Derbyshire Police kiss-on-cheek appeal removal criticised
Groups that support sexual assault victims have criticised a police force for withdrawing an appeal that was ridiculed on social media.
Derbyshire Police asked for help finding a man who kissed a woman on the cheek after she helped when his lorry got stuck under a bridge in Matlock.
The appeal was mocked online, with some suggesting the uninvited kiss did not constitute sexual assault.
Women's groups have said removing the appeal was the wrong decision.
Derbyshire Police, which is investigating the kiss as a sexual assault rather than a coronavirus-related offence, had posted the appeal on its website and social media accounts on Saturday morning.
But the force later removed it citing "a significant number of comments that were counterproductive to the nature of the appeal".
Rebecca Hitchen, campaigns manager for the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: "It's not for social media commentators to decide whether a crime has taken place - that is for the police, and most importantly the woman who has experienced the sexual assault."
She said police had missed "an important opportunity to draw clear lines about consent, and what is and isn't acceptable behaviour".
"Women should be able to live their lives free of sexual harassment and assault. This man's actions are unacceptable in any context, but given we're living through a pandemic, his decision to kiss this woman without her consent poses an additional health risk."
Tabitha Morton from the Women's Equality Party said: "Women's voices and concerns are continually undermined and trivialised on-and-off line and the effect is to silence them, to stop them making complaints and to impose barriers to their access to public spaces.
"That the police would bow down to this tactic is frustrating and disappointing."
Rape Crisis said an unsolicited kiss could qualify as sexual assault under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 if someone "intentionally touches another person, the touching is sexual and the other person does not consent to being touched in that way".
A spokesperson said: "Anyone who reports a sexual offence to the police deserves to be treated with respect, empathy and impartiality and to have their report taken seriously and properly investigated."
In response, Derbyshire Police declined to add to their statement on the removal of the appeal, but said the offence remained under investigation and people could still contact them with information.