Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has issued an apology to rape victims over the low conviction rates in England and Wales and made a pledge to "do a lot better" in future. He also cited budget cuts as part of the reason for the record low in recent years.
The latest Home Office figures show 52,210 rapes were recorded in England and Wales in 2020, but just 843 resulted in a charge by the end of the year – equating to less than 1 in 60 cases.
During a BBC interview, Buckland admitted it was "not good enough" and in a written foreword to the new review of the Criminal Justice System's (CJS) handling of rape cases in England and Wales, he (along with Home Secretary Priti Patel and Attorney General Michael Ellis), said, "The vast majority of victims do not see the crime against them charged and reach a court - one in two victims withdraw from rape investigations. These are trends of which we are deeply ashamed. Victims of rape are being failed."
In light of how the process of reporting a rape can be improved moving forward, the government are currently looking at allowing victims to pre-record their evidence, in order to spare them the trauma of having to go through a courtroom trial.
The new review also said more focus ought to be placed on the suspect's behaviour (as opposed to the accuser's) and said that phones taken by police for evidence-gathering must be returned within a day.
In a statement addressing the review, Amelia Handy, Policy Lead for Rape Crisis England & Wales said that for the sake of all rape victims and survivors, it's critical that the new review and change of conduct is a success. She added that it was disappointing that so few of the organisation's recommendations have been included too.
"When we became concerned about the lack of meaningful engagement with us as stakeholders - and crucially with victims and survivors themselves - we went so far as to produce our own in-depth 'shadow rape review', detailing numerous recommendations for improving the failing criminal justice system," Handy explained.
"To our disappointment, very few of these recommendations have been taken up by the Government. This is a missed opportunity to create the fundamental changes required to make the system fit for purpose."
Handy added, "Overall, while there are individual elements of the Government’s report that are encouraging, it’s hard to identify any big commitments that will radically and swiftly improve the experience of the justice system for victims and survivors... We must not forget that, according to latest figures, only 1 in 6 women, and 1 in 5 men, who have been subjected to sexual violence or abuse of any kind ever have the confidence to report to the police."
Reporting rape: What to expect
After making the initial call to the police, you can arrange to go into a station or for the police to come and meet you somewhere else (where you feel more comfortable) to make a statement.
Your local Rape Crisis Centre may assign you an ISVA (independent sexual violence advisor) to support you up until a potential trial. They can also give you updates from the police and arrange counselling.
The police will make their initial report. They will ask you to be as clear and detailed as you possibly can and not leave anything out – but if you can’t remember everything, that’s OK.
If it’s happened recently, you will probably be asked to go to a local Sexual Assault Referral Centre for a medical exam. They can then hold evidence for up to seven years in case you decide to report it later.
You will then go througha process that could end up in your case going to court. It may involve further questions or video interviews and you may be asked to hand in your phone. Cases can take two years to reach court.
To get help with any of the issues discussed in this article, visit: Rape Crisis England & Wales, Rape Crisis Scotland, or The Rowan (for Northern Ireland). RASASC provides emotional and practical support for survivors, families and friends. For additional support with mental health, visit Mind.
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