Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Information Sharing: What is it and How does it Work?

What is Information Sharing?
Information sharing is a service offered in Scotland as a way of anonymously passing information about sexual assaults to the police. If you don't want the police to know your identity, then you can call Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS) on 08088 01 03 02 and give a statement about the assault, either on the phone, or you can arrange to go in and see a member of RCS staff in person. RCS will pass your statement to the police. They will take your name and contact details, but they will never share this information with the police without your permission.

The police won't investigate or prosecute the crime because they don't have your personal details – but it will be saved in an intelligence database. If the person/people you have named in your report are linked to another crime, either one they've already committed or one that they commit in future, then RCS will be notified, and then RCS will notify you. This notification is pretty brief – as far as I'm aware it's literally just "the police have indicated that they would like to speak to you" – and you can choose whether you would like to speak to them or not.

No, information sharing on its own cannot result in your assailant being charged. But many abusers are repeat offenders, and your statement gives information that police could find useful in another investigation on the same person. The knowledge that there have been multiple assaults by the same person sometimes prompts people to go ahead and talk to the police, too.

It's worth noting that in Scotland you can't report a sexual assault to the police without giving your name. You can get anonymous advice from the police, but if you aren’t entirely sure that you want to give the police a statement then I strongly suggest you call RCS. They can arrange a meeting with a police officer for you, at their offices. The reason that I suggest phoning RCS is that I called 101 for anonymous advice, which you should be able to do, and the police came to my door looking for a statement. Rape Crisis are trying to determine whether this is official police policy or not, and I’ll provide an update if/when I get one. Update: Police Scotland stand by their decision, saying that they will pursue anonymous calls if they think that it's in best interests. In particular, the abuse of vulnerable people (minors, and "at-risk adults", a vaguely defined group which can encompass people with physical and mental disabilities or other factors which may make them unable to safeguard their own wellbeing, will likely be pursued by the police under any circumstances.

My experience
I’ve done information sharing, so I thought it might be useful to go through what that involved. This comes with the disclaimer that this isn’t meant to describe every single case - but for me, I’d have felt less apprehension if I had read someone else’s account of the process.

My therapist told me about third party reporting and about Rape Crisis Scotland's helpline after I was sexually assaulted. A couple of weeks later, having a really bad day, I phoned Rape Crisis, just to talk to someone supportive. They offered me an appointment to make a third party report, but they didn't put any pressure on me. They just said "This service is here for you to use, if you want."

I booked an appointment on that phone call. The appointment was to be done over the phone with a trained member of RCS staff. They offered me one in about two weeks' time, saying it would usually be sooner but one of their staff was away. I was told to leave my name and my phone number, and their staff would call me at the time we had agreed. I was told to leave a couple of hours free for the call, as the whole procedure normally takes 1-2 hours. (Note that you can get slots outside business hours.)

I changed my mind before the appointment date. The Fear got too much, so I phoned RCS up and cancelled. The staff member I spoke to said "That's fine, if you ever want to report in future then you can always make another appointment." There was no attempt to convince me to proceed with reporting.

It took a while (and a lot less self-doubt) before I called again. The helpline was busy when I called, so I left a message asking for an appointment to do third party reporting. They called me back within half an hour and asked when I was available. I took an evening slot four days away.

A member of RCS staff called me at that time, on a withheld number. She explained how the information sharing system worked, how my details would be kept separately, and so on, as I’ve outlined above. Then she asked if I still consented to the process. I said yes.

She asked me if I knew what date the assault had taken place, and roughly what time. She asked me to talk through what happened. She just let me talk non-stop until I was done, making the odd encouraging noise but not interrupting. Apparently this is Not Normal, and a lot of people need to do multiple sessions to finish their statement. When I was finished with my story, she returned to the point where I mentioned experiencing dissociative amnesia (trauma-related memory loss) just to check that there wasn’t anything else that had come into my head. Then, she checked there wasn’t anything else I wanted to say, and she read the report she had written whilst I was talking back to me. I had said a few things out of order, and they were mixed up, so I clarified those points, and she read the statement through again for me to approve. I gave quite a lot of detail, but you can choose the level of detail you pass to the police. After that, she asked me about the perpetrator - name, what he looks like, do I know his address, date of birth, job? She checked she had my email address and phone number correct, and agreed that if the name I had given didn’t turn up any hits in the police database then she would call me in a few weeks - just so that I wasn’t left wondering.

It was a draining process, but it wasn’t scary dealing with RCS. They were very kind and compassionate, and didn’t put any pressure on me whatsoever. Talking to them is also great because they can put you in touch with loads of other organisations for emotional support or practical support or reporting options.

Rape Crisis Scotland - for info and support relating to sexual assault. There's not much on information sharing, though, so if you want more info, I suggest that you call their helpline (08088 01 03 02 open daily 6pm-midnight) or email support@rapecrisisscotland.org.uk
Support to Report is an advocacy service for anyone looking to report sexual assault and is linked to the Glasgow Rape Crisis centre. It's open 24 hours a day. Call 08088 00 00 34 or phone the police non-emergency number, 101, and ask for Support to Report.

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