Jackie Malton tackles the case of crime versus women


The Real Prime Suspect host Jackie Malton answers questions about gender-based violence and policing

To close out Women’s Month, CBS Justice (DStv 170) will be hosting a weekend special run of The Real Prime Suspect on Saturday, 29 and Sunday, 30 August. The series explores cases presented by retired Scotland Yard detective Jackie Malton – the first-ever female detective in the UK Flying Squad and the inspiration for the character of DCI Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) in the Prime Suspect TV series written by Lynda La Plante.

We had a rare opportunity to talk to Jackie about women, crime and policing.

The real danger to women

When you look at how crime impacts women, what poses the greatest danger?

Jackie: When I look at the crimes that impact women, I think I’d put domestic violence at the top of the list. Especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage of women that have been assaulted by their partners has increased because they were stuck together for a long period of time.

Domestic violence would be followed by sexual violence and that includes rape. I would also include stalking and harassment on the list, and trafficking and modern slavery. In the UK, there are many cases of grooming young and vulnerable girls who ran away from their homes and were in the care system. These girls are very susceptible to people giving huge amounts of attention to them, which turns into grooming and passing the girls around as a sexual object.

The other thing is the impact of social media on young girls who have the need to belong – I think we all do, as a matter of fact. But when you’re younger, you want to go with the crowd, be liked, be seen as nice. That also makes it easier for men to prey on vulnerable young girls.

Attitude adjustment

What social attitudes lead to the most crime against women, while protecting the perpetrators?

Jackie: Where there are cultures that foster belief in male superiority, these protect the offenders. Religious beliefs and communities that hold on to them are another one. Then there are those men who have a sense of entitlement to female bodies.

Today, because of DNA and forensic science, sexual relationships cannot be denied because we have the evidence, we know something has happened, but then there’s still the issue of consent. In the end, it comes down to who believes who. To be fair, there have been women who have alleged rape and their stories have been false [statistically between 2 and 6%, including reporting unproven cases as false accusations]. But I do think where men have that sense of entitlement, and within cultures that foster the belief that men are superior, that’s still around in 2020.

Warnings about violent crime restrict (either deliberately or in effect) women’s lives, movement and ability to work and travel. How does this strike you?

Jackie: The messages that women sometimes receive through the media like, “Don’t go out at night, don’t get drunk, don’t wear short dresses”, these are elements of social control over women. Comments like, “She went out wearing a skirt and low-cut blouse, she’s been asking for it”, those are completely wrong judgements and statements to make. There’s no similar message directed at men. If men behaved correctly, then you wouldn’t need these messages. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Therefore women, reflecting where we are in society today, need to be very, very careful about everything. For example, about a drink somebody buys for us because it might have drugs in it. I suppose the only message I would put out is that one has to be hypervigilant. If you go out in a group, look after each other. Women need to take responsibility for themselves, which sounds a bit harsh, but if the message isn’t getting through to change male behaviour, then women need to kind of cocoon themselves, protect themselves, look after themselves, say “I’m watching your back.”

There’s still pressure on women via other people’s judgements regarding what they should be wearing or not. And in the broader picture within the media – whether you’re a princess, a prime minister, or a TV celebrity – it doesn’t matter which job you’re doing, the comments about what women wear in relation to their jobs are just outrageous. Because what they wear has got nothing to do with their ability to do their jobs. When Theresa May was the UK’s Prime Minister, there were horrible comments about her appearance. We don’t see anything similar about Boris Johnson or Donald Trump, or the President of South Africa – it’s a completely different treatment.


Victim in training

Looking at the cases in The Real Prime Suspect, which habits do you believe actually place women in danger because criminals exploit those behaviours?

Jackie: Let’s have a look at the core social motives we all have as human beings. That sense of belonging, being understood, identifying with something. We all want to be liked by each other, across the board. We go into situations where we want to identify with the group, and you understand the environment you’re within and want to fit in.

It’s all about vulnerabilities, which those criminals target. They know people that are vulnerable, especially younger women who have left home, who are in care – these are the patterns of targeting. They abuse, but they’re very nice in the beginning. These cases come out repeatedly, where young girls have been in the care system, were abused within their own homes, or didn’t feel supported and heard by their families. They’re targeted by men who are much older than them, buy them things, treat them very well and they feel absolutely loved. Then the young girls want to be nice to them in return, and the behaviour starts to change and becomes abusive. It’s just so sad when you see young women that have been damaged, are desperate for love and then get into relationships with men that just repeat the pattern of abuse, which is probably even worse.

When I look at a lot of those cases we covered, they were very mixed. There were cases involving sex workers, for example, working late shifts. The very nature of their jobs put them in vulnerable situations and positions.

The other thing is social media, people having relationships without meeting in real life, people lending money because of the stories they hear. And because they like the person, often they end up being scammed.

Better policing

Which aspects of police work do you believe still need reform to better tackle crimes that overwhelmingly affect women, like gender-based violence?

Jackie: We have to start with biology – sex is biological, and gender is based on a person’s identity. Gender-based violence includes sexual, verbal, physical, mental, emotional abuse, threats, coercion. I think gender-based violence is becoming more prevalent, especially violence against transgender women. We now have a senior officer on the National Police Chiefs Council – which represents all police chiefs – focused on gender-based violence. Police are very aware of it. These days, police also work in partnership with other agencies and organisations, like Women Against Rape. In my day, these agencies were treated like enemies, but now people are really coming together.

When there’s abuse on social media, the police also have to understand the whole story. Police have to take control of the mobile phones of those involved, to see messages between two people, or transcripts of those messages. People, quite naturally, feel vulnerable about that. From my experience, women internalise what’s happened to them and they blame themselves. It’s not their fault, but when you hand over your phone to somebody, it’s like opening your whole world up to somebody you don’t know. It seems to me there is a reluctance to do this, evidenced by statistics showing that women don’t wish to hand over their mobile phones. In many ways, you can’t blame them for that either. It is a very difficult process.

It’s very, very complicated because any woman who has been raped will feel extremely vulnerable in the first place, especially if they’d had a relationship with a person and then there’s sexual violence – then you have to hand over everything within that relationship. The prosecution will be prowling over it looking for evidence. Someone might think, “I’m not going to put myself through that.” There has to be a way to take this forward, where the woman doesn’t feel so exposed. I don’t know what the answer is, I’ve been out of the police for too long to know exactly where the answers are. The defence has to defend, and prosecutors have to prosecute, but it’s got to be fair. In any investigation, it has to be about the search for the truth.

I believe you

Something the police must do to perform their jobs correctly – like questioning rape and domestic violence victims – can play into a threat made by many perpetrators that nobody will believe the victim. Have you seen handling of that improve, and what still needs to change?

Jackie: Everything still needs to improve and change. The more that we deal with these things the more experience we get. Basically, when someone comes in and makes an allegation today, you don’t start from a premise of, “I don’t believe you.” You begin with, “Tell me what happened,” and then you have to dig a bit deeper. In essence, when the victim comes in, they are believed. Their story is believed.

But in the late ’70s, victims would be told, “I don’t believe you.” There is a famous case that changed the way women were questioned. It was a programme about one of the police forces, Thames Valley, where they interviewed a rapist as well [the 1982 documentary Police]. And it was absolutely terrible. Everybody was aghast and that changed the whole policy of how one interviews people when they allege that they have been raped. We’re never going to crack it, but it’s evolving.

I was talking to someone quite recently who, 30 years ago, went into the police station and alleged that a close family member had systematically raped and sexually abused them. And because this young person was repeatedly running away from home and had committed criminal acts, and was a street kid, she told me the police officer just did not believe her. So this woman carried that for 30 years. Then 30 years later, she went into the police station again and said the response she got from the police was completely different. She felt she was heard, listened to, believed. And that’s the most important thing that you can do.

You hear them and you understand them and you don’t judge them about their behaviour, or where they’ve come from, or their attitude… People often can’t hold their own emotions, they’ll scream and shout, and project, and you have to be big enough to emotionally hold them and be patient with them.

A case that I found really interesting, probably about 7 years ago, was a grooming case in Oxford, where there were young girls being groomed by Asian gangs. The girls were quite chaotic when they were being interviewed by the police, and the police didn’t really “hold” them. Then another police officer came in and what he did was completely different. He targeted the perpetrators first and took evidence of their behaviours and then he went to the girls and said, “We believe you, we know what’s been happening to you, because we’ve seen it,” and the girls felt safe and they felt held. That’s a huge difference, because often people from chaotic homes will be up and down, you just have to be patient and hold them, be kind and understanding and actually believe them. Just because they’re chaotic and their behaviour might be dysfunctional doesn’t mean they’re not telling the truth.

Watch The Real Prime Suspect S1 + S2 episodes on Saturday, 29 August and Sunday, 30 August on CBS Justice (DStv 170) from 16:00 on 29 August

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