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Forcing rape victims to hand over phones to police is 'intrusive'

Campaigner says forcing rape victims to hand over mobile phones to be scrutinised by police after reporting sexual assaults is ‘really intrusive’

  • Campaigner has called police probes into rape victims ‘really intrusive’ 
  • UK Information Commissioner has called for end to ‘digital strip search’
  • Victims are asked to give access to excessive amounts of personal information 
  • Kat Araniello said she is not comfortable with data sitting in a police cabinet

A campaigner has today said that forcing rape victims to hand over their mobile phones to be scrutinised by police after reporting sex attacks in what is tantamount to a ‘digital strip search’ is ‘really intrusive’.

Kat Araniello, who was allegedly raped multiple times by a man she had briefly dated but whose case was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, blasted ‘wrongheaded’ police investigations into victims.

UK Information Commissioner John Edwards has told police to stop treating rape and sexual assault complainants as suspects by collecting excessive amounts of personal information including phone analysis.

In a report published today, he says that victims are being asked to allow access to medical records, school reports, social service records and the contents of the mobile phones as a precondition to accessing justice.

The result is what campaigners and rape and sex assault victims have branded a ‘digital strip search’.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast today, Miss Araniello said: ‘It was really, really intrusive, and there are medical records that are just personal that you don’t want an investigating officer, potentially even the defence, asking for as well to be scrutinised.

Undated handout photo of Kat Araniello who had her rape case discontinued by prosecutors

File photo dated May 2019 of a woman using her mobile phone

Who is Kat Araniello? And what happened to her? 

Kat Araniello is a campaigner who says she was raped three times in four days – once at knifepoint – by a man she had briefly dated.

She went to the police after the man attacked her. The suspect was charged with three counts of rape, impersonating a police officer, assault by beating, false imprisonment and criminal damage. He pleaded not guilty at a pre-trial hearing.

Subsequently, the case was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service. In a letter, they said ‘ere is not enough [evidence] to have a realistic prospect of conviction’.

Describing the ordeal, Miss Araniello told ITV News: ‘He punched me really hard in my head, he was pulling my hair and then he tried to break my hand, then he raped me.

‘Every person involved in my investigation said this was a very strong case.

‘In terms of the evidence, the police had the knife they had my clothing, which was shredded. I had been to a sexual assault referral centre with the police so they had the medical evidence. The bruising on my hands and thighs.’

‘And I didn’t feel comfortable with that amount of information no longer being under the jurisdiction of my GP. It’s now sitting in a police cabinet somewhere; it’s not destroyed, it’s still out there.’

Miss Araniello says she was raped three times in four days – once at knifepoint – by a man she had briefly dated.

She went to the police after the man attacked her. The suspect was charged with three counts of rape, impersonating a police officer, assault by beating, false imprisonment and criminal damage. He pleaded not guilty at a pre-trial hearing.

Subsequently, the case was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service. In a letter, they said ‘ere is not enough [evidence] to have a realistic prospect of conviction’.

Describing the ordeal, Miss Araniello told ITV News: ‘He punched me really hard in my head, he was pulling my hair and then he tried to break my hand, then he raped me.

‘Every person involved in my investigation said this was a very strong case.

‘In terms of the evidence, the police had the knife they had my clothing, which was shredded. I had been to a sexual assault referral centre with the police so they had the medical evidence. The bruising on my hands and thighs.’

Mr Edwards has ordered root-and-branch reform of the way forces seek information about victims of rape and other sex crimes.

He called for an ‘immediate stop’ to the use of a controversial consent form which grants detectives ‘indiscriminate’ access to information about individuals, known as a ‘Stafford statement’.

Police must ensure that individuals give ‘free and fully informed consent’ to officers accessing information about them, today’s Information Commissioner’s Office report says.

Mr Edwards added that his proposals would ‘reorient the investigation to put the victim at the centre of it’.

Government figures show two out of five cases are closed because the victim withdraws cooperation from the police.

Asked why police take so much data from complainants, Mr Edwards told the BBC: ‘Well, I think it’s thoughtlessness principally – I don’t think there’s any malice – and an abundance of caution.

‘I think there’s a desire to kind of pull every possible thread that might come up as a defence and, you know, we’ve determined that that is excessive, putting people like Katherine through that kind of experience.

‘Katherine’s experience is repeated many, many times around the country with these disproportionate requests for information.

‘We’ve called our report Who Is Under Investigation?, because the experience of many survivors of these offences is that they are the ones who are being investigated, not the suspects.’

Mr Edwards said rape victims should only have their phones taken away for 24 hours during police investigations and there should be a ‘relationship of relevance’ for information sought under new guidelines.

‘We have seen changes in practice,’ he told Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘The Attorney General’s guidelines that came out last week mandate that the phones themselves should be returned within 24 hours.

‘But we’re still concerned about the experience of feeling examined and scrutinised, and all that data from a phone sitting on a police file.’

He added: ‘There’s an element of indiscriminacy which we’re concerned about.

‘Our report, I think, is reinforced by the guidelines put out by the Attorney General last week, which demand a relationship of relevance between the information sought and the offence under investigation.’

Assistant Chief Constable Timothy De Meyer, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: ‘We accept these recommendations and will continue to strive to protect privacy whilst observing the absolute right of defendants to a fair trial.’

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