A women’s group is predicting an upsurge in violent and sexual crime appearing to be committed by women as police forces are allowing offenders to choose whether they are recorded as male or female rather than by their biological sex.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council has confirmed that when it comes to ‘gender’, “as a general rule we will accept the details that an individual provides to us and treat them accordingly”, with implications for how crime is recorded as well as how police officers must cater for transgender individuals in custody.
Body searches on a biological male who identifies as a transgender woman should be conducted by a woman officer, for instance, even though the majority of transgender individuals remain physically intact.
“It could lead to an increase in violent crime committed by women when the perpetrators are actually biological males,” says Dr Nicola Williams of Fair Play for Women, a campaign group working to retain women’s right to sex segregated services and facilities. “That could have a profound impact on how women are viewed by society, if they are seen to be becoming more aggressive, as well as on the allocation of resources.”
Freedom of Information requests by the organisation showed that of the 43 forces contacted, all 11 of those that replied with data allowed people taken into custody to decide the sex by which they were registered, although at least one said a previous record could not be changed if an offender had since identified as transgender.
Problems with how offenders are recorded were highlighted after a vicious assault took place on London’s transport network during the summer in which a man was beaten to the ground and suffered a broken eye socket. The alleged perpetrators were described in a statement by British Transport Police as a group of four women.
Questions were raised by the public, however, when mobile phone camera footage and photographs accompanying media coverage appeared to show people with the physical appearance and strength of males although dressed in female attire.
British Transport Police at first claimed to be following legislation set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in recording offenders’ sex according to their own definition. The section quoted, however, refers only to body searches.
The force then cited NPCC guidance for Northern Ireland, England and Wales that states: ‘If there is any question over the detained person’s gender you should ask the individual in which gender they wish to be addressed. A person who is ‘en femme’ may be comfortable with their male birth gender and wish to be treated as such…
Never assume sex or gender identity, each trans person will be unique in how they want to be treated.’
Amanda Jones, a barrister at Great James Street Chambers in London, says the policy is “legally incoherent” and breaching obligations under public sector equality duty.
“The relevant authorities haven’t thought through the purposes of recording this information and its uses,” said Ms Jones, who is acting in a proposed case against the Labour Party over its policy of allowing transgender members onto all women shortlists. “For example, the percentage of offences committed according to sex is now meaningless data and that has an impact such as in planning for refuges and witness support which depends on from whom you need to protect those people,” she said.
“The number of women offenders of any violent or sexual crimes is so small that a few males being counted as women could make a significant statistical difference,” Mrs Jones added, pointing out that transgender people offend at the same rate as their biological sex. “And
if you don’t know how violent women are really being you can’t make accurate assessments about how then to tackle it.”
Ms Jones said the police are effectively pre-empting possible amendments to legislation. A public consultation into the Gender Recognition Act is currently underway to decide if people can ‘self-identify’ as the opposite sex, rather than living as such for two years and obtaining a medical diagnosis as the act requires now. But the consultation doesn’t end until next month and the Government has signalled it is unlikely to allow self-identification.
National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues, Assistant Chief Constable Julie Cooke said:: “Police forces have processes in place to verify the details provided and where there is an objective, honestly held doubt about a person’s gender then every effort will be made to establish that person’s gender identity.
“There is no evidence to suggest that recording a person’s gender based on the information that they provide will have an impact on national crime statistics due to the low numbers involved.”
A spokesperson for British Transport Police said: “The police service recognises that people should be able to self-identify. However, officers apply a common sense approach that reflects the individual circumstances they are dealing with.”