News | 29 April 2021

Police & Crime Commissioner Election Candidates

Question on stance on Sexual Violence

Survivors’ Network is the Rape Crisis Centre for Sussex, so we felt it was important to challenge every Police & Crime Commissioner candidate for Sussex on what their views are on supporting survivors of sexual violence. This does not mean that we are endorsing any of these candidates or agree with everything that is stated below – in fact, as a charity we are not legally allowed to endorse or influence any elections.

Please also note this content warning: some of the language below may be distressing or offensive to readers, particularly survivors of sexual violence or people who have experienced misogynistic abuse.

We want to reiterate that we come from a position of believing and empowering survivors. Our empowerment model extends to moments like this, where you are more able to make informed decisions about elections when you have a clear view of the candidates’ perspectives.

The Police and Crime Commissioner is an elected position, intended to hold the Chief Constable and the local police to account, and making them answerable to us, their local community. They also hold a significant amount of commissioning control over service provision locally.

We sent every PCC Candidate for the Sussex elections in May the following question on 20th April:

I am writing to you as the CEO of Survivors' Network, the Rape Crisis Centre for Sussex. We deliver services for survivors of sexual violence of all ages and gender across Sussex and we were wondering what you would do to support survivors of sexual violence and abuse in Sussex if you were elected as the Police and Crime Commissioner in the upcoming elections?

Here are the responses we have received (in alphabetical order):

Kahina Bouhassane (Green)toggle accordion content

As the Green Party candidate for Sussex PCC, I would absolutely prioritise tackling domestic abuse and violence against women, girls and survivors of all genders. Despite the hard work of many officers, policing is broken in Sussex, as in the rest of the country. Over 10 years of Tory leadership and austerity has left a system that is not working, and women are particularly at risk. Misogynistic hate crimes have risen sharply across the county in recent years, yet conviction rates remain shockingly low. Rape and domestic abuse have both been effectively decriminalised, and – while Sussex Police recorded 2,020 stalking incidents in the year to March 2020 – only 29 Stalking Protection Orders were issued during the whole of 2020.

If elected, I would work with partners to:

  • Treat misogyny as a hate crime;
  • Invest in specialist officers and further training for all officers to deal with domestic violence and misogynistic hate crimes;
  • Support interventions with young men to tackle entrenched misogynistic attitudes; we need to move the focus onto challenging male violence, rather than telling women ‘not to provoke it’.

In addition, I would put in place measures to further support gender parity within Sussex Police itself. While it’s great that three of the very top ranks are held by women, there are twice as many men as women in the force as a whole, and – at Inspector level – men outnumber women by four to one.

I would put funding for Rape Crisis Centre services on a sustainable footing and would look to roll back the cuts to domestic violence support centres and women’s refuges. As a mixed race woman myself, I have a keen interest in supporting services led by and for Black and minoritised women.

I would be committed to meeting with all communities who fall outside the demographic majority, including those local services led ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised women, and bringing their voices into decision-making. I’ll bring the perspective of a warm, listening, human face – not a career politician – to the role, as I’ve got personal, lived experience of the problems with crime and policing in Sussex and have a passion and energy for reform. In short, I’m committed to making Sussex Police a police force for the people.

Katy Bourne (Conservative)toggle accordion content

As the current PCC for Sussex, I have used my role to support all survivors of sexual violence and abuse in Sussex to the best of my ability.  Here are just a few of my manifesto commitments should I be re-elected:

  • Continue to invest in specialist support services to assist victims and survivors with their recoveries from rape, sexual violence and exploitation by co-commissioning a pan-Sussex service accessible to all.
  • Encourage victims of rape and serious sexual assaults – both recent and noncurrent – to report these to the police or through other partners to ensure that all vulnerable victims can be supported and more offenders are brought to justice.
  • Work with partner agencies to highlight the impact of rape, sexual violence and exploitation and how frontline professionals can support disclosures and seek further guidance and support.
  • Support the re-commissioning of the Sexual Assault Referral Centre for Sussex in partnership with NHS England, including a thorough needs assessment and adherence to new forensic regulations.

Last year, I awarded a total of £396,447 to Survivors’ Network to enable them to deliver their vital, specialist support.  The breakdown is as follows: £112,500 funding to provide 3 x ISVAs for those with multiple and complex needs; secured £69,877 via the Funding Network for various projects including LGBT outreach work; awarded £69,070 to provide a children’s ISVA service; contributed £50,000 to what was the Portal service; and even secured £95,000 to support the clients that came to Survivors Network following the unexpected closure of ‘Rape Crisis Surrey & Sussex’.

I recognise that the pandemic brought further challenges for your organisation so I successfully secured an additional £30,718.77 of COVID funding and passported the £96,000 NHS COVID funds to Survivors Network.

