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It has taken two years, several delays, and involved no meaningful survivor engagement, but the government has finally issued an apology to victims and published its findings and recommendations from the “end-to-end” review of how rape cases are handled in the criminal justice system in England and Wales.
The figures are stark: the latest Home Office data shows 52,210 rapes were recorded in England and Wales in 2020, but only 843 resulted in a charge by the end of the year, that’s fewer than 1 in 60 cases. And those are the cases that make it to court – some women drop out of the system, and many fail to report at all. In particular, there are significant obstacles to justice for those most poorly served by the criminal justice system such as black, minority, deaf and disabled women, among many others.
These are urgent issues to be addressed, but the review’s answer can not be that rape is just a difficult crime to prosecute. In most rape cases, it is not a question of whether sexual intercourse occurred, but whether there was consent or not. This is what, the review claims, can lead to a focus on the victim and their “state of mind” during investigations and prosecutions.
We have seen numerous cases where there has been compelling evidence – multiple victims of the same perpetrator, suspects who had been caught blatantly lying about events, proof of injuries or damage to clothing – and where it seemed highly implausible that the victim would have consented to what was happening, but incredibly decisions were made not to proceed with a charge.
Harmful myths and stereotypes about how “credible” victims behave, and the fact of “one person’s word against another” should not be used to suggest that a prosecution is impossible. Police investigations have too often and for too long failed to place the proper emphasis on suspects and their offending behaviour and history.
A move towards a new model of “suspect-centric” policing is one of the ambitions of the review, and the recommended pilot, Operation Soteria, has the potential to be transformative. However, this is a regional project with limited funding, and it may be years before there is a national rollout.
Because we know what happens in courtrooms has an impact on decision-making at all the preceding stages of a rape investigation, we had hoped there would be more in-depth interrogation into what is going wrong in courts and recommendations to address these issues. This could include a ban on the use of sexual history evidence, and a special commission on juries to consider a range of things, including juror education.
We also know how retraumatising the criminal justice system can be for victims and how intrusive disclosure practices, including “digital strip searches” make them feel like suspects, rather than victims of a crime. The review proposes that victims should no longer be subject to a digital strip search of their communications, and only evidence that is pertinent to a rape case should be used in court; it also recommends better access to therapeutic and clinical support. Immediate action also could be taken to give all rape victims the option of prerecording their evidence by video, but instead there is a yet another pilot in a handful of crown courts.
The police and the Crown Prosecution Service have been ordered to work together to increase the number of rape cases making it to court and to return prosecutions to 2016 levels before the end of this parliament, and political leadership is vital for turning these promises into action. We welcome the responsibility given to the crime and policing minister, Kit Malthouse, to oversee the much-needed changes. Prosecution levels will be monitored and there is a plan to introduce “scorecards” to measure the implementation of the recommendations, but a scoring system doesn’t automatically equal greater accountability. Poor performance must be met with real consequences for senior leaders of the police and CPS.
Right now words need to be matched by resources, something there is little mention of in the review. Since 2010, there has been a reduction in specialist sexual offences units, meaning less experienced and knowledgable police officers to work on rape cases. Reduced funding for the specialist women’s sector has made it more challenging for victims to report to the police and to stay engaged with the system.
At every step of this review specialist women’s groups have wanted to help inform a new and better justice system for the women and girls they know are being routinely failed. EVAW, along with Imkaan, Rape Crisis England and Wales and the Centre for Women’s Justice co-authored a report with a bold slate of recommendations to deliver justice. Disappointingly few of these have made their way into the report.
To rebuild the public confidence that has been so deeply damaged by the collapse in rape prosecutions, we urgently need to start seeing improvements, and investments in levelling up across the whole system to deliver the justice all rape victims and survivors deserve. Transforming the response to rape cannot wait another two years for more trials and pilots to complete. Women have been waiting for justice for too long already.
Source: Thanks msn.com