More than four out of 10 people with mental health issues (45%) have been the victims of crime in the past year, new research has found. The report showed that a third of people with mental health issues have been the victims of crime and one in five were subject to an assault. There were high rates of sexually motivated violence – four out of 10 of women with mental health issues reported that they were the victims of rape or attempted rape.
The three yearlong research was coordinated between the two charities Victim Support and Mind as well as a number of academic bodies. It questioned 361 people with severe mental illness, many of whom had difficult experiences with the support given to them by the police. Some feared that they would be disbelieved, discredited or even as far as being sectioned.
Victim Support chief executive Javed Khan believes that it is ‘nothing short of a national scandal that some of the most vulnerable people in our society become victims of crime so often and yet when they seek help they are met with disbelief or even blame’.
A third of the 81 participants who were interviewed were dissatisfied with some aspect of the police investigation and felt that it was heavily due to their identity. In one particular example from the report, a mother with a severe mental illness phoned the police against her son, he phoned them afterwards and said: ‘No, my mother is mad, don’t come here, that’s how she is’. The police arrived the next day but he had already left.
Poor experiences of reporting crime like this one result in many becoming reluctant to call the police again in the future. Those participants who managed to get their case to court encountered numerous incidents that were stressful including coming into contact with the offender. One female participant was so affected by the defence barrister’s words that she said: ‘it feels like I’m the one who should be put behind bars’.
Commander Christine Jones of the Association of Chief Police Officers said that they have supported this research because ‘mental health in the criminal justice system was not widely understood’. ‘Anyone reporting a crime against them expects to be listened to, taken seriously and treated with respect,’ Jones said. ‘Policing and mental health is high on the agenda’ and by supporting research like this it will help to further understanding.’
Justice Gap reporter and Winchester Journalism student.