12:26, July 30 183 0 theguardian.com

2019-07-30 12:26:04
Alarm at drop in rape cases brought to court

Your front-page report (Revealed: collapse in rape cases that end up in court, 27 July) was truly shocking and leads us to ask whether rape has effectively been decriminalised. Justice system leaders, including those at the top of the police, prosecution service and courts, must be pressed on your revelation that only one in every 65 rapes reported to the police now ends up in court. If they were school or hospital leaders they would surely be put into special measures and new management brought in.

The government is already running a review into what is going wrong with investigating and prosecuting this crime. We hope this is at the top of the new ministers’ in-trays and that radical changes are considered. For example, we need special advocates for every victim who reports, a stricter ban on “sexual history evidence” fit for the digital age, proactive police and prosecutor action plans to improve justice outcomes, and a willingness to look at whether special interventions with juries in rape cases are needed.

We can’t leave it like this. Your investigation shows that right now there is virtual impunity for rape, and the men who commit rape know this.

Sarah Green Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition

Harriet Wistrich Director, Centre for Women’s Justice

Dr C Quinn CEO, Rape Crisis England & Wales

It is shocking that after decades of campaigning by women and repeated official claims that scandals like Savile, Worboys and Rotherham are things of the past, we learn that rape charging has collapsed even further. It is not because victims don’t come forward. There is “a sharp rise in reports of rape made to police … from 2015 to 2019, the number of rape claims … rose by 61%, from 35,847 to 57,882”. Two women a week, many of them mothers, are killed by partners or ex-partners – usually after reporting multiple assaults and threats which go unheeded by police. Rape and domestic violence terrorise women daily, yet perpetrators can count on almost complete impunity.

How much does the latest drop in charging have to do with the abolition of specialist rape investigation units and “digital strip search”? We and many others, including the information commissioner and victims commissioner, objected to this indiscriminate download of victims’ social media. Big Brother Watch claims the police powers used against victims are more extensive than those used against crime suspects; lawyers question whether they are even legal.

Boris Johnson, who as London mayor made sweeping cuts to the police service, now wants to recruit 20,000 additional officers. Will any of them be used to police the terrorism of rape and domestic violence? Or will they be deployed to repress us when we protest against lack of action on sexist or racist violence, climate change, or child poverty?

Cristel Amiss Black Women’s Rape Action Project

Lisa Longstaff Women Against Rape

Anyone working in the criminal justice field will not have been at all surprised by the latest crime figures showing that one in 65 rape cases reported to police result in subjects being summonsed or charged. These dismal figures are partly as a result of misconstrued policies that leave the police inadequate time to investigate rape cases properly.

In the area I practise in it is police policy to arrest anyone accused of domestic violence, irrespective of whether there is a complainant. In practice this means a call is made to police, police attend and are told by the alleged victim that they do not wish to pursue a complaint. Rather than this being the end of the matter it is actually the start of a lengthy process where the alleged perpetrator is arrested and detained in a cell, normally for hours, while police attempt unsuccessfully to gather evidence. The suspect is then interviewed and CPS advice sought, in circumstances where there was never any prospect of a charge. Ultimately the suspect is released without charge after hours of police and CPS time being used up.

Even more worrying situations are emerging where a complaint is made and upon arrival at the scene the alleged perpetrator makes a counter allegation to the police and both parties are arrested. This results in victims of domestic violence being arrested themselves when they ring the police for help. Everyone working in the criminal justice arena wants perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assaults to be prosecuted. Arresting people in situations where it is clear at the outset there is no realistic prospect of a prosecution is not the answer.

Rape is often one person’s word against another. Alleging rape does not actually mean that a rape has occurred. The police have insufficient time or resources to find corroborative evidence and this, together with the often reluctance of alleged victims to testify, means successful prosecutions are rare.

Katie Steiner


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