Uncalled For: The toxicity around requesting survivors hand in their phones

The appalling news last week that digital consent forms requesting that rape victims hand in their mobile phones to police are being rolled out across the UK has caused anger and disappointment. It has been emphasised that a victim’s decision not to turn in their personal phone could mean that it “may not be possible for the investigation to continue”.

There are many reasons why this is troubling.

Firstly, placing a victims’ private life under such scrutiny is not only degrading but helps to maintain the sinister undercurrent of victim shaming and blame that has traditionally surrounded rape allegations.

As with all other criminal incidents, the sole focus of a rape prosecution should be rape(s) itself, making a background and character check on the victim unnecessary and offensive. To enforce such measures is to enforce stereotypes of what a “believable” victim looks like and how they should communicate.

It is vital to consider how the pressure to turn in a phone to the police might negatively impact and dissuade vulnerable women who may have, for instance, been previously exploited by the sex industry or suffered from various addictions.

As the digital era evolves, mobile phones are increasingly seen as an extension of the self. They act as a diary, a travelling photo album, a record of communications between loved ones, colleagues and acquaintances, a collection of apps to track personal lifestyle choices and goals, an insight into the interests, anxieties and one-off curiosities that motivate online searches and so on.

A system which asks survivors who are already involved in an intrusive criminal process to open their private lives up for dissection and analysis should at the very least be a system that has the trust and confidence of those they are engaging with. But, as the latest report from the Crime Survey for England and Wales has stated, less than one in five of the approximate 700,000 victims of rape or sexual assault in England and Wales (in 2018) reported their experience to the police, and that half of all sexual offences that were recorded by the police didn’t proceed through the criminal justice system.[1] From this statistic you can see there is much to be done before survivors consider reporting their assault as a viable option. It is greatly concerning that this new request could act as a further deterrent for survivors deciding to come forward.

This new pressure placed on survivors is incredibly damaging, adding a toxic edge to an already intimidating and often traumatic process.

Survivors of rape have already experienced an awful personal violation, they should absolutely not be put through another before they are allowed a chance at justice.

[1] CSEW- Crime Survey for England and Wales- Office for National Statistics – https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/sexualoffencesinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2017

*Written by Welsh Women’s Aid Policy and Research Volunteer, Sophie Weeks 


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