More than 300 police officers have been accused of using their position of authority to sexually exploit people, official data has revealed.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found the problem of abuse of authority for sexual gain is one that nearly all forces are dealing with, or have dealt with recently.
National Police Chiefs' Council Lead for Counter-corruption, Chief Constable Stephen Watson said: “Abuse of powers for sexual gain is a betrayal of our core responsibility to protect people from harm. It is the most serious form of corruption and it can never be justified or condoned.”
HMIC undertakes an annual inspection of the legitimacy with which police forces operate where the overall focus is to assess the extent to which forces treat people with fairness and respect. This year, the HMIC assessed the progress forces had made in tackling problems highlighted during the 2014 police integrity and corruption inspection and asked specific questions about how well forces are dealing with incidents in which police officers or staff abused their positions of authority for sexual gain.
“This is a serious form of corruption that betrays the trust of the public – particularly of some of the most vulnerable people in society, such as victims of domestic abuse,” said the report.
It highlights how a 2012 IPCC/ACPO report described the practice of abusing authority to legitimise unnecessary contact with victims of crime for sexual gain as a form of serious corruption that “fundamentally betrays the trust that communities and individuals place in the police”.
HMIC’s 2015 report, Integrity Matters identified this problem as being of great concern to the public – one that has the potential to undermine significantly public trust and confidence in the police and returned to assess progress during the inspection this year.
However, following the most recent report, HMIC said it was concerned to find “most forces still need to improve the way they recognise and prevent this form of serious corruption”.
Data collected by HMIC found 436 reported allegations of abuse of authority for sexual gain received, or received and finalised, by police forces in England and Wales during the 24 months leading up to 31 March 2016.
The 436 number includes instances of multiple allegations against a single member of police personnel, and of multiple police personnel with single allegations against them. During this same period, 334 police personnel had allegations of abuse of authority for sexual gain made against them.
All but one force had at least one case during this two-year period and over a third (39 percent) of the allegations of abuse of authority for sexual gain involved victims of domestic abuse. Only 10 forces had not had any cases that did not involve victims of domestic abuse.
National Police Chiefs' Council Lead for Counter-corruption, Chief Constable Stephen Watson added: “In recent years, we have focused on encouraging reporting and pursuing offenders. HMIC highlights where some police forces have been particularly effective by giving clear guidance and training that aids ethical decision-making, launching confidential reporting lines, forging links with practitioners supporting people who may be at risk and proactively monitoring IT and phone systems to detect inappropriate contact with vulnerable people.
“We now need to do more to continue to root out the disease and inoculate policing for the future.
“We are in the process of developing a national strategy to raise the standards of all forces in preventing this form of abuse. We are considering new training programmes to spot the signs, internal communications campaigns, confidential reporting lines, proactive intelligence gathering including working with groups supporting victims of crime and an annual review of progress. It is also essential that all forces take action to ensure they are following the national vetting policy to preserve our integrity,” he concluded.