Guest post: Another tactic to deter women from reporting rape

Originally a comment by latsot in the Miscellany Room.

UK police forces are increasingly demanding that victims of rape and sexual assault hand over their phones and account details under the threat of their cases being dropped if they don’t.

Let’s be entirely clear about this. Someone making an accusation of rape (or any other crime) has a certain burden of evidence. For example, she might have to produce evidence that she was in the same place as the alleged rapist at the same time. In this case, she might choose to allow police to access the location data from her phone service or the police might obtain a warrant to perform a time/location limited search regardless of permission. Even I – a known privacy tinhat – wouldn’t object to that if I were seeking to prosecute and I doubt I’d consider it a violation if it were a known and routine part of any investigation of that sort.

But there might be other sources of the same evidence such as CCTV or witness accounts. Surely the intent is to establish opportunity. If phone location is needed for that, then it ought to be provided at the victim’s discretion, not demanded in advance alongside everything else that’s on her phone before an investigation can even begin.

An accused rapist might claim texts or social media exchanges as exonerating or mitigating circumstances. In that case, it would surely be his responsibility to produce the relevant material and not the victim’s responsibility to hand over her phone. Confronted with these claims, she might or might not agree to disclose some data knowing that it might hurt her case if she doesn’t. But in that case, the police could specify exactly what data was required. For example, social media posts within a timeframe or involving a particular third party. There would be no need for her to hand over her phone for this purpose.

There have been many, many cases of police the world over stealing intimate photographs from people’s phones and sharing them with colleagues, friends and the internet at large. There have also been many cases of police unearthing something dodgy about a victim unrelated to the case at hand and that case disappearing because of it. There are also many, many, many, many cases of women being judged because of the things they say, the things they wear, the photographs they have on their phone and – let’s face it – literally everything else. There’s an equal if not greater number of cases where women have been humiliated in court because of the judgements prosecutors believe (presumably rightly in enough cases to make it worthwhile) that juries will make about them.

This is, of course, another tactic to deter women from reporting rape. It’s also a tactic by police to collect as much information about everyone on the planet as possible without any guarantees that the data will be safeguarded, deleted when no longer required and not shared at large on the internet.

As Privacy International has reported, the UK police don’t even have the proper guidelines to deal with the contents of anyone’s phone, let alone actual rules or procedures or any departments equipped to enforce them.

This could not be more obviously calculated to persuade women to drop charges of rape and sexual assault.

And the wider implication is that in time anyone who makes any kind of complaint against anybody at all must have led a blameless life or be afraid to seek justice of any kind.

We British are so easily whipped up into fascist sentiment. What in screaming fuck is wrong with us? That is not a rhetorical question.

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