10 years on: Louise Nicholas welcomes final Commission of Inquiry report response video

Louise Nicholas accused police officers of raping her in the 1980s. Today, she is an adviser to police, whose ...
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ

Louise Nicholas accused police officers of raping her in the 1980s. Today, she is an adviser to police, whose transformed ranks now include women in top jobs: like Superintendent Tusha Penny.

Ten years after an inquiry report identified major failings with the way police handled sexual assault cases, police say they have ticked off all of the recommendations.

But, despite a decade of intense reform, both police and victim advocate Louise Nicholas – whose case sparked the inquiry – say there is more work to do.

The findings, in a police report released on Monday, show police have ticked off all 47 recommendations outlined in the 2007 Bazley Report, which looked at ways police could improve sexual assault investigations, create systems for handling complaints about police, improve officers' ethics, behaviour and disciplinary systems, and improve policies and processes for handling sexual assault allegations.

MORNING REPORT/RNZ

A decade of independent scrutiny of how police treat sexual assault victims and how they investigate their own officers is about to end.

"Victims of sexual assault who turn to police today can expect to deal with staff who uphold our values of empathy, professionalism, and respect,"  Police commissioner Mike Bush said, with the release of the report.

READ MORE:
* At last Louise Nicholas gets a guilty verdict - four of them
* Does a low conviction rate for sexual assault deter victims?
* Louise Nicholas: keep talking 'no matter how confronting it is'
* Louise Nicholas story brought to the screen

 
Louise Nicholas leaves the High Court in Auckland after a jury found former police officers Bob Schollum, Brad Shipton ...
WANE DROUGHT/NZPA

Louise Nicholas leaves the High Court in Auckland after a jury found former police officers Bob Schollum, Brad Shipton and then-Assistant Police Commissioner Clint Rickards not guilty on 12 counts of rape and sexual assault against her, in 2006.

The 2007 report was the result of a Commission of Inquiry launched in 2004 after Nicholas accused high-ranking policemen of pack raping her when she was a teenager in Rotorua. The allegations were revealed on the front page of The Dominion Post.

Nicholas alleged the rapes happened during the 1980s, a time, as Dame Margaret Bazley's damning report later found, where a woman complaining of police rape was likely to be disbelieved, and her allegation buried.

Accused officers Brad Shipton, Bob Schollum and then-assistant commissioner Clint Rickards faced a rape trial, and were acquitted in 2006. It later emerged that the jury had not been told Schollum and Shipton were already in prison for raping another woman. 

Dame Margaret Bazley's landmark report criticising police handling of Louise NIcholas' rape allegations is considered ...
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Dame Margaret Bazley's landmark report criticising police handling of Louise NIcholas' rape allegations is considered the catalyst for transformation of the force.

Another former officer, who had first investigated Nicholas' allegations was jailed in 2007 for attempting to obstruct the course of justice.

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The Bazley report recommended widespread attitude change, criticising police handling of Nicholas' allegations, and finding a police culture of scepticism about sexual assault complainants in general.

A decade later, police had taken large strides in improving the handling of sexual assault cases, the latest report found.

In the final report documenting the police response to the Commission of Inquiry, Commissioner Mike Bush says police ...
JARRED WILLIAMSON / FAIRFAX NZ

In the final report documenting the police response to the Commission of Inquiry, Commissioner Mike Bush says police deserved the scrutiny they got and have worked hard to change ever since.

Bush said police did not intend to stop there: there were plans to boost adult sexual assault investigator numbers from the Government's recently announced commitment to funding more officers.

He thanked Nicholas for her courage.

"The changes we have made as an organisation are enduring. More than ever before, we have a healthy, diverse and inclusive culture that puts victims at the heart of everything we do."

Nicholas said she could see that change had occurred.

"In the '80s they were so goddamn judgmental, especially with women. 'If you hadn't been there, if you hadn't been drunk' – that sort of rape myth bollocks. They didn't even investigate, they didn't do their job that they were supposed to do." 

Overall, Nicholas believed today's detectives had a different culture.

"They can own it. I've seen it for myself working alongside the survivors going through the process now, coming across officers – male or female: they are so passionate about these people ... for me it's a breath of fresh air." 

A final external report from the Office of the Auditor General is due later this year. Nicholas expected police would get praise for reform, and a warning against complacency.

"It will say: 'you're moving forward – don't take your foot off the accelerator'."

Rape Prevention Education executive director Debbi Tohill​ said the police deserved recognition.

"We do occasionally get calls from women who don't feel that their complaints were dealt with appropriately, but it's certainly rare. Although it does still happen they have made huge changes."

In the decade since Nicholas told her story, other cases about rape culture and the role of the police have made headlines. The "Roastbusters" case sparked criticism over lack of police response to allegations young Auckland men had boasted online of bedding drunk, underage girls.

Beyond police conduct, issues from rape 'jokes' made by Wellington College schoolboys online, to high profile acquittals have stoked public debate around rape culture.

In 2015, just 13 per cent of sexual assault allegations made to police ended in a conviction.

Other sections of society could learn from the police culture transformation, Tohill said.

"I think that they have made amazing change, and I think there's so many concerns going on at the moment – particularly about consent – I think it's a really big thing for people that they can go to the police. They need to be helped really sensitively, and they need to believed."

WHAT HAS CHANGED?

The number of dedicated adult sexual assault investigators has gone from zero in 2007 to 105 in 2017.

Today women make up one-fifth of officers, including a third of top brass.

The Commissioner is now personally notified of serious allegations against officers. There is an early warning system to weed out officers showing signs of trouble.

There is a system for the public to make complaints, and police say they have created a culture where officers can feel safe to blow the whistle on one another.

Police take regular advice from both Nicholas and fellow survivor Ken Clearwater.

The inquiry also resulted in the establishment of watchdog the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

 - Stuff

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