the police do if I am to report something, but the police say they cannot charge the person, e.g., because they cannot identify them?
Police will use the report in every case to build an intelligence picture so that we can direct our limited resources to the right places to prevent further offending. If we only know the location, then we will increase reporting.
If we have a photo fit but have not had an identification, we will continue to advertise that image in the hope they recognise themselves and stop or someone identifies them.
Personal Safety - Be aware of your surroundings. Have your phone handy. Let someone know the route and when you will be home. You can use Apps like ‘find my friend’.
Let us know if there is a place or route you do not feel safe on. Book a Walk and Talk or report it on Street Safe.
What training do the police have in responding to VAWG? E.g., for supporting victims from minority backgrounds or with additional needs?
Police basic training covers; recognising an offence, primary investigation of all offences and basic scene management to preserve life, then evidence.
We refresh training regularly in line with new law, policy and procedure, both online and in person. This includes recognising trauma response in our victims and empathy fatigue in ourselves and colleagues. Primarily VAWG-related training is around Domestic Abuse investigations, which accounts for about half of VAWG, but is evident in many emotive offences. While this may be a low level or trigger offence to the Officer, they are aware that this may be the worst thing to ever happen to the complainant.
As mentioned, some officers already go on to receive additional specialist training in areas around Sexual Offences to support specialist investigations as sexual offences SOITS around key interviewing techniques and support through trial.
Internally, awareness has increased about VAWG and all line managers are trained on taking reports of VAWG within the organisation. There is a reporting mechanism internally called SIGMA which allows anonymous reporting online.
What are you doing to teach everyone, in particular men and boys, not to be sexist, misogynistic, or violent/threatening/abusive towards women/girls, and how they can take positive action to nurture an environment of safety from these kinds of abuse?
Our Schools Officers, Youth Engagement and Diversion Officers, Cadets, and involvement in good citizenship are encouraging this messaging as early as possible.
We are educating the public around where their behaviour is not okay and may become criminal. It is recognising exploitative behaviours that they may be at risk of and being groomed into behaving in a certain way. We distinguish between good touch bad touch, especially in schools where sexualisation and experimentation can lead to committing offences and where technology is concerned. A lot of work goes into education young people around where the boundaries are.
My team are encouraging, with partners, discussion around active bystanders and education around what and why behaviour like Catcalling is so detrimental.
This is not something we can do alone, though. All of our communities need to work together to educate the young men of tomorrow. We all have a role to play in challenging this narrative.
What are you doing to make streets feel safer, especially at night?
Walk and Talk
Police offer a Walk and Talk service where they can walk with females in any areas of concern whether that is dark streets, talk about crimes they are concerned about and can contact the Council on the behalf about CCTV and lighting etc. You’re also welcome to ask us to come along, in or out of uniform, to just have a soft drink and a chat with you about your concerns.
If you wish to arrange a Walk and Talk please email SEMailbox-.WalkandTalk@met.police.uk.
Safe Space Hubs
VAWG advice stands in open spaces and night-time economies. We often link in with women’s and community groups to raise awareness of how to keep yourself safe.
This operation uses plain clothed officers to identify and disrupt predatory offenders in Night-time economies and transport hubs. We can be around, even if you don’t see us.
WAVE and Ask for Angela training and awareness in licensed premises, e.g., nightclubs and pubs. This includes training and awareness for staff on how to respond to situations of VAWG happening in their premises and how to prevent it in the first place.
We encourage active participation in the Women’s Night-time Safety Charter.
We work with partners to promote awareness generally and to disrupt VAWG, and to develop skills around active bystanders.
Can you outline the Met VAWG Strategy and upcoming priorities?
There are four key areas:
- Rebuild Trust - Using outreach and engagement to educate and highlight the good work undertaken by colleagues. You will be believed and you will be supported.
- Protecting Women and Girls in Public Spaces at home and online.
- Working with Partners and with women to improve prevention and victim care.
- Bringing Perpetrators to justice and improving Criminal Justice Outcomes.
Keeping Ourselves Safe
What is being done to take the burden off of victims to prove crimes, e.g., rape and spiking. What should we know to try and do if we are victim to them? What happens if, because of the trauma, we were unable to do this or cannot recall that information?
