Rape survivors are suffering and being “systematically” failed at the hands of the justice system, as two-thirds of adult rape investigations are dropped
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Rape survivors are being “systematically” failed as two-thirds of adult rape investigations are dropped

The results of a new probe found woefully low rape prosecution numbers could be the result of a flawed system for reporting and long delays for justice.

New research from the Home Affairs Committee has noted an “all-time high” of 63,136 rape offences from September 2020 to September 2021, while the amount of completed rape prosecutions plummeted to just 1,557 in the 2020-2021 period.

Long delays are thought to be to blame for almost two-thirds of adult rape investigations being dropped because the victim wants to discontinue the case after receiving poor support or waiting too long for justice.

Following the new data, MPs condemned the “unacceptably low numbers” of prosecutions for rape and sexual offences as they argued the collapse in rape prosecutions is not likely to be tackled unless victims are provided with improved support and proper nationwide funding is rolled out.

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Dame Diana Johnson, a Labour MP who is chair of the committee, said: “The collapse in the number of prosecutions for rape and sexual offences over the last five years is truly shocking and completely unacceptable.

“While it is clear that significant effort is being put in to reversing this decline across the criminal justice system, there is much further to go. Thousands of victims are failing to get the justice they deserve and this has to stop. From now on the focus must be on supporting the victims.”

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Earlier in the year, a shocking report into the the police and Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) response to rape cases has found that victims of sexual violence are being “continually and systematically failed”.

The joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate declared that “change is needed now” multiple failures of the system, such as “poor and fragmented” communication with victims and “inconsistent” police support, were investigated.

“Some police were caring and supportive, yet others were negative, insensitive, or lacked empathy for survivors,” the report read. It highlighted that survivors put a lot at stake when reporting and testifying, yet most do not get the justice they deserve.

Inspectors found that on average, 706 days elapsed from the date of reporting an offence to the police to the start of the trial. Delays in reporting, investigation, arrests, and court hearings were found to weaken cases and cause survivors to suffer.

“The results are unacceptable,” said Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams of the findings. “Victims should not have to wait years for a court date, experience multiple adjournments, and then report, as we have heard, that the process is worse than the offence.”

The investigation also found that rape suspects are perceived to be treated more favourably than survivors, which deters many people from reporting their experience.

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The report concluded that “the criminal justice system does not deliver justice for rape survivors” and that it needs to “enhance the importance it places on the safety and wellbeing of survivors, at every stage”.

Speaking about the worrying drop in prosecutions for cases of rape, CEO of domestic abuse charity Refuge, Ruth Davison told Stylist: “Refuge welcomes this report and supports the inspectorate’s call for widespread reform, something Refuge and our colleagues across the Violence Against Women And Girls (VAWG) sector have long called for.

“Survivors tell us that they often feel they are the ones being investigated or standing trial. This must change, as must the trend that survivors are experiencing lengthy court delays, which compound and extend their trauma. That survivors are having to wait on average more than two years (706 days) for trials to start after reporting to the police is unsustainable and wrong. This is an unacceptably long wait for a survivor to access justice.

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“The government has committed to ensuring survivors are ‘better heard, served and protected’, and this report shows that those actions are desperately needed,” she continued.

“There is an upcoming legislative opportunity with the Victims’ Bill to ensure survivors are better supported and that the criminal justice system is more trauma-informed. We urge the government to take this opportunity, and ensure these much-needed changes are backed up by including a duty in the bill to commission community-based specialist support services with full, ring-fenced funding.”

Sexual assault referral centres provide a safe space and dedicated care for people who have been raped, sexually assaulted, or abused. If you have been raped, sexually assaulted or abused and don’t know where to turn, search “sexual assault referral centres” to find out more or visit www.nhs.uk/SARCs to find your nearest service. 

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