BBC Series The Met Tackles Tricky Taboo

Trigger warning: In a month where every one of us has praised and thanked the emergency services for their selfless bravery when helping others and keeping us safe and politicians have debated funding and resources for these vital services ahead of the general election #GE2017, all eyes are on gritty BBC series The Met, which provides a behind the scenes look at life for London's police force.

The Met tackles a sensitive subject this week as they support
a woman with Down's syndrome 

Every so often such a fly on the wall documentary highlights a painful issue, one that unites the public in disgust. Our collective humanity is strengthened by our revulsion towards those that harm others, and nothing ignites the nation’s emotions further than witnessing wrongdoing against the vulnerable. When the topic is abuse of children for example, we gather together in our resolve to protect them, to throw a safety net around them, to keep a watchful eye out for those who wish to cause them harm.
 “ Unless we are outraged, unless we know uncomfortable truths, how can we rail against them, prevent them from ever happening again.”

Yet there are many other equally vulnerable members of our society that need the same level of support, protection and vigilance. Abuse of the elderly, the sick and those with a learning disability is commonplace, yet it is perhaps less visible, not discussed as often, or perhaps people simply don’t want to believe it’s happening.

The Met this week dares to bring a sickening crime out into the open as it follows their rape unit Sapphire as they investigate the assault of a young woman who has Down’s syndrome.

As with any taboo subject, it is very uncomfortable viewing.
It highlights the vulnerabilities of adults with a learning disability living independently as well as showing up where additional support is needed to enable them to live the lives they choose, portrays the pressures and constraints on our incredible emergency forces and is living proof of how specialist support is needed to counsel and gain evidence from victims with communication difficulties. However Jolene, the woman featured, and her family were determined to have their story heard in order to bring about change for others.

I spoke to filmmaker Clare Richards this week to ask her what special measures she took when making such a sensitive piece for television. (You can read our interview with Clare who filmed A World Without Down's here.)
 
Clare Richards filmed The Met episode that includes the Sapphire Unit


Why do you feel stories like Jolene’s to be such a vital part of the Police series?

“I worked on the first series of The Met and one of the units that we weren’t able to work with was Sapphire, the rape unit. For me it was important to include these crimes because they are as serious as murder. The victims have to live with the ordeal and the humiliation for the rest of their lives. These are very difficult and sensitive crimes for the detectives to deal with too.  Rape is under-reported and although conviction rates are going up, they are still low. I hoped that including Jolene’s story other women would feel able to come forward.

When the second series came around Sapphire was approached again and this time we were given access to work with detectives and their teams who were happy to be filmed as cases came in. I was on call with DC Dave Fall when he picked up Jolene’s case. “


How do you go about filming these stories?

"We film in teams of two with small cameras and no lights and record as things happen. It’s called observational filmmaking which means we keep out of the way. We film as the detectives investigate but we can’t always film everything or things happen that we can’t be there for so we work with the police to pick up interviews if there are in any gaps."


What safeguards do you put in place when working with victims like Jolene and her family?

“When filming highly sensitive cases such as these our approach is to film the detective work but not approach the victims until it’s appropriate and only if such a moment arises. We can only broadcast the case with the consent of the victim, who may remain anonymous if they choose, and only if there is a guilty verdict. In this casewe gained consent to film and the perpetrator was found guilty.

The Met approached Jolene, her mum and support worker early on to let them know we had been filming and to ask their permission for us to carry on and if she wanted, to film her interactions with the police.

Jolene wanted to film from the very beginning and has been unwavering in her commitment to her case being broadcast ever since. We have consented and re-consented at every stage of the process and the Met have independently gone through this process with her as well.”


How important is it to get these stories right?  

“I recently made the documentary A World Without Down’s Syndrome with Sally Phillips for BBC2 and felt I fully understand what Down’s syndrome means and what bringing up a child with the condition involves, as well as the sensitivities the Down’s syndrome community face.

The whole process of getting this story on air took months of consideration and deliberation and we knew we had to take the process of filming it step by step.


What positive outcomes arose from the programme in your eyes?

“Jolene and her family really did get something positive out of filming. She was totally unfazed by the camera was proud to show me her home that she was so keen to get back into after the case was complete. In many ways being a part of the programme helped her work through what had happened, and her family felt it gave her something positive to focus on. In their opinion something good came out of a situation that had been very distressing for all concerned.  

If we want to live in a more tolerant, inclusive society then we mustn’t be afraid to show and talk about the most taboo areas within it.  I genuinely feel it will help provide better support for the most vulnerable.”

 *****



For me watching tonight’s episode of The Met raised a lot of emotions. They ranged from fear, to anger and frustration, I wondered if victims with a learning disability needed a different approach to questioning altogether, but overwhelmingly it left me with a resolve to continue working with others to create better support networks for those valuable members of our communities that need a little extra help.

Jolene has lived independently for years because she chooses to. She's more streetwise and london-savvy than I am. There are systems put in place by the local council and by her family to make sure she is protected.Yet her story shows the cruel and unpredictable challenges that life throws us. 

Kindness and compassion goes a long way to enable everyone to live safely and as independently as they wish, that and a belief in their capabilities with the right support. The programme highlighted that neighbours look out for each other, they do care for one another. It showed that we all rely on the tireless work of the police to keep us safe, and that they too need better support, resources and knowledge in order to protect us all in an equitable way.

So in many ways the bravery to create a film, and to be featured in that film, talking about a story that taps into our deepest fears is important, because these narratives have the power to change outcomes for the better for others. To waves one's right to anonymity is a big decision, but Jolene and her family felt is far outweighed the risks of featuring publicly.

It takes resilience and a belief in the best possible outcomes to do that. 



If you have been affected by the topics raised in the programme, visit the BBC support page here.

The Down's Syndrome Association have produced a leafltet called Staying Safe from Sexual Abuse.

You might be interested to also read our post Tackling Disablist Hate Crimein conjunction with Victim Support



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