Shana Grice was 19 when she died. Her body was found in her bedroom, which had been set alight in Portslade, East Sussex. The upsetting details of how she died – her throat was slit – last August have been repeatedly reported in the national press since her ex-boyfriend, Michael Lane, 27, was put on trial last week for her murder. He denies the charge.
What the jury have heard so far at Lewes Crown Court has been harrowing: that Lane discovered Grice’s body slumped against her bed, in the house she shared with her friends. That he failed to call 999, and instead left the house to check if he’d won on a lottery ticket at a nearby corner shop. He went into shock and “didn’t know what to do”, he said.
And then, something else. An insight into the months preceding Grice’s death – the multiple times that she contacted police, asking for help. In February 2016, when Lane left unwanted flowers, hid outside her house and left a note on her new boyfriend's car. The following month, when Grice reported that Lane had assaulted her – which he denied. Instead of protection, she was given a fine – a fixed penalty notice – for wasting police time, after she didn't tell them that she and Lane were in an on/off relationship.
It continued. On July 9 Grice called police, who cautioned Lane for stealing a key to Grice’s house, letting himself in and watching her sleeping. The very next day, when Grice reported to authorities that she was receiving intimidating phone calls from a withheld number. Two days after that, when she rang police again to say that Lane was following her. Again, she wasn’t afforded protection. She was deemed “low risk”. Just over a month later she was dead.
Survivors say, again and again, believe us. What will it take for that to happen? What will it take for the focus to go from “what did she do to protect herself?” to “why is no one else protecting her?”
Only the jury can decide what happened the night that she died – the trial is still ongoing. But regardless of the verdict, the months before Grice's death are revealing, and infuriatingly familiar. Shana Grice was not only disbelieved by those she thought she could trust, but penalised by them for reporting behaviour that scared her.
It’s barely a year since Theresa May, speaking in her former position of Home Secretary, called for police treatment of domestic abuse victims to be investigated due to “shameful attitudes” within the force. Women’s Aid have said repeatedly that reports of abuse are not taken seriously enough. Survivors say, again and again, believe us. What will it take for that to happen? What will it take for the focus to go from “what did she do to protect herself?” to “why is no one else protecting her?”
Widespread and accepted notions that victims are not to be trusted are driving abuse into a shadowy descent underground, and shaming women into silence. We should not be discouraged when it comes to reporting abuse and asking for help – and help is out there. It's just that there are still too many instances where failings need to be overcome. Why do we speak up, when the system that we put our faith in refuses to listen? Police attitudes matter, because what the powerful say influences the rest of us. When they are dismissive of women's reports, or refuse to take them seriously, it can't be a surprise that those attitudes are reflected into society, and women find themselves undermined by their peers too. Being fined, and publicly humiliated for trying to protect ourselves – or seeing others face this type of treatment – strips back the confidence we have in authorities and justice, and puts that power straight back to the hands of our abusers.
Whatever the outcome of the trial, that this insight into some police attitudes towards victims of abuse has been brought to light should be a wake up call. The reason we have open court is because justice needs to be not just done, but to be seen to be done – our system is up for public scrutiny. Now is the time that we need to scrutinise, and challenge attitudes and behaviour towards abuse. The insidious culture of disbelieving women, and victim-blaming, and failing to act, has to stop.