Police are “routinely ignoring” the needs of women who are on their periods while being held in custody, according to an independent watchdog.
The Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA) is calling for “swift action” to protect the rights of female detainees, who it says are not getting adequate sanitary care.
The watchdog, which works to help improve conditions in police custody, highlighted the case of one woman who, while on her period, had her clothes and underwear taken from her and was instead dressed in a paper suit — with no access to sanitary products.
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“She was left in a state of vulnerability sufficient to cause concern for her wellbeing, bleeding in a paper suit, alone in a cell,” said the ICVA, in a letter addressed to Home Secretary Amber Rudd that was released on Thursday.
“Women are frequently left without the assistance of female officers, without access to adequate and hygienic sanitary protection, or facilities for washing and changing,” added the ICVA, which has gathered evidence suggesting the failure to provide sanitary care is widespread across England and Wales.
The letter also warned that these failings could be breaching the human rights of women and girls in custody, under the Equality Act 2010, and articles 3, 8, and 14 of the Human Rights Act 1998 — and “appear to fall short of our international obligations to women.”
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Katie Kempen, the chief executive of the ICVA, said: “Dignity in the cells must mean dignity for all. No women or girl should be left bleeding in a cell in indignity simply for want of a difficult conversation or an inexpensive box of tampons.”
The ICVA, which is funded by the Home Office and police and crime commissioners (PCC), said there should be clear guidance for police forces and support to make sure women and girls’ rights are being respected.
As part of this, it is calling for women and girls to be provided with access to a female officer when in custody, a hygiene pack, a regular supply of sanitary products, as well as the opportunity to replace them, facilities where they can wash their hands, privacy when using the toilet —including not being filmed by CCTV — and sensitivity during any strip searches.
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Dame Vera Baird, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, described the lack of consideration of women’s needs as “lamentable.”
“This must immediately stop and police must revise their process,” she said, calling for “action."
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