Visible Women

“The John Worboys ruling will force police to take rape survivors seriously”

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Moya Crockett
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The Supreme Court has ruled that the Metropolitan Police must pay compensation to two women attacked by ‘black cab rapist’ John Worboys. It’s a hugely important step in securing justice for survivors, says Digital Women’s Editor Moya Crockett.

It took 15 years, but the women finally won. Known only as DSD and NBV, they are just two of the many victims of John Worboys, the former London black cab driver who is thought to have raped and sexually assaulted more than 100 women. On Wednesday, these women emerged triumphant from a “landmark” Supreme Court battle against the Metropolitan Police, which they successfully argued owed them compensation after breaching their human rights in its handling of their case.

Worboys, known as the ‘black cab rapist’ was jailed in 2009 after being convicted of 19 drugging and sexual offences against 12 women (including one count of rape). Police believe he may have had as many as 105 victims between 2002 and 2008; campaigners say the actual figure could be even higher. For years, DSD and NBV have contended that the Met failed to properly investigate the reports of rape they filed in 2003 and 2007, causing them serious mental harm and allowing the taxi driver to go on to attack even more women.

DSD was one of Worboys’ first victims. Addressing the police at the Supreme Court, she powerfully highlighted the impact of their failure to effectively investigate her allegation against Worboys.

“It has been an emotional day. Fifteen years,” she said. “Had you done your job properly, there wouldn’t have been 105 victims, there would be one. I can take the one. I can’t take the 105.”

She added that when police dropped her case in 2003, she had warned that Worboys would attack again. But, she said, “never in my wildest dreams did I think there would be so many women harmed”.   

Harriet Wistrich, the lawyer for DSD and NBV, described the ruling as “a very, very important judgment”

The disrespectful, sloppy and re-traumatising way in which the police have admitted to handling the women’s claims is deeply disturbing. NBV was a 19-year-old student when she was drugged and raped by Worboys in 2007, and a 2010 ruling by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found that officers had not taken her seriously in part because they believed that a black cab driver “would not commit such an offence”. She has said that officers laughed at her when she described her injuries; one recorded that “it [was] a mystery” as to how Worboys’ drugs had got into her system.

Similarly, DSD told the IPCC that she was not believed when she went to the police after being raped by Worboys in 2003: her injuries were not photographed, statements were not taken, and papers were lost. In 2014, the High Court ruled that the Met had failed to interview vital witnesses and collect key evidence in both of the women’s cases, and also didn’t provide officers with sufficient training to handle sexual assault allegations.

DSD had said that this treatment led her to develop a depressive disorder, while NBV alleges that the post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, guilt and depression she was already struggling with after the rape were exacerbated. Both have said that the Met’s handling of their cases left them unable to sustain sexual and romantic relationships. 

But what made this case particularly troubling was the fact that the Met proceeded to take the women – two victims of horrific sexual violence – to court. In 2014, the High Court ruled that DSD and NBV should be paid £41,250 under article 3 of the Human Rights Act, which relates to “inhuman and degrading treatment”.

The Met, however, argued that it should not have to pay the women a penny and lodged a string of appeals, ultimately culminating in this week’s showdown at the Supreme Court. The force said on Wednesday that the Supreme Court case was necessary to provide “clarity on the boundaries of police responsibility”, but human rights groups and women’s charities disagree.

“Having already let these women down in the most horrific way, the Met could have accepted the High Court’s ruling four years ago,” Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, told the BBC after the Supreme Court’s decision. “Instead, they used taxpayers’ money to drag them all the way to the highest court in the land.”

A ‘rape kit’ found in John Worboys’ taxi after his arrest, shown at his trial in 2009

But the women triumphed, and we should raise a toast to their victory. On a basic level, the Supreme Court’s ruling allows two brave survivors of sexual violence to finally breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that they have been heard, understood, believed and vindicated under the law. DSD and NBV can now focus on pursuing a separate judicial review of the Parole Board’s decision to release Worboys from prison after only nine years.

On a larger scale, this ruling will also have major ramifications for how allegations of serious violent crime, including sexual and domestic violence, are handled by police forces across the UK. For the first time, victims who have been seriously failed by a police investigation will have the ability to sue for compensation under the Human Rights Act.

This, in turn, will place additional and necessary pressure on police forces to properly investigate violent crimes, providing victims with increased confidence that allegations of sexual assault, rape and domestic violence will be taken seriously. Currently, only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report it to the police, according to Rape Crisis – something that’s undoubtedly influenced by a fear that they will not be believed.

And so if the only positives to come out of the sordid, sorry story of John Worboys are that cases are more thoroughly investigated and more victims feel empowered and supported to come forward, then that’s something to celebrate. Congratulations, DSD; thank you, NBV. We might not know your names, but we know that your bravery has made a difference.

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign is dedicated to raising awareness of women who’ve made a difference, celebrating their success, and empowering future generations to follow their lead. See more from Visible Women here.  

Images: Rex Features