Rape victims ‘paying mobile bills for months while police search phones’
Rape victims are being forced to pay mobile phone bills for months after their devices are taken away for examination by police, an investigation has found.
Survivors can be left hundreds of pounds out of pocket while investigators scan their phones for evidence, with many saying they are unable to easily cancel contracts, the Sunday Post newspaper has reported.
Rape Crisis Scotland accused some companies of making “deeply unethical” profits by not pausing contract payments on phones held by police, the paper said.
Support charities are now calling for “clear procedures to ensure mobile phone companies cannot profit in this way from sexual violence victims’ traumatic experiences”.
Katie Russell, from Rape Crisis England and Wales, said she had “grave concerns” about the issue, which was “paralleled here in England and Wales”.
She said requiring victims to hand over their devices is “putting some survivors off reporting and causing others to withdraw from the criminal justice process”.
Ms Russell said: “As people who report sexual offences are commonly being told, it is unlikely their case will be properly investigated unless they hand over their devices and allow a full download of their contents.
“Those who’ve been through these traumatic crimes are being faced with an impossible choice between their right to pursue justice and their right to privacy, as well as the privacy of their friends, families, colleagues.
“The whole process can feel distressing and even re-traumatising for many.
“Added to all this, the huge financial burden of having to pay for a mobile contract for a phone to which they don’t have access often for many months piles yet more stress and worry on those who’ve already been through so much.”
Earlier this year, campaigners called for urgent reform to so-called digital strip searches.
Digital disclosure consent forms introduced to all 43 police forces across England and Wales informed victims refusing to give investigators access to their messages, photographs, emails and social media accounts could mean prosecutions are halted.
Groups including Big Brother Watch and Amnesty International said only specific information relevant to the crime should be required and that the blanket, mass downloading of personal information including health records could deter victims coming forward.
Big Brother Watch said the average person’s smartphone contains the equivalent of 30,000 A4 pages and police forces were currently “swamped by vast amounts of irrelevant information”.
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