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Ministers “deeply ashamed” by downward trend in rape charges and convictions

Ministers have admitted that they are “deeply ashamed” of the trends in the reporting of rape cases where reports have remained at a similar level but charges and convictions have decreased.

The government’s End-to-End rape review found that in the last five years, there has been a significant decline in the number of charges and prosecutions for rape cases and, as a result, fewer convictions. Over the same period, there has been little change in the overall prevalence of rape and sexual violence crimes.

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.

The foreword to the Rape Review, written by Home Secretary Priti Patel, Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland and Attorney General Michael Ellis, said: “These are trends of which we are deeply ashamed. Victims of rape are being failed. Thousands of victims have gone without justice. But this isn’t just about numbers - every instance involves a real person who has suffered a truly terrible crime.”

The foreword highlights that rape and sexual violence are horrific and devastating crimes that can impact victims for the rest of their lives. When victims report the crime, they may relive their personal trauma, in the interests of justice and protecting others.

The crimes should be investigated and prosecuted professionally, diligently and with empathy, to ensure victims get the support they want and need. “The Rape Review has found that in too many cases this simply does not happen,” added the foreword to the review.

“We are not prepared to accept that rape is just ‘too difficult’ a crime to prosecute. We can, and must, do better. At the heart of this Review is a system and culture change to ensure that victims feel supported and able to stay engaged with their case. This combined with updated and stronger case preparation methods, as well as increased communication between all those involved in the prosecution, should lead to more cases reaching court and more defendants pleading guilty. This will give victims greater confidence that justice will be served in their individual cases, helping maintain victim engagement, and ensuring more rapists are brought to justice,” it said.

The government’s End to End Review of the Criminal Justice System Response to Rape started in March 2019 and looked at evidence across the system – from reporting to the police to outcomes in court.

The Review states: “While this Review focuses on adult victims of rape and sexual violence, it is a horrendous fact that many children and young people will be victims of sexual violence and abuse.”

“We are totally committed to supporting children and young people affected by these abhorrent crimes and recently published the Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy, which sets out the Government’s vision for preventing, tackling and responding to all forms of child sexual abuse both in this country and overseas,” the Review added.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales suggests that there were approximately 128,000 victims of rape (including attempts) annually based on those interviewed between 2017/18 and 2019/20.

While the figures for prosecuting rape cases have always been low, there has been a sharp decline in the number of prosecutions since 2016/17. The criminal justice system has not pursued investigations and prosecutions, which has caused a decline in the number of cases going to court.

The Rape Review reveals that:

  • Reporting of rape has increased from 24,093 adult rapes recorded by the police in 2015/16 to 43,187 in 2019/20.
  • Just 3% of adult rape offences assigned a police outcome in 2019/20 were given an outcome of charged/summonsed.
  • This is down from 13% of adult rape offences assigned an outcome in 2015/16.
  • Prosecutions and convictions for adult rape have also fallen, by 59% and 47% respectively since 2015/16.

“These statistics demonstrate that the criminal justice system is failing victims of rape and sexual assault. There are also disparities in victimisation. While the majority of victims of rape are female, this crime can have a devastating impact on male victims too. We are aware that this crime is perpetrated at a higher rate against disabled women and those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or other,” said the review.

“The current situation is totally unacceptable and the government is determined to change it: we owe this to every victim and are extremely sorry that the system has reached this point,” it added.

Acknowledging that rape is undoubtedly a difficult crime to prosecute, the reasons for the decline in cases reaching court are complex and wide-ranging. They include:

  • An increase in personal digital data being requested
  • Delays in investigative processes
  • Strained relationships between different parts of the criminal justice system
  • A lack of specialist resources
  • Inconsistent support to victims.

Many victims feel that their recovery is at odds with continuing to pursue their case and are therefore forced to choose between justice and being able to heal.

A large part of the problem is that the system is set up in a way that causes a “worryingly high level of victims to disengage” from the criminal justice process before justice can be done - in 57% of all adult rape cases the victim feels unable to pursue the case. This can be down to a fear of being disbelieved or judged, the negative impact on their mental health, and a fear of giving evidence in court. Furthermore, victims feel unsupported during the process.

By improving victims’ experience of the criminal justice system, it will increase the numbers of victims that stay engaged, and build better, stronger cases that will bring perpetrators to justice. This will lead to more cases being charged, more guilty pleas, and more rapists going to prison. This will, in turn, increase victims’ confidence in the system, while ensuring a fair trial for all.

