Weighing in on the recent row over how police chose to treat allegations of child abuse (the controversial policy advised detectives to automatically believe people who alleged they had been raped or sexually abused but was later dropped) is the College of Policing’s chief executive, Alex Marshall, who has said this week that abuse victims should be believed in order to encourage victims to come forward.

This policy creates an awkward paradox. If the police are to believe that all allegations are true, then the UK’s current presumption of innocence rule (which tells us that anyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty) could be perceived to be under threat. In contrast, the persisting view that those who allege abuse are narcissistic fantasists and make up the majority of those bringing allegations, is also unhelpful and not based in any concrete data.

There is no doubt, however, that more should be done to encourage victims to report abuse, and a working philosophy which is respectful, rather than cynical or doubting of allegations, must be put in place. It is perfectly possible to listen without prejudice whilst ensuring that those who have been genuinely wronged are protected, but this requires a sophisticated approach which may well not be instilled in policing culture, or practice at this point. The latest research suggests that the police are no better at sifting through allegations than the general public, something which would need to be addressed before any meaningful policies could be implemented.

What do you think? Does belief in an allegation automatically presume the accused party is guilty, or can we put into place working policies which allow us to ‘believe’ but at the same time process information without bias?

Police

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