How do women cope with such tragedy?
Rape child abuse, is all in a day’s work for WPCs
It’s 9.55 p.m. and PC Carolyn Jones together with PC Kim Clinch are conducting observation on suspect premises. They had been observing the building since 6.30 p.m.
At 10 p.m. They receive a call to a home where the mother is concerned about her daughter and friends who were being ‘subjected to visitations by evil spirits. ‘
At 11.40 p.m. They are returning to Worthing Police Station after visiting the worried mother. Another call comes in, a young woman has telephoned from a kiosk and alleges she has been raped.
The woman police constables have a long and hectic night ahead. Sadly, rape and other horrific assaults like child abuse both physical and sexual are now familiar headline news but how do the victims feel? What are the feelings of the police women who have to deal with the sensitive situations? I went behind the scenes of the special women’s police unit at Worthing to find out the answers.
Women’s police unit
Since the launch in March of the only women’s police unit in Sussex, the five-strong team have been busy dealing with their specialised task of ‘sensitive subjects’. They have already expanded to a larger office and are now under the leadership of Sergeant Julie Dockerill.
The above timetable was the night of Friday, August 7. The following week news of the alleged sex attack on a 22-year-old woman hit the front page of the Worthing Gazette and Herald.
let’s go back to that night when a young woman claimed she suffered an horrific ordeal. At near to midnight she was brought to the police station where she was briefly interviewed by WPC Jones. After reciting her experience, she was taken to Worthing Hospital to be examined by a police surgeon. Back at the station an hour later her statement was taken and the young victim was taken home at 6.30 a.m. WPC Jones was not finished until 3.30 p.m. Saturday afternoon. After such a terrifying experience, I asked Sgt Dockerill how the rape or sexually assaulted victims feel about undergoing a medical examination?
‘I think they are quite relieved to see a doctor,’ she explained. ‘Generally, 1 think they have been through so much they are still in a state of trauma or shock. ‘If they are frightened of pregnancy or disease I think it is much better to come from a doctor.’ Chief Inspector John Bishop added, ‘They are seeing a highly professional doctor who would be sympathetic. It is generally a numb reaction.’
In the past the media have reported many criticisms of the way such victims are treated. How did Sgt Dockerill feel about them? ‘I think we have made mistakes in the past but I think every effort is made to make them as comfortable as they need to be.’
When the police speak to the victim after the assault, the team told me they offer reassurance, sympathy and plenty of hot sweet tea. But what is their reaction to the horrific tale? How do they deal with the situation? Said Sgt Dockerill,
‘I think one of the most important things is not to shocked by any thing they tell you. However perverted. to just accept it. The doctor backs that up for them.’
After one of the special team have spoken to the victim inquiries will begin immediately and male police officers will become involved. But WPC Jones or whoever interviewed the victim will become the link between her and the rest of the police force. This gives the victim support and makes her feel secure always speaking to the same familiar face.
As most of their work is disturbing, I asked whether it affected their home life?
‘It does more so with child abuse both physical and sexual,’ said WPC Jones. ‘It can get you uptight. ‘
Sgt Dockerill who has been heading the department since June said, ‘You cannot stop taking it home. When I was juvenile liaison officer at Hove, I did it on my own. I felt a bit isolated. ‘But now we have a team. We have a release valve.’
Dealing with child abuse forms the bulk of the team’s work. and this they stressed includes physical, as well as sexual abuse, which tends to be forgotten.
When the abuse comes to light, the team told me there is usually a far longer history to the offence. ‘I dealt with one a few years ago with a 16 year old who had been abused at the age of eight,’ said WPC Jones. ‘It was not until she was 10 or 11 that she realised she was not quite right. She was too frightened. ‘The assaults are not just all the young victims have to face, said Sgt Dockerill. ‘They are very often aware of what the talking will do to the family. They shoulder not only the responsibility of talking about it but the responsibility to the family.
The special women’s police unit at Worthing is on a one year pilot scheme and is due for appraisal in March.