Lack of menstruation care in police custody could lead to women accepting cautions because they need to change their tampons.
Earlier this year, the charity The Independent Custody Visiting Association released a report exposing the difficulties women in police custody have in accessing sanitary protection following arrest. They found that women on their periods were having to improvise with tissues and socks to stem menstrual flow, or were left to bleed out.
At best, this is embarrassing and degrading for women in an already frightening and stressful situation.
At worst, anecdotal evidence from the ICVA suggested women could be accepting cautions in order to go home from custody so they can be clean, or use their own toilet to change their tampon.
Most women in police custody are held in tiled cells with a toilet and observed by CCTV. Women should be told that a pixelated area will cover the toilet on the CCTV footage. However, this advice isn’t always passed on – leading to women feeling deeply uncomfortable about changing their sanitary products. One woman in South Wales reported not using the toilet during her stay in custody, because she was not informed the CCTV feed was pixelated.
“We’ve heard anecdotal stores of that happening,” Police and crime commissioner and ICVA chair, Martyn Underhill, told me over the phone, referring to women forgoing legal protection to get out of custody as quickly as possible. “And it wouldn’t surprise me. We know menstruation is a massive part of a female’s life. If you’re feeling dirty you would take your quickest option out which may be a caution.”
Underhill was “absolutely staggered” when he learnt that women in police custody were being left to bleed out with little or no access to sanitary protection. “Custody centres are traumatic places anyway,” he told me, “without debasing somebody so much they can’t keep themselves clean.”
“This impacts on justice for women,” he continued. “The implications of this aren’t just about hygiene. It is impacting on our justice system and fairness.”
However, change is happening – and the recognition of women’s specific needs in police custody will soon be recognised in legislation.
Since the ICVA’s initial report, the Home Office is reviewing the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) codes and legislation to recognise that women in custody have specific needs, in an effort to make sure every woman gets the menstrual care and dignity she requires. In a statement, former home secretary Amber Rudd explained “I was absolutely clear as home secretary that changes needed to be made to guarantee women’s access to sanitary protection and associated privacy.”
Further, on Monday the College of Policing updated their existing national guidance to better reflect the needs of female detainees. Libby Potten, the policing standards manager for criminal justice at the college, told me the new guidelines include “specific guidance that custody officers and staff should give ‘special consideration’ to the needs of detainees who are menstruating – including ensuring they have access to menstrual products and associated privacy”.
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Source:: New Statesman