Help save lives like Gaia's: demand a rape unit in Dorset that puts survivors first

Help save lives like Gaia's: demand a rape unit in Dorset that puts survivors first

11 July 2022
Petition to
Scott Chilton (Chief Constable for Dorset Police)
Signatures: 4,018Next Goal: 5,000
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Why this petition matters

Started by Justice For Gaia

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  1. Join the call for the Gaia Principle to help win change on a national level with our quick letter writing tool
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After the inquest into Gaia’s death exposed so many failings within Dorset Police, not only to prosecute her rapist but also to protect and support her, it’s time for them to make some serious changes.

Over the past ten years, the number of sex offenses reported to Dorset Police has doubled, making this the most commonly reported criminal offence in Dorset. Meanwhile, the number of cases being charged has halved and we still do not have a specialist unit within the force that is properly trained to support survivors and investigate sexual violence and abuse. As a result, our community is not being properly protected and lives like Gaia’s are being put at risk. 

Please join us in calling on Dorset Police to step up for survivors and:

  1. Invest in a specialist Rape & Serious Sexual Offenses (Rasso) Unit, staffed by officers who are properly trained to investigate abuse and support survivors.
  2. Embed Operation Soteria principles across Dorset Police to make investigations more thorough and improve support for victims and the wider community.
  3. Publish a plan to implement the new National Policing Framework for Violence Against Women, to ensure that transparency and accountability which is vital since these measures are designed to improve public confidence in the police. We want local groups to have a seat at the table to help make sure it does what it’s supposed to: improve investigation of serial sex offenders; support a call-out culture for sexism and misogyny in the police; and improve processes for hearing concerns and complaints. 

Gaia’s Story

{Content warning: references to sexual violence, no descriptions.}

Gaia was a beloved daughter, sister and friend. She was bright, brave, kind, creative and fiercely loyal to those she loved. She was passionate about science and nature and was a gifted artist. Gaia was the sort of child who, if someone was being bullied in the playground, would always stand up for them.

Gaia was also a survivor who was badly failed by Dorset Police, from the moment she reported she had been groomed and raped by what turned out to be a known child sex offender, right up until her disappearance and death in November 2017 when she was just nineteen years old. During those two years, Gaia -  

  • Was discriminated against because the trauma of the rape left her with severe mental health challenges
  • Was questioned by Dorset Police about whether she had drunk alcohol on the occasion of the rape
  • Was refused any updates about the wider investigation into the perpetrator, against whom several other victims had come forwards
  • Was left to wait for five months before Dorset Police told her they would not take any further action on her case and that there was no point in exercising her Victim’s Right to Review their decision
  • Was told by Dorset Police that it would be “very traumatic” for her to testify in court, as they described how the rapist’s defence lawyer would humiliate her
  • Was repeatedly refused any sort of protective order even though the perpetrator, who had threatened to kill her, was still harassing her via social media
  • Was refused any updates about the perpetrator’s release date from prison, once he had been convicted for unrelated child sex offenses for which he served half his sentence, only to re-offend and be convicted once again
  • Was refused any reassurances about whether investigations were under way to support the large number people who later came forwards with allegations that the same man had harassed or assaulted them or their daughters

Without access to justice or appropriate support, Gaia’s mental health continued to deteriorate and the chronic epilepsy from which she suffered was worsened by stress. On 2 November 2017, she contacted Dorset Police again after being sent indecent images on social media by a man she did not know. Despite everything she had been through and the fact she was very unwell and experiencing flashbacks to the rape, Gaia was determined to report because she saw this as another chance to do her part to protect others.

Gaia was told that arrangements would be made for her to speak to someone at the police station on 7 November, after which she was due to visit her GP to request more support for her mental health. But when the day came, there was no record of the incident or the appointment on the police computer system and despite a number of phone calls from Gaia and her family, no one could clarify the details and they were repeatedly put through to the wrong police officer. When he spoke to her, PC Lee Lawrence failed to recognise that Gaia was in the midst of a serious mental health crisis, assumed she was making things up and ultimately hung up on her.