To this end, the government has pledged to continue to drive urgency and focus on this agenda. The government’s initial ambition is to:

  • Return volumes of rape cases being referred by police, charged and going to court back to 2016 levels by the end of the Parliament
  • publish regular scorecards to show how the whole system is performing to provide transparency and accountability for the first time.

The government pledges that, for victims and survivors, it will:

  • Make sure that victims have access to quality support, appropriate to their needs, when they need it
  • Ensure access to the right therapeutic and clinical support, and emotional and practical support, such as an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA)
  • Ensure that victims can access support and legal
  • Hold criminal justice agencies to account when they fail to provide victims with these rights to which they are entitled.

The Review outlines that the police will:

  • Move towards a default investigatory model that recognises the prevalence of serial offending in rape and sexual offences, and ensures that there is an early and robust assessment of suspect behaviour and offending patterns.
  • Ensure no victim will be left without a phone for more than 24 hours, in any circumstances.
  • Ensure any digital material requested from victims is strictly limited to what is necessary and proportionate to allow reasonable lines of inquiry into the alleged offence.
  • Ensure victims are communicated with effectively throughout any digital evidence collection process.

Following the Review, the CPS will:

  • Improve the way rape cases are dealt with, increasing prosecution numbers and restoring victims’ confidence through actions.

The police and CPS will:

  • Establish a culture of effective joint working so that they can better support victims and build better cases. This should drive more early guilty pleas as defendants realise that conviction is likely.

In courts:

  • The experience for victims of going to court will be managed with care and consideration, without compromising the principle of a fair trial.
  • Only evidence about the victim that is pertinent to the case should be used at court and a victim’s credibility should not be undermined by pre-conceptions or rape myths.

As a result, the outcomes of the Rape Review will be:

- An increased volume of cases progressing through the system so that more cases get to court, and more convictions are delivered, with an initial ambition of returning to 2016 levels.

• Victim engagement increased at every stage of the process.

• Complex cases are not deprioritised.

• High quality cases referred by the police to the CPS.

• Increase public confidence in high quality decisions made by the CPS based on the evidence and material available and made in good time.

• Increased number of early guilty pleas.

• Improved timeliness of cases at each stage of the criminal justice process.

• Limiting requests for information from victims, whether digital or held by third parties, to what is necessary and proportionate in pursuit of reasonable lines of inquiry and reducing the time victims are without a phone so that they are able to stay connected to their friends, family and support services during an extremely traumatic period in their life.

• Defendant’s right to a fair trial is maintained through quality case building, and robust and appropriate disclosure.

“This Review commits to a conscious reversal of the trends of the last five years. We expect to see the volume of cases referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service, charged and reaching court, return to 2016 levels by the end of this Parliament. In real terms, this means that over a thousand more victims will see their cases proceed,” said the foreword by the three ministers.

“This Review commits to a conscious reversal of the trends of the last five years. We expect to see the volume of cases referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service, charged and reaching court, return to 2016 levels by the end of this Parliament. In real terms, this means that over a thousand more victims will see their cases proceed,” said the foreword by the three ministers.

“We know that victims and the organisations that support them have felt badly let down in the past. This is not the first piece of work in this area, and the consistently low number of cases being charged and prosecuted has eroded trust.

“The government needs to continue to drive urgency and focus on this agenda, giving victims confidence that the system is open and committed to change and providing ways for the public to hold it accountable for that change,” the foreword concluded.

The Victims’ Commissioner for England for Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, said: “Victims of rape and serious sexual offences have been comprehensively failed by the criminal justice system over the past five years. There is no escaping the numbers: we have seen a seismic collapse in rape charging and prosecutions. This is a serious and long-running crisis.

“So, I welcome that Ministers have today rightly voiced their shame at this abysmal record and resolved to reverse this downward trend. This is important. Even so, there is no hiding that this review presents some missed opportunities.

“We know that the government has a mountain to climb if it is to restore victims’ confidence in the justice system. So, it is disheartening that truly transformative policies, such as the pre-recording of video evidence of intimidated witnesses (Section 28), are to be put off yet again by further consultation, piloting or general delay. Similarly, when concerns around digital disclosure deter so many victims from engaging with the criminal justice system, it is disappointing to see a lack of urgency around the provision of independent legal advice to tackle well documented instances of excessive and undue data requests by police and prosecutors. There also remain serious concerns around clauses in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will give carte blanche to wholesale phone data downloads.

“While the government’s ‘Action Plan’ undoubtedly has serious limitations, we have to seize this moment if we are to escape this crisis on our justice system. I truly hope this review will help drive us forwards and I will be pushing ministers all the way to deliver justice for victims of rape and sexual assault,” concluded Dame Vera Baird.

The end-to-end rape review report on findings and actions

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