New forms launched by police to explain use of crime complainants' data

29 Apr 2019

New 'consent forms' being issued to complainants by police forces across England and Wales when investigating rape and sexual offences, among other crimes, have been made public today.

The forms' stated purpose is to clarify for those who've reported a crime against them how and why their mobile device and its contents will be used in criminal proceedings.

But there are real concerns, from the Victims' Commissioner Baroness Newlove, Rape Crisis England & Wales and others, that the forms remain complex and jargon-heavy.

It is also problematic to suggest victims are being given a full and free choice as to whether or not to consent to provide full access to their mobile devices and all their contents when they are simultaneously warned that investigations might be discontinued if they do not agree. 

Katie Russell, spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales said:

“This practice is one we’ve been aware of at Rape Crisis for some time. Rape and sexual assault complainants are often asked to provide access to all the data from their mobile phones and informed that, if they do not, the investigation into the serious crime against them that they’ve reported is unlikely to go ahead.

The form that’s been released today offers some more clarity for victims and survivors as to how their data will be used but a number of very serious concerns remain.

For example, no clarity has been provided as to how the relevance of evidence is determined or by whom, so that in practice a blanket approach appears to be being taken to scrutinising all of a victim or survivor’s personal data, including photos, messages and calls, regardless of whether or not they have any connection to the alleged crime or the alleged perpetrator.

We are also being told by our member Rape Crisis Centres that in many cases suspects are not being subjected to the same level of scrutiny. In some cases, suspects’ phones aren’t even requested.

Statistics repeatedly show that rape and other sexual offences are historically and chronically under-reported compared with other serious crimes. Among the reasons victims and survivors tell Rape Crisis Centres they do not report are fear of the criminal justice system and of being made to feel ‘like the one under investigation / on trial.’

When criminal justice outcomes for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, rape and all forms of sexual violence are so woefully low, we have to question whether the routine gathering and storage of such huge volumes of their personal data, much of which will inevitably be completely irrelevant to the allegations in question, is justifiable or in the interests of justice, particularly when it has the potential to feel punitive and put people off reporting."

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