Police officers may encounter sexual and gender minority users of social networking platforms when they report incidents of online abuse or harm. These may also qualify as hate incidents or hate crimes. What users require is sincere recognition of their identity, and acknowledgement of their status as a victim
What do sexual and gender minority users of social networking sites need from the police?
Police officers may encounter sexual and gender minority users of social networking platforms when they report incidents of online abuse or harm. These may also qualify as hate incidents or hate crimes. What users require is sincere recognition of their identity, and acknowledgement of their status as a victim. It is critical that a user’s identity not be queried or questioned. Victimisation via a social networking site can be as serious as victimisation through in-person encounters. However, victims may not expect, and possibly not want, a police investigation or direct enforcement action against a suspect following their complaint. A well-intentioned but over-zealous investigation can expose individual users and minority communities to further abuse. Principally, they require official recognition and recording of the incident against them. Therefore, legal action should be take only following discussion with the victim and alternative courses of action discussed. Victims of online harm may benefit more from referral to victim support services.
When is investigation and action against an offender or suspect appropriate?
Police action against an offender or suspect is generally more likely to be appropriate when dealing with incidents relating to in-person interactions that were facilitated online or continued in an unwanted way online. This includes communications involving the malicious disclosure of personal information and/or images on social networking sites, and threats of physical harm made through social networking sites. In some circumstances, a warning from the police is sufficient to stop malicious or threatening behaviour and deter future unwanted interactions. A police communication can highlight that online behaviour is taken as seriously as in-person behaviour.
What can police forces do to provider a better service for sexual and gender minority victims of crime and abuse?
Police officers and civilian staff should receive regular training about the lifestyle and particular vulnerabilities that minorities face from established institutions and charities that effectively represent minority sexual and gender communities.