Hundreds of police officers are referred to official police watchdog every year for abusing their powers for sexual gain.
We're not talking about how many officers have been abusing their powers or how many have been caught - these are only cases that have been through the system and then referred to the official police watchdog. And there's still hundreds...
Data from the Independent Office for Police Conduct reveals that the majority of corruption referrals this year were regarding police officers engaging in inappropriate sexual contact with vulnerable members of the public. In fact, the number of referrals received by the IOPC this year for abuse of power for sexual gains was 118 out of 490 overall referrals – more than double the amount received for theft, fraud, and drug supply.
Referrals included instances of police requesting sexual favours in exchange for pursuing or not pursuing a police report as well as gratuitous sexual contact, such as inappropriate or unnecessary searches.
Earlier this year, a former detective constable was jailed for 10 months following an IOPC investigation that found he had taken inappropriate photographs of a vulnerable woman without her knowledge or consent and sent inappropriate sexual messages to others.
Another police constable was dismissed after a gross misconduct hearing found he sought to take advantage of a female victim of domestic abuse who he had met while working in the Public Protection Unit. The IOPC found evidence that the constable attempted to meet female victims of domestic abuse during and after police investigations and made sexually inappropriate comments, in multiple cases with the aim of initiating sexual relations.
A spokesperson for the IOPC described abuse of power cases as “among the most serious corruption investigations we carry out”.
“We work with police to tackle this, and they have an important role to play in ensuring this behaviour is not normalised,” the spokesperson said.
“We are incredibly grateful to the brave people who have come forward to report cases of this nature – and we have seen several cases where a single complaint leads to us discovering a pattern of behaviour affecting others”.
There is also evidence that social media may have played a role in the rise in cases. Astonishingly, it wasn’t until this year that the police watchdog issued a warning to serving officers against using social media to contact victims of crime for sexual activity.
In November 2019, a police officer resigned after it was discovered they used social media to contact three members of the public, whom they had met while on duty, in order to instigate sexual relationships with them.
The IOPC warned the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) that the rise in cases they were seeing relating to social media “may be indicative of broader cultural issues within some police forces.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “The misuse of power and authority is never acceptable and the abuse of position for a sexual purpose has a devastating effect on victims and corrodes public confidence in the police.
“We take police integrity very seriously. The barred list is one measure we have introduced to ensure the police discipline system is robust and means that the small minority of officers who do misuse their powers can be prevented from working in policing again. We have overhauled the police complaints and discipline systems in order to increase transparency and accountability.”