The role of dialogue: community police and victims
The dialogue between communities and their local police force can be wrought with tension. While there are positive stories in the news about police officers creating genuine connections with the public, enough is not yet done to make community members feel connected with their local authorities.
One of the most pressing issues is a lack of victim support training in the police force. In the UK, there are some cases of “victim-blaming”. The paradox is that, If victims are always blamed for crimes committed against them, they will not report it to the police and in the result, drive an even deeper wedge between local communities and the police. Victims of rape and sexual assault can be particularly vulnerable to victim blaming. When reporting a rape or sexual assault, women, Black and Minority Ethnicities and LGBT Plus people, still at some times stereotyped and blamed for being victims. One will often hear the sentiment that one’s clothing or appearance meant they were “asking for it”. These types of sentiments have resulted in up to 26% of rape or sexual assault instances are not recorded as a crime and considering only 15% of rape victims report to the police, a staggering number of victims remain unsupported.
Currently, some police forces have made steps to improve police and victim dialogue. For instance, the Northumbria police force has recently launched YourNorthumbria, a two-way communication tool with multiple channels. The function of the tool is to provide the community with safety updates as well as providing crime-prevention advice, appeal information, victim support and location-based intelligence gathering. The Northumbria Police do not only hope to achieve increased safety levels but also improving the confidence residents have in the police force.
Northumbria Police aren’t the only ones opening new channels for community members and victims to be heard. In West Yorkshire, a pilot program focused on victim support was recently released. Although the program is run by the Victim Support charity, the police are also playing a role in the support of victims. Without the agreement with the police, victims would not be able to access services through the live chat function instead of only through face-to-face communication.
The current West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson stated that he wants “to encourage and support all organisations to identify innovative ways of supporting victims of crime and this is another way of looking to ensure victims have access to direct emotional and practical support in line with modern, accessible and confidential services”. Of course, his attitude neglects one invaluable action: training the police forces to implement best practices to help victims. Protasis Project, however, aims to do just that. The main goal of Protasis Project is to establish an environment-friendly to victims by helping police improve their communication skills and practices used with victims. As an evidence-based project, Protasis Project aims to produce scientific and practical data that can be applied to police practices in order to follow the minimum stands set forth in the EU Victims’ Directive. Currently, the Protasis Project is taking the following actions to achieve their goals: Raising awareness, distributing training materials, conducting impact assessments, and further actions to implement the most appropriate policy responses towards victims.
Victim-blaming is an issue that has rampaged the UK and Europe, and despite initiatives in specific communities, programs like the Protasis Project are vital in order to give evidence to support better police-victim practices. Currently, implementation of positive responses towards victims is lacking, but with Protasis Project there is hope more change will come.