Will an ITV Documentary Help End Sexual Abuse by Police Officers?

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who specialises in sexual abuse by police claims.
Solicitor Kevin Donoghue previews an ITV documentary about sexual abuse by police officers.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

ITV is showing a documentary at 10:45pm tonight (Tuesday 15 October) about sexual abuse by police officers. I urge you to watch “Exposure: Predator Police Uncovered”.

The documentary will shine a light on the widespread issue of sexual abuse by police officers of female victims of crime. The programme-makers report that:

  1. a police or community support officer is convicted or dismissed for sexual misconduct every five days in England and Wales.
  2. between April- October 2018, police officers were seven times more likely than doctors or teachers to be dismissed for sexual misconduct.

This is despite officers being bound by strict rules about police abuse of position for a sexual purpose, which is defined as:

“Any behaviour by a police officer or police staff member, whether on or off duty, that takes advantage of their position as a member of the police service to misuse their position, authority or powers in order to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any member of the public. This includes: committing a sexual act, initiating sexual contact with, or responding to any perceived sexually motivated behaviour from another person; entering into any communication that could be perceived as sexually motivated or lewd; or for any other sexual purpose.”

Vetting Failure Enables Sexual Abuse by Police

The definition above targets police officers and staff members. But they are not the only ones to look at.

Police forces are failing the public at an institutional level. Many do not properly vet police and support staff. This means that sexual predators are recruited and employed by the same institutions tasked with defending the public against these criminals.

Zoe Billingham, of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, explains in the video clip below that

“Vetting is the first line of defence in protecting the public from police predators.”

She described the scale of the problem by saying:

“Too many forces, over half, are not vetting staff as frequently as they ought to.”

This means that

“about 35,000 people who ought to have current and up-to-date vetting, either working in policing or alongside policing, didn’t have that vetting in place.”

Notably, this vetting failure led to Cheshire Police employing (former PC) Ian Naude. He was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl and jailed for 25 years.

Common Themes

I have helped many victims of police abuse of authority for sexual gain in my work. Sadly, there are common themes. Police sexual predators:

  1. choose their victims carefully. Vulnerable people, such as victims of domestic abuse and young people, make for easy targets. The documentary-makers found that about ¾ of victims on their research would be considered vulnerable.
  2. use the considerable resources of their organisations to pursue their victims. This includes access to police national computer databases, use of police vehicles, home visits in uniform etc.
  3. apply grooming techniques, such as manipulation, coercion, threats etc. to persuade victims to agree to sexual contact and/ or cover it up.

The consequences of sexual abuse by police officers are often devastating. As I explained here, victims can suffer long-term psychological damage as a result.

Police Culture

This criminal misconduct is made worse by police officers failing to listen to victims and adopting a siege mentality. Often, they will go to great lengths to avoid seeing what is right in front of their eyes. The police will defend, deny, and deflect rather than deal with a sexual predator in their ranks. In the two years to March 2016 fewer than half of (48%) of all the police abuse of authority for sexual gain cases it identified were reported to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (now Independent Office for Police Conduct) for an independent investigation.

Convictions, publicity, and official reports from HMIC show that police officers at all levels have been aware of the issue of police sexual predators for years. And yet the problem continues. I hope tonight’s documentary will change that and spur action.

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police. Contact him here.