Former Hampshire police officer sexually assaulted by sergeant describes fear of not being believed

  • Watch the full interview with Rhianon Argent

A former police officer who was sexually assaulted by a colleague while on a night shift has described being too frightened to report what happened over fears of repercussions in what she has deemed a 'boys club where everyone looks after their own.'

Rhianon Argent has waived her right to anonymity to share her story of how a senior colleague abused his position of power - sexually assaulting her in a patrol car.

It comes after shocking figures obtained by ITV Meridian through a Freedom of Information Request revealed disturbing and damaging evidence of sexual misconduct in our police forces.

Rhianon joined Hampshire Police as a trainee officer, describing her decision to join the police as 'a lifelong commitment'.

"I had that ambition to be that sort of modern day superhero because that's naively what I believed being a police officer was going to bring me," she said.

"It was going to be a lifelong commitment and one I was absolutely happy to make."

But for Rhianon, who's also known as Rio, her excitement faded quickly after being signed off.

"They were happy that for me to be working independently and I no longer needed a tutor, that's when my opinion changed.

"It was being the only female and being so young on shift, you just completely alienated and it was kind of used against me and I think that's when I noticed the misogyny and the culture kind of begin.

"Then the text messages started - I received messages on my personal phone from a number I didn't have saved and the person that had got my number was the officer that went on to assault me.

"He had used his responsibility and therefore his access to an internal HR portal to get my mobile number."

Rio when she first qualified as a police officer. Credit: Rhianon Argent

Rio says despite having some 'positive conversations' with her colleague, he continued to send her inappropriate messages which escalated into more and more flirtatious content.

And though another colleague advised her to report the messages, Rio said she thought she could deal with it herself without raising anyone's suspicions.

"We're in 2023 now, but at the time if you said something about a man and his behaviour, you were a prude or you were the problem or you couldn't take a joke," Rio said.

"So at the time I was like, 'no, I'm fine. I can deal with this on my own. I'll just limit the replies or I'll just maybe tell him myself at some point.'"

Then one evening when Rio was on a night shift, the sergeant deliberately orchestrated it so they were crewed together on patrol.

Describing what happened Rio said: "Shortly after we jumped in the area car and we went, we drove out over to the place we were supposed to patrol for the rest of that shift.

"We went into one new or carpark and he turned the engine off, turned every single light off on the car, so the headlights, but also the internal lights, and he started taking items of his own clothing off like his stab vest and doing buttons.

"He reclined his chair all the way back and he kind of propositioned me for certain things verbally and I said, no, I think he got the message and he put the car back on and we drove.

"As we kind of drove out of that car park and turned left and we went down another long and very dark new forest road, he slowed the car down to a crawl so that he didn't need any pedal movement and literally took all hands off of all the controls on the steering wheel and lent over and sexually assaulted me in the car.

  • Rhianon says she noticed a misogynistic culture soon after she qualified.

"It would've been moments, but it felt like minutes, and it took me that long to kind of give the steering wheel a big jolt to the right, which did make the car veer, and that's when he had to kind of get back and control the car.

"In that moment, I had access to lots of different tools and gadgets. I could have sprayed him with CS spray, I had my red button, but as a lot of survivors of sexual assault, worse things than I've experienced, they'll tell you, you just freeze and you keep still.

"I opened the car door and I swung my legs out, but it was just dark. You couldn't even make anything out. And I took my seatbelt off and I put my fleece jacket back on and did buttons back up.

"And I thought to myself, 'well, what's your plan? You can't run somewhere. You don't know where you are running to.'

"But also the culture that was already in place that I'd experienced with the police was, who's going to believe you? What are they going to say? After that point, I got back in the car, I closed the door and I said to him, 'I'm not going to grass on you - please just take me back to the station.

"He drove the car, but we didn't go back to the station. We went to an industrial estate car park, and again, I got out of the car and I ran this time.

"I ran into the corner of this car park and I stopped because it came to sort of a corner where there was nowhere else to run. So I reluctantly walked back and got into the police car, asked him again to take me back to the station.

"At that point I got out and ran inside the station."

Rio said she didn't think anyone would believe her if she reported what happened. Credit: ITV Meridian

It wasn't until about a week later when Rio was crewed with another officer in the same area she was sexually assaulted when she shared what had happened.

Asked if anyone had asked her out within the force, Rio described bursting into tears and revealing everything to her fellow officer, who in turn reported the incident.

Describing the reporting process, Rio said: "I was picked up by the two male officers in a car and I was driven through the New Forest.

"I was asked to take them on the exact route I was taking the night the assault happened, so I did the best job I could and then obviously went into quite a long traumatic video interview.

"My colleagues were interviewed about my personality, so several of them told me that they gave statements and they were asked what I was like to work with, my personality, my behaviour, whether I was flirty."

Rio was called into a meeting with the lead investigator, and was told her attacker had felt embarrassed about what happened, and had been 'found guilty of something'.

"His (inspector) closing remarks to me were 'just some fatherly advice for you, though you are in a male dominated profession and you need to expect a certain amount of male attention'" Rio added.

"From that day on, it was as though I had the mark against my name.

"Everything just reinforced the fact that I couldn't beat this."

  • Rhianon described bumping into the officer who assaulted her after the incident.

"It's a protected boys club where everybody looks after their own and if you speak out, I think there is an extreme fear of repercussions," Rio told us.

"Unless senior leadership go on record and say, actually there is an issue here and bring in independent external bodies to challenge and to hold police officers to account, then you are just going to face this constant corruption forevermore because everyone is protected.

"The hope is younger, newer officers perhaps coming in 2023 and in the future will go in with that attitude that it's okay to challenge.

"It's one of my biggest regrets and there's nothing I can do about it now, but hopefully the young women going into the police now are going in with a different mindset and they will absolutely be the change that the police needs."

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In a statement, a spokesperson for Hampshire Constabulary said: "We are sorry to hear that the impact of this case that was raised in 2007 is still having such an impact today.

"It was investigated thoroughly at the time by our Professional Standards Department and the male officer faced a misconduct hearing and received a formal written warning.

"We have robust systems in place in line with national guidance on inappropriate relationships in the workplace and abuse of position for sexual gain which is embedded within our training programmes and regularly reinforced at all levels within the organisation.

"We have worked, and continue to work, extremely hard as an organisation to ensure people understand the standards of behaviour expected of them, to be ethical and inclusive of all and to give staff the confidence to challenge on the rare occasions when behaviours fall below that which is acceptable.

"We have well-established processes in place to deal with any incidents should they occur.

"We have previously contacted Mrs Argent to see if she would be willing to work with our scrutiny group to look at how we investigate internal cases, and we continue to offer that opportunity to her."