There is the Commissioners Opinion which is research as to why victims are not following through with investigations and not reporting. It was highlighted that part of the reason is that the police lose the respect of the victim is because the victim is asked to divulge information about medical records, school records etc. which at the time of incident, to the victim seem irrelevant. Trying to rebuild confidence with the public that the police will support victims.
This message needs to be given: you will be believed and supported. However; the earlier incidents can be reported, the better.
Early evidence gathering in forensics is especially important in cases of rape and spiking. Treatment is the primary concern but in doing so we lose vital evidence of spiking. Early urine samples can be taken if reported at hospital or even on route.
Police are not concerned about substances taken voluntarily in these circumstances, even if it is a banned substance.
You can go directly to a Haven or sexual health clinic and then report to police later when you feel more comfortable doing so, but there is a 7-day forensic window.
Police are working in partnership with licensed venues and licensing officers on training staff on the ‘Ask for Angela’ movement so they are more aware of the symptoms of someone being spiked and what to do in the circumstance and what support can be given.
How should I react or help if I see someone else being sexually harassed/abused?
You can interject simply by asking the person being harassed if they are okay. If you are on a bus or train, you could do something less intrusive such as call or text for help. You can text 999 by using our textphone service 18000 or text us on 999 if you’ve pre-registered with the emergency SMS service.
You can text the British Transport Police on 61016. It depends on what you feel safe doing and the situation. The Government have put the message out with the Have a word and Enough campaigns.
There are four steps to remember:
- Say something - show disapproval of behaviour if you feel safe to do so.
- Tell someone about it (HR at work/line manager/parent or police).
- Offer support to the victim. Signpost them to help.
- Provide a diversion or distraction.
How can I keep myself and others safe from VAWG? E.g., what protective equipment can I use, apps, etc.?
Apps like ‘find my friend’ are great if you trust the friend, partner, or family member by which you are tracked. Uber cabs are often preferred as you can track your journey. Be mindful in Domestic Abuse that apps can be used to stalk a victim too. You are likely to know your circumstances best.
Be aware of your surroundings, walk with confidence and with your head high and try not to look vulnerable. We know this might be hard and not how you really feel, but it can be a deterrent to others.
You can carry anything that makes you feel safer, but not pepper or CS sprays or weapons.
Carry your belongings safely, a bag that is closed, phones on inside pockets etc. Do not have headphones in and avoid looking at your phone as this makes you less aware of your surroundings.
If you are meeting an online date, make sure someone knows who and where you are meeting.
Police offer a Walk and Talk service where they can walk with females in any areas of concern, whether that is dark streets, talk about crimes they are concerned about and can contact the Council on the behalf about CCTV and lighting etc.
If you wish to arrange a Walk and Talk please email SEMailbox-.WalkandTalk@met.police.uk.
Is there anywhere else I can report if I do not want to speak to the police?
There are many ways to report, many of which are anonymous.
You can go directly to the Haven or report via sexual health clinics if you are sexually abused.
We recommend speaking to police as if reporting to a third-party, information may not be filtered down and if caller says not to pass information to the police, then they will not. This then means we can’t take any action. Small pieces of information that you feel may not be police worthy, but it could be the missing piece of the jigsaw that means someone gets caught.
Do the police work with the Local Authorities and Charities to support victims? How?
Yes, we do work with Local Authorities and Charities.
IDVA and ISVA scheme provide personal support for victims through investigation and court processes for the most serious offences.
Local Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference’s (MARAC) (there are Domestic abuse and Community Risk MARACs in Bexley) have representatives of police, local authorities and local charities to support and intervene with Domestic Abuse cases referred.
CATCH and Victim Support services act as referral systems to access the right emotional support to victims so that Police can concentrate on investigating and bringing perpetrators to justice.
What actions would you recommend if you witness or experience misogyny in the workplace?
If you can, call it out then and there as an active bystander.
Report through your employer’s policy.
Offer peer support to the person who is being targeted.
Can you tell us more about the ‘super-complaint’ that has been submitted by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust on stalking?
This is ongoing and the MET are fully cooperating.
We already have Stalking Threat Assessment Centre (STAC), which specifically review every report of stalking made across the MET. They risk assess each allegation and look for series offences. They act as advisor and support to the investigating officer and work closely with the Suzie Lamplugh Trust.