Leading women’s groups deeply disappointed with lack of ambition in Government’s Rape Review

After two-year wait, Government publishes highly anticipated ‘end-to-end’ review of Criminal Justice System (CJS) handling of rape cases in England and Wales but does not address the central question of why rape prosecutions have collapsed.

A group of leading violence against women and girls (VAWG) organisations – EVAW, Imkaan, Rape Crisis England and Wales and Centre for Women’s Justice – has expressed its frustration and disappointment in response to the Government’s Rape Review, published today (17 June 2021).

The Review was launched in Spring 2019, after long-term campaigning by these groups – and the sexual violence and abuse victims and survivors they work with and support – around the chronically and catastrophically low rates of criminal justice in England and Wales for rape and other sexual offences.

Latest Home Office figures show fewer than 1 in 60 rapes recorded last year resulted in a charge. The Centre for Women’s Justice, End Violence Against Women Coalition, Imkaan and Rape Crisis England & Wales say the Review’s recommendations go nowhere near far enough to tackle systemic failures at the heart of this urgent justice crisis. For more on what these organisations have to say in response to the Rape Review, please click here.

The partnership’s The Decriminalisation of Rape report made a number of calls for radical change that have not been addressed by the Government’s Review, including:

  • Meaningful equalities analysis – independent research into who does and doesn’t report sexual offences to the police and why
  • Urgent review of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) governance to ensure accountability for poor charging decisions
  • A radical review of a system that treats survivors as suspects and measures to ensure that only relevant disclosure is sought from those reporting
  • A Special Commission on the role and efficacy of juries in rape trials
  • Publicly funded and specialist-led public awareness and education campaign on rape myths and consent

We do welcome the appointment of a ministerial lead for the Rape Review, Minister for Crime and Policing Kit Malthouse MP, which was one of the many recommendations in the Decriminalisation of Rape report. We are also encouraged by the Review’s commitment to developing better understanding of the impacts of trauma on rape victims across the CJS, and the important commitment to taking a more ‘suspect-focused’ approach to rape investigations.

We are however concerned about an overall lack of urgency in the timescales put forward, and lack of reference to how implementation of any recommendations would be resourced.

Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) said:

To truly realise a step-change for all rape survivors seeking justice, the Review would need to include more far-reaching recommendations examining who is dropping out of the system and why, or the barriers to justice which mean women with intersecting identities don’t report in the first place. Without a meaningful equalities analysis, we run the risk of continuing the two-tier approach to justice currently in place.

The collapse in rape prosecution rates clearly point to failings in a justice system that does not put survivors first, yet the Review contains little that would hold criminal justice agencies to account. We would have hoped to have seen some measures examining the governance of the CPS and mechanisms that would demand greater leadership and prioritisation of rape justice among senior leaders of the police, CPS and Government. We also needed more in-depth interrogation into what is going wrong in courts, including a ban on the use of sexual history evidence and an honest look at the role of juries, and the re-traumatising impact of the courtroom.

Fundamentally, this Review does not centre the needs to victims and survivors of rape who have been so badly let down by the system. Professional curiosity into the different justice outcomes for survivors, linked with a genuine desire to deliver justice for all women is essential. We have criticised the Review for not meaningfully engaging with survivors throughout its two years and unfortunately these recommendations reflect this failure to hear from survivors themselves.

To rebuild the public confidence that has been so deeply damaged by the collapse in rape prosecutions, we urgently need to start seeing improvements, and investments in levelling up across the whole justice system to deliver the justice all rape victims and survivors deserve.”

ENDS

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