There must be nowhere to hide for police who abuse their position for a sexual purpose

Published: 25 Oct 2021

Police officers and staff who abuse their position for sexual purposes have no place in policing and will be found out, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has warned as new figures show how efforts to tackle the problem have led to a rise in those responsible being held to account.

Over the last three years, the number of people facing disciplinary proceedings as a result of IOPC independent investigations into alleged abuse of position for a sexual purpose (APSP) has risen sharply.

From 2018 to 2021, 66 officers and members of police staff faced disciplinary proceedings – 42 of them in the last year alone – after being investigated for APSP. Misconduct was proven for 63 of these.

Of the 52 individuals who faced gross misconduct proceedings, 73 per cent (38) are no longer serving and were barred from working in policing again. In that time, 7 individuals were also prosecuted for criminal offences, leading to six convictions and three people receiving a custodial sentence.

IOPC Deputy Director General Claire Bassett said: “This kind of behaviour is an appalling abuse of the public’s trust and has a devastating impact on the people involved, who are often in a vulnerable situation. The police are there to help them, not exploit them.

“We are seeing how our work is helping tackle the problem – corrupt officers have been dismissed and convicted. We have also made a number of recommendations to help police forces spot and tackle this behaviour.

“Recent events we have seen remind us that policing must act to root out this kind of behaviour once and for all. This is not a new problem and while there is a clear desire right across policing to tackle this, and progress has been made, there is still a lot to do.”

After identifying that some forces were not treating cases of APSP as a form of corruption, the IOPC’s predecessor organisation, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, pushed for changes to the referral criteria, which led to a significant and sustained rise in the number of referrals and independent investigations.

Today, APSP is the single largest form of police corruption the IOPC deals with, accounting for around a quarter of all corruption referrals last year, and almost 60 per cent of corruption investigations.

Ms Bassett added: “Each case threatens to undermine the trust the vast majority of officers work extremely hard to build. It is in everyone’s interest to root out those who abuse their position, and it is vital that anyone who experiences or witnesses this kind of unacceptable behaviour feels empowered to speak up.

“We see the devastating impact APSP can have on the lives of those who are taken advantage of by someone in a position of authority, sometimes under the impression the perpetrator is helping them or in a committed relationship with them.

“We have seen many cases where actions that may appear harmless at first – such as sending messages from a personal phone or kisses at the end of a text message – can be the start of a pattern of escalating behaviour.

“Nobody should ever be made to feel uncomfortable and unable to challenge a person’s behaviour just because of their job. At the heart of what we are doing is ensuring those who want support are referred to independent services to help them with the short and long-term impacts that APSP may have on them. We would encourage anyone in this situation to speak to someone. You are not alone; you will be listened to; and your experiences will be taken seriously.”

Information on ways members of the public can make a complaint about the police is available here. Police officers and staff can report concerns of criminal behaviour or misconduct via our whistleblowing line.

  • Corruption and abuse of power