For some reason, there is no recording of that call but giving evidence at the inquest into her death four years later, PC Lawrence said that he had had “absolutely no concern” for her wellbeing and had imagined her as “giggling teenage girl” playing jokes. In other call recordings played at the inquest into Gaia’s death, PC Lawrence was heard telling colleagues that he thought Gaia and her family were “taking the piss” and “talking absolute rubbish.” He instructed the call centre not to transfer any more calls from them.

Within a few hours of this, Gaia disappeared from Swanage distressed, disorientated and traumatised. Following an enormous search operation by police, rescue agencies and the local community, Gaia’s body was found eleven days later, by which time she had died of hypothermia.

While the inquest into Gaia’s death exposed a litany of failures in Dorset Police’s response to her disappearance, it failed to examine why Gaia went missing in the first place and the root cause of her deteriorating physical and mental health: the trauma of the rape, her treatment by Dorset Police and their repeated failure to support her as a vulnerable adult who had been a victim of child sexual exploitation and had been asking them for help. Time after time, Gaia fell through the cracks in the system and eventually, she died there. This must not be allowed to happen to anyone else.

What is a Rasso Unit and why do we need one?

Dorset Police has a concerning track record when it comes to safeguarding survivors of abuse. Since 2015 in Dorset, at least two women have been murdered and one woman raped following safeguarding failures by the force, and it’s not just perpetrators in the community who aren’t being held to account. More than 40 Dorset Police officers have been reported for crimes including domestic abuse, sexual harassment and rape and the majority of these have not even been formally disciplined at work, let alone convicted.

8 in 10 rape survivors never report and for many this is due to a lack of confidence in the ability of the police to help them. This is hardly surprising when less than 1% of rapes reported to the police result in conviction. In 2020, Dorset Police only pressed charges in 28 of the 782 rape reports they received.

To protect not only victims but also our wider community, people must feel safe to report, so Dorset Police needs to show it’s serious about tackling abuse. That means we need a specialist Rape and Serious Sexual Offenses (Rasso) Unit to help make sure that survivors like Gaia can access officers who are appropriately trained to investigate these crimes and support them rather than discriminate against them.

Jayne Butler, chief executive of Rape Crisis England & Wales, says: “The lack of rape and serious sexual offences units is of extreme concern at a time when public confidence in police is at an all-time low. Properly trained and specialist police officers play an important role for victims and survivors, through making them feel believed and supported in their criminal justice journey. In addition, understanding the impact of trauma and trauma responses, rape myths and stereotypes, and systemic sexism and misogyny must all be key features of regular and consistent police training, ideally delivered by specialist sexual violence and abuse services, across all police force areas.”

What is Operation Soteria?

Operation Soteria (formerly known as Soteria Bluestone) was launched as a response to the government’s End-to-End Rape Review, which exposed serious failings in the way British police forces investigate sex offenses. It took an evidence based approach, listening to the experiences of victims and survivors, to develop a new national operating model for the investigation of rape and serious sexual assault.

Dorset Police is one of fourteen local forces who have committed to expanding Soteria in their area but there is not much information available about what Dorset Police is actually doing to implement these vital changes. We want more transparency around this process and independent oversight from local and national women’s organisations, including Justice For Gaia.

What is the National Policing Framework for Violence Against Women (VAWG)?

Launched in December 2021 by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the VAWG Framework set out actions required from every police force in a bid to make women and girls safer and improve the way officers engage with victims and survivors. These include:

  • Proactively targeting high-risk perpetrators and improving protections for victims and survivors by tackling victim blaming and making preventative measures, like stalking and domestic violence prevention orders, more accessible to those at risk.
  • Supporting a call out culture to challenge sexism and misogyny in policing, by demanding a robust response to all allegations of police-perpetrated abuse, which is now the single biggest form of police corruption dealt with by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
  • Listening more to women & girls who have lost confidence in policing, including consultation with specialist women’s organisations, survivor advocates and Black and minoritised women.

These are measures that women’s organisations have long fought for and to make sure that they are implemented properly and that changes are meaningful and effective, we need local women’s groups including Justice for Gaia to have a seat at the table and we need transparency for the public, which is why we are calling on Dorset Police’s Chief Constable to publish their action plan. 

Follow and support Justice for Gaia via Facebook, twitter and Instagram and learn more via our website

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Signatures: 4,018Next Goal: 5,000
Support now


  • Scott ChiltonChief Constable for Dorset Police