If re-elected, I intend to go further because I know how important your service is to survivors in Sussex so my intention will be to secure further funding from government to increase the children’s ISVA provision and, hopefully, provide further adult ISVA posts too.

There is clearly a need and Survivors Network provide first-class support and a quality service that is valued and trusted – I am determined and ready to continue supporting you in any way I can.

Paul Richards (Labour)toggle accordion content

As the Labour & Co-operative police and crime commissioner for Sussex after 6 May I would ensure the Survivors’ Network receives sufficient funding to meet the scale of demand, especially for trained counsellors to give much-needed psychological support for survivors of rape and sexual violence. I would ensure all police, starting at the recruitment process, had the training and knowledge to deal with those coming forward to talk about the crimes committed against them. No-one should ever again be disbelieved, discounted, have their behaviour questioned or their motives impugned by the police. The starting point must be to believe women and people of other genders when they report such crimes. I would direct more patrols of PCSOs and police to public spaces where women feel unsafe and are the targets of harassment and abuse, for example Brighton seafront and beach, and use community protection notices (CPNs) to remove serial harrassers from the scene. I would tackle misogyny in schools with young men and boys from an early age, dealing with the behaviours, attitudes, cultures and media depictions which degrade, debase and commodify women and girls. There is a huge job to rebuild trust between certain communities in Brighton and the police, but our system only works based on policing on consent, and the rebuilding of consent would be my priority as police and crime commissioner.

Roy Williams (Independent)toggle accordion content

As a retired police officer, I am aware of the hugely damaging impact rape and other sexual assaults can have on any victim. These incidents leave lifelong emotional scars on the victims and it is hard for anyone who has not been a victim to understand the true horror of them. What is often most important to the victims is that they are taken seriously from the outset and that they believe that the police have also done al they can to secure a conviction of the offender. The importance of the first hour in terms of scene preservation is paramount and it is important that all that can be done in this first hour is done and so I would ensure that Sussex police had the necessary trained officers available if an assault is reported at any time of the day. SOIT (Sexual Offence Investigation Trained) officers often have this training as a secondary skill and so could be part of a response team but available to use this skill should the need arise at any time during his or her tour of duty. If necessary I would fund additional training to ensure there were sufficiently trained officers available at all times. Young inexperienced officers should be instructed as to first steps if they are they are the first point of contact, but it is important that they understand the need to obtain the services of a SOIT officer as soon as possible. It is unrealistic to suggest that all officers from the point of recruitment be trained to deal with such matters. The reason that sufficient numbers SOIT trained officers need to be available is that there are many cases where the allegations made are false. This is a sad fact of life and of course an officer’s specialist training will help detect when perhaps an allegation may be false, but at the same time ensuring that all available forensic evidence is secured.

Secondly the availability of examination suites is also very important and I would ensure that sufficient suites are available and adequately equipped to manage any cases that are reported, in the event that further suites are required when balanced against demand, I would consider funding further suites.

There is a suggestion that misogyny will be recorded as a hate crime in the near future, I must admit to being a little sceptical on this proposal. The reason being that the condition is a psychological one and many men who exhibit misogynistic behaviour do it unconsciously and the reason they behave in this way is often related to the way they were treated by their mother or other significant female in their life. We have all seen young mothers in the street screaming and shouting at a young boy or girl for that matter when what was perhaps required was a little more understanding and care and perhaps a little love. The boy if subjected to this behaviour often may become misogynistic later in life and a young girl may treat her own children in a similar way, so the behaviour may be cyclical in nature and I am not sure that moving to instantly criminalise it is wise. I am all about raising awareness and treatment and perhaps looking at the underlying reasons for the behaviour. Parenting skills for young mothers may be a useful thing to help break the cycle as a longer term strategy. The other big cause in my view is the ready availability of pornography. You are not allowed to dispute the official version of 9/11 but you can watch perverse pornography all day long with impunity. It is less about the sex and nudity, but rather the perverse themes that accompany it. Many men are addicted to it and are often unaware how damaging it can be to personal relationships and how it objectifies women in the minds of young men particularly and all men generally who watch it. The themes (Mom with step son, Best friends daughter, Gang bang etc) could lead an addicted young male to believe these sexual relationships are real and happen when of course they are not and they may fail to recognise the usual social boundaries in normal life. In many cases the women in the films are trafficked and are there by coercion rather than choice and I think a raising of awareness of these facts and how damaging pornography is something that I would consider funding either as a leaflet campaign of perhaps the production of a short film or perhaps an online campaign.

Many victims of sexual assault exhibit behaviour that can only be understood in the context of what has happened to them and so whilst it is easy to be judgemental of drug addicts or alcoholics, it is important to understand that these can often be coping mechanisms for many such victims and again, raising of awareness for officers who encounter such behaviour on the street  can only be a good thing and again I would consider funding training for officers in this area.

Awaiting reply as of 30/04/2021

Jamie Bennett (Lib Dem)