Conducting a “Digital Strip Search” Should Not Be Compulsory

It has been found that in the UK police have been dropping rape and sexual assault cases if survivors won’t hand over their phone to be investigated i.e. consent to a digital strip search. 

Let that sink in for a second…

The practice of police insisting a survivor hand over their phone to authorities has been termed a “digital strip search” by Big Brother Watch and I have to agree.

If you don’t understand why, let’s explore it.

Most people would prefer for the police to not look through their phone. None of us are perfect and we have intimate conversations through our phones. There are all kinds of messages and photos we’d rather keep private. Which is why insisting on looking at this information is a digital strip search. If we haven’t broken the law, why shouldn’t it be kept private?

I can already hear people saying “If you have really been raped or sexually assaulted, you would do anything to get them convicted!”

Let’s look at what rape and sexual assault survivors already have to do before they get to the point of the police asking for their phone and to conduct a digital strip search.

We live in a society that inherently does not believe survivors. We see it in every form of media, in the people around us and even in ourselves. 1 in 5 women have experienced some type of sexual violence. But if those women choose to say something it is very likely they will be met with a reply that shuts them down. The stereotype of survivors is horrific.

They are told:

It was just banter…

You led them on…

It was just a misunderstanding…

You’re just being a slut…

And worse.

Some women may not even believe that themselves before they tell anyone because we are so conditioned to deny sexual violence. Survivors blame themselves and other people blame survivors when they shouldn’t. Rape and sexual assault happen no matter how much it is denied. And it happens a lot.

If a survivor pushes through the barrier of self-blame and the barrier of other people in their life denying what happened to them. They have to feel like they trust the authorities enough to go to them for help. Only 15% report. It is so hard to trust that the authorities will believe you and take it seriously when survivors are incorrectly represented as a laughing stock in society. When you do report you have to go into the details of one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a person for your statement and then repeat it during a trial.

If it is taken to trial.

After all that survivors have been through, we can’t expect them to hand over their phone like a criminal. The expectations of how survivors should act are so restrictive it feels like the police are trying to judge survivors to see if “they act like they’ve been raped.” It is incredibly intrusive.

I did not follow the perception of how someone should act after they had been raped and I was terrified that the police would find this on my phone and use it against me. Firstly, I did not think it was rape until I was told by police (after telling them about a different offence the same individual had committed) that the incident I had described was rape. I did not confront the person about it or tell anyone else at the time. 

But the pressure to act like I had been raped to prove it to other people was overwhelming.

Not every rape case will rely on phone evidence. This digital strip search is not always necessary. It should not be the ending point of investigations. Since when did a phone make or break the decision of consent or non-consent? If the police do think it is vital they should explain that to survivors and reassure them of what from among their private information they will take.

We shouldn’t be exposing victims, we should be supporting them. It is not the survivor’s responsibility to convict their own rape case. Society puts them through enough. I wrote another piece about victim responses to sexual assault because it is such an issue. 

Leave a Reply