Hertfordshire Constabulary has launched its annual campaign to help keep people safe while out and about over the festive season.
Traditionally, the Christmas and new year period is celebrated with more people heading out to parties, bars and other events. The force takes this opportunity to run its Operation Advisory education campaign reminding people that sex without consent is rape, whatever the circumstances.
Inspector Nicki Dean, from the constabulary’s Crime Reduction and Community Safety Unit, said: ‘Public safety is of course something we focus on all year round, but with the night-time economy expected to get busier over the coming weeks, it’s important to remind people that their big night out should be memorable for all the right reasons.
‘Everyone has the right to enjoy a night out without fearing for their safety in any way. We understand there is currently a lot of public concern around the issue and we’re working hard alongside our partners, to better understand these concerns and create the right solutions.
‘Sadly, we know there a minority of people out there who may see the festive season as an excuse to forget normal standards of behaviour, but this is simply not acceptable. Our message to everyone is to really think hard about your actions towards others and the impact they may have.
‘What you may perceive to be harmless fun could actually be overstepping the mark. Your actions could cause a great deal of distress and you may even find yourself guilty of a criminal offence. Think how you would feel if someone acted in the same manner towards a friend or family member?
‘It is important that we reflect on our own behaviours and attitudes, as well as those of friends, family and colleagues – if you do see someone you know acting in a manner that may cause someone to become upset or distressed, encourage them to stop. The more we challenge unacceptable behaviour, the quicker we can work together to help stamp it out.
‘If you feel uncomfortable, or have concerns about someone’s behaviour, please do not hesitate to report it to staff, security or to the police.’
This year’s campaign will incorporate several different strands, and key messages will be shared on social media over the coming weeks, around the following themes:
The message remains clear – sex without consent is rape, whatever the circumstances.
No matter what the conversations have been prior to meeting, anyone, male or female, has the right to say no at any time and this should be respected.
It is also important to remember that sex with someone who is incapacitated as a result of drink or drugs is rape.
No one is responsible for sexual offences committed against them. Offenders could find themselves facing a prison sentence and being placed on the sex offenders’ register.
Police are currently reviewing the number of spiking-related reports in Hertfordshire in recent months. There appears have been an increase in some types of crime reports related to spiking during October and November, however further analysis will give a fuller picture and help inform their response to the issue.
Hertfordshire Constabulary takes reports of spiking very seriously and the force is currently reviewing its processes to ensure it maximises forensic opportunities following reports and understand any emerging trends. They are also working with licensed premises to make sure that the night-time economy in Hertfordshire continues to be safe for everyone. As part of this, testing strips are being provided to several venues across the county, which will enable patrons to test their drinks if they think they may have been tampered with.
Every report of spiking is fully investigated. Police work with health services to identify any noxious substances used and victims of sexual offences receive support from specialist officers who deal with these crimes. Anyone who believes they may have been spiked should contact police or health services as soon as possible.
Violence against women and girls
Hertfordshire Constabulary and partner agencies have been redoubling efforts to tackle these issues. While instances of stranger attacks remain relatively rare in the county, there is determination to ensure that everyone feels safe in the county’s streets and public places.
Generic safety advice
While Hertfordshire Constabulary strongly believes that the focus should be on discouraging potential perpetrators, they know that, sadly, there are still people out there who may seek to take advantage of others. With this in mind, they have a duty to help keep people safe, by providing them with as much advice as they can and encourage people to take note of the guidance on their website.
You might also want to consider installing a personal safety app, such as Hollie Guard, on your mobile phone. These apps can help empower men and women around their own safety, and can notify chosen contacts when you may be in danger.
The Ask For Angela scheme is also being promoted at a number of venues across the county. It helps people who may be feeling uncomfortable during a date, or who may be experiencing unwanted attention, to discreetly seek help from bar staff.
Detective Chief Inspector Anna Wright, from the constabulary’s Safeguarding Command, said: ‘The constabulary takes all reports of sexual assault seriously, no matter what the circumstances or how long ago the offence occurred.
‘The Sexual Offences Investigation Team (SOIT) is made up of specialist officers who will provide support and advice to victims throughout an investigation and any subsequent court proceedings.
‘If you do not feel comfortable speaking with police straight away, you can contact Herts SARC (Sexual Assault Referral Centre) for practical and emotional support. The centre can arrange face-to-face support, sexual health referrals and provide forensic medical examinations for those who want them. The service is open to everyone – men, women and young people, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.’