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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Violence on the streets

May 20 2009
New poice code of conduct to focus on reducing victimisation of rough sleepers The Home Office is looking to develop a new Code of Conduct and Guidance for police officers, focusing in part on the need to reduce crime and victimisation of rough sleepers. While crime levels are dropping across the UK, the level of crime directed towards rough sleepers - including theft, burglary, damage to property, and sexual assault - has increased. Almost one in 10 rough sleepers is sexually assaulted every year. While the figures are difficult to pin down, the general public is believed to be responsible for a higher proportion of violent crime. However, many criminal acts often go unreported by the victim. Sexual violence, for example, is often under-reported due to issues over shame and stigma. A lack of trust in the police has also led many to be reluctant in seeking assistance and denouncing any episode of violence they have experienced. The assumption that no one will offer help, or that they will be disbelieved, has meant that few people seek out help, advice or medical care. By contrast, rough sleepers are often seen as a cause of crime. Recent discussions of anti-social behaviour have only served to emphasise the notion of homeless individuals as criminals. Just few weeks ago, the government was accused of issuing a contradictory policy. While Communities Secretary, Ruth Kelly, asked for more accommodation for homeless youths, the home secretary, John Reid, declared he would evict them if they committed antisocial behaviour. Another barrier to end the victimisation of rough sleepers is represented by the frequent link between the homeless and violent crime often seen in the local and national press. Despite having abandoned the most blatant stereotypical and caricatured representations, much of the mainstream media still sustain and support the idea of homeless as fraudulent and criminal. Although trust in the police and authorities is fragile, "individuals are encouraged to report street crimes to the police, as victims or witnesses," according to Malcolm Barnard, inspector of the Homeless Unit at Charing Cross, which the Metropolitan Police created in central London in 1990. To achieve equality of protection Inspector Barnard says the police "also accept reports of crimes from third parties, such as outreach workers at the day centres. " However, the desire to keep a distance from the police for fear of attracting unwelcome attention remains, and if and when a report is made, there continues to be a great sense of dissatisfaction with the police response.
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