The London Victims’ Commissioner has called for an urgent overhaul of the Criminal Justice Service for rape victims after a major new review of rape cases in London found only 3% of claims in the capital result in convictions.
In 2010, after twelve years of being constantly followed, bombarded with letters and gifts, and terrorised with break-ins, a judge sentenced Claire Waxman’s stalker Elliot Fogel to just 16 weeks in jail for twice breaking a restraining order.
But Waxman didn’t give up without a fight. One year later, she successfully took on the Crown Prosecution Service in the High Court and won a landmark case to overturn the decision not to prosecute her stalker. Fogel was subsequently jailed for three-and-a-half years for breaching a lifetime restraining order.
Waxman might have been the victim of a sustained stalking campaign, but she didn’t let her trauma define her. In 2013, she founded the campaign group Voice4Victims to continue the fight for improved legislation and support for all victims of crime, and in 2017, she was appointed the capital’s first victim’s commissioner by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Now, Waxman is fighting to help all victims of rape achieve justice.
According to a comprehensive new rape review conducted by the mayor’s office for policing and crime (MOPAC) and the University of West London, only 3% of rape allegations in London result in convictions, even though the accused is known to the victim in the vast majority of cases.
The London Rape Review, which analysed 501 allegations of rape made across the capital in April 2016, provides a clear picture of reported rape and the reasons for so few prosecutions. The review found that while 84% of allegations were classified as a crime by the police, 58% of people later withdrew their allegations. Worse yet, only 6% of cases went to trial, while just 3% resulted in a conviction.
Speaking about the findings on BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, Waxman highlighted the lack of counselling and support as a key reason for victims’ withdrawing their allegations.
“If victims are not accessing counselling and then it is taking months on end, then you’re forcing people to stay in trauma, which has huge ramifications for people’s mental health,” she explained. “We must work together to drastically improve the treatment that rape victims receive.
The commissioner also called attention to the “excessive intrusion into personal data”, and the deep-rooted institutional biases in the criminal justice system that negatively impact victims’ wellbeing when reporting sexual violence.
“The system is still deeply entrenched in myths and stereotypes, a victim almost has to prove they’re not lying,” she continued. “They worry that their counselling records might have something in them or there may be some digital evidence that might have something that could be used against them unfairly. That isn’t right.”
“The system is structured to misunderstand trauma,” she said. “It’s normal for victims to have inconsistencies to memory or behave in unusual ways but that can all be used to discredit them in the process.”
Despite the bleak findings, Waxman has issues a series of recommendations to help ensure that victims and survivors of rape have the best possible access to services, support and justice to keep them engaged in the criminal justice process. They include:
- More must be done to end the excessive intrusion into personal data through the criminal justice service, continuing the Victims’ Commissioner’s long-standing leading role against excessive disclosure
- The CPS should only request therapy notes to show the impact of the crime on the victim and not for any other purpose
- The government should change the law so that all suspects under investigation for domestic abuse, sexual assault or other crimes where there are significant safeguarding issues should only be released from police custody on bail and not released under investigation
- To reduce delays, a suggested maximum of three months for third parties to respond to the provision of material – medical records, counselling records, social services or educational records, or material relating to family court proceedings – that victims have consented to sharing
- Government to fully fund legal support to provide independent advice and legal representation – especially important for use of personal information and data
- Police and CPS to undergo trauma training and refreshed guidance to ensure the best evidence is gathered and the impact on the victim remains at a minimum
In a statement, Waxman also highlighted the need for the government to provide long term investment to ensure victims are able to access legal support throughout the legal process.
“I am calling on them to ensure victims have access to fully funded legal support to ensure they are accessing fair trial, seeing as they are having their credibility routinely investigated,” she said.
“Government must also introduce a mandatory time limit on external authorities producing information that victims have consented to share to help tackle some of the delays.”
Earlier in the year, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, committed to funding these vital services with a pledge of £15 million from MOPAC to help sustain and strengthen services that support women and girls who have been the victim of violence in London. Today, the Mayor’s VAWG fund launches the bidding process for the £6.8m funding to support VAWG services.
As Waxman has emphasised though, the key to achieving positive outcomes for victims of rape lies not only in adequate funding, but in transforming outdated attitudes in the Criminal Justice System. By equipping people with the appropriate knowledge and training to understand the complexities of trauma, all rape victims, regardless of their status or experience, will be able to receive a sensitive, inclusive and effective journey to justice.