BBC Panorama

BBC One’s Panorama Beyond Reasonable Doubt: Britain’s Rape Crisis aired last night and the internet is in disbelief over this important documentary

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BBC One’s Beyond Reasonable Doubt: Britain’s Rape Crisis aired last night and is an important investigation into the staggeringly low rape conviction rate in England and Wales. 

Content warning: this article includes mention of rape.

BBC One’s Panorama regularly provides us with insight into some of the nation’s most hard-hitting topics and current affairs stories. From sex work to the Manchester Arena bombing, the one-off special episodes are thought-provoking,  insightful and give a voice to vital topics.

Last night’s episode was no different, and as well as being an informative investigation, it’s also an incredibly emotional watch.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt: Britain’s Rape Crisis takes us behind the scenes of Derbyshire’s police force to uncover why only one percent of rapes in England and Wales result in a conviction.

Filmed over the course of 18 months, the documentary follows five separate people who have reported rape and the detectives who investigate their cases as they journey through the criminal justice system.

They include Sam*, who says she was raped by a stranger after a night out, and two sisters who say they were repeatedly raped by their father as children and whose case has already been turned down by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). 

BBC Panorama
Beyond Reasonable Doubt: Britain’s Rape Crisis is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

One of the sisters, Chyann, was 10 years old when she reported the rape to her class teacher, which was swiftly picked up by the police and social services. “I knew it was wrong and I didn’t want to go back to that … I was just terrified to go home,” she says.

In the harrowing footage of Chyann’s initial police interview, she cries: “No one believes me.”

The abuse had lasted for five years but it took more than a decade after Chyann initially reported the crime for her father to be brought to justice.

While Chyann’s father was convicted in January this year – and was given a 40-year prison sentence – with 14 counts of child rape against her and her sister Alex, the documentary uncovers the trials, tribulations and CPS appeals that eventually saw the sisters get justice.

Alex had been questioned about the abuse, and she initially denied it, but eventually told the police that the allegations against her father were true. It’s the major weakness of the sister’s case but Alex explains how unjust it is to “hold the words of an 11-year-old against someone who is now 18 or 19 years old”. 

BBC Panorama
Alex and Chyann's case is explored in the harrowing BBC Panorama episode.

The CPS turned down the case on account of the initial lie but it fails to understand the degree of manipulation in that defence, the police argue. “I was in a situation where that’s what I was told to say,” Alex explains.

It’s a situation that now leaves Alex with a lot of guilt and has left the sisters with a fraught relationship.

The documentary underlines the fact that despite an increase in rape cases, there’s a decrease in conviction rates. Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, explains the process from being reported to going before the CPS, which should then – but oftentimes does not – go to trial.

She says that questions that put the onus on the victim are more likely to crop up from the prosecutors: “Had she had a drink? Was she flirting?” for example. Even how long had the victim waited before reporting the incident can be taken into account.  

BBC Panorama
Fiona reported that she was raped by someone she knew and her case is explored in Beyond Reasonable Doubt: Britain’s Rape Crisis.

“Jurors aren’t getting the chance to decide for themselves so we now prosecute about a third of the people we did,” Dame Baird says. “If the CPS don’t change their approach, the police can’t get past them.”

Charlotte Caulton-Scott of the CPS explains: “Our role is not to second guess what a jury is going to think but, of course, a realistic prospect of conviction means that there is that standard, there is that level that we have to reach evidentially in order to take a case forward to court.

“We’re not where we want to be – we really want to drive up rape prosecution.”

Only 1.3% of reported rapes result in a charge, according to a 2022 Home Office statistic included in the documentary. While the statistics are staggeringly low, disappointing and infuriating, this Panorama episode does an important job of lifting the lid on the process beyond reporting – and gives the rape victims included in the episode a vital voice in the process.

Viewers who tuned in last night (28 March) were astounded by the statistics included in the documentary:

One user described it as a “national scandal”:

While this Panorama episode was uncomfortable to watch, it was necessary and important:

The bravery demonstrated by Chyann and Alex has been praised highly since the episode aired:

And although the documentary highlights that convictions are not always the end result, many were pleased to learn that the sisters had gotten some justice:

Panorama – Beyond Reasonable Doubt: Britain’s Rape Crisis is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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Images: BBC

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