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Rape survivors and the criminal justice system


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This survey of rape survivors tells us that not only are they denied justice, but they feel actively re-victimised by the criminal justice system. If survivors of this deeply damaging and highly prevalent crime are to feel “…the state is on their side” the government’s end-to-end rape review must produce radical cultural transformation across the criminal justice system.
Dame Vera Baird QC

A survey of nearly 500 survivors of rape, undertaken by the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, has highlighted just 14% believed they would receive justice by reporting the crime to the police.

This comes at a time when reports to police about rape have increased hugely but cases charged by CPS have dropped markedly. In 2019/20 there were 55,000 reports of rape to the police, but only 1,867 cases charged. In addition, the proportion of victims who chose to withdraw their support for their case has steadily increased (from 25% in 2015/16 to 41% in 2019/20).

In response to the fall in rape prosecutions, in 2019, the government launched an End to End Review of how rape is dealt with in the criminal justice system.

Dame Vera says:

“The government’s Review’s team took the surprising decision not to seek the views of those who really matter – rape survivors. As Victims Commissioner, I believed it was imperative that the victims’ voice be heard. We placed a questionnaire on our website and were overwhelmed by the response – nearly 500 survivors took part and shared their experience of the justice system with us.

“On every page of this report, the victims’ voice can be heard loud and clear and the findings speak for themselves.”

The survivors told us:

  • Being believed is one of the most important things to survivors, but many feel their credibility is tested through each stage of the criminal justice process
  • Many survivors experienced poor treatment from individual criminal justice practitioners
  • Survivors had serious concerns about the use of digital disclosure requests and how they felt that their privacy had been violated
  • Prompt, proactive communication is very important to survivors, though many told us they had to chase for updates
  • Survivors highly value the support given by victims’ services and Independent Sexual Violence Advisors
  • Decisions to take no further action and not to prosecute can have devastating effects on survivors and it often appears to them that good evidence has not been considered and the reasons for discontinuing are insufficient.
  • Survivors gave various reasons for not taking further action and withdrawing their rape complaints, such as fears of the criminal justice process and wanting to move on
  • Survivors’ experience of the courtroom and rape trials is traumatic, they often feel isolated and attacked in the courtroom
  • Survivors want to be treated sensitively, fairly, respectfully, to be believed, but also for criminal justice system professionals to better understand trauma, provide clear and timely information, and to offer better access to ISVA and support services
  • Rape survivors have low levels of confidence in the criminal justice system’s handling of rape complaints

Dame Vera says:

“Page after page of this report, you will see the powerful first-hand testimony of rape survivors and their experience of our criminal justice system. And it does not make comfortable reading.

“Survivors want to be treated sensitively, fairly, respectfully, to be believed, but also for criminal justice system professionals to better understand trauma, provide clear and timely information, and to offer better access to support services. And on all of these fronts, the justice system has been found wanting.

“We already knew the number of rape complaints resulting in a charge was at a record low. We were aware the proportion of rape complainants withdrawing their support for a prosecution was at an all-time high.

“It should therefore come as no surprise to find that only around one in seven rape survivors tell us they have any hope of receiving justice.

“This survey and the voices behind it reveal the extent of the crisis within our justice system.”