Two years on from the government’s End-to-End Rape Review, far too many victims and survivors of rape continue to be failed, according to a new report released today by Centre for Women’s Justice, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Imkaan and Rape Crisis England & Wales.
The Rape Review arose following a catastrophic decline in rape prosecutions which dropped to the lowest on record and led women’s groups to declare the effective decriminalisation of rape. In the Review, the government acknowledged that victims of rape are being failed, made an unprecedented apology to victims and survivors and committed to a series of actions to address this problem, in a timeframe leading up to June 2023.
Following their landmark 2020 report The Decriminalisation of Rape: Why the justice system is failing rape survivors and what needs to change, the group of women’s organisations have now set out their assessment of the government’s progress in achieving the aims of its Rape Review Action Plan, as well as highlighting what more is required to transform the current appalling treatment of rape victims and survivors:
- Despite marginal progress, charging, prosecution and conviction rates still fall short of the government’s own targets
- Rape scorecards, designed to improve transparency and accountability, are difficult to use effectively and still fail to incorporate and analyse different demographics of victims within the criminal justice system
- There is ongoing failure to better understand who does and does not access the criminal justice system and further investigate the experiences of Black and minoritised victim-survivors
- Much hope rests in the implementation of Operation Soteria, but its progress is threatened by uncertainty around future funding and ongoing academic input
- The government must use the legislative opportunity of the Victims and Prisoners Bill to deliver improvements in the criminal justice system’s treatment of rape survivors
- There remains a lack of political commitment to preventing rape and sexual abuse in the first place and exploring what victims and survivors want to support their recovery
We recognise some ‘green shoots’ of positive change in several areas, such as the establishment of a 24/7 Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Line, steps towards specialist rape courts, and a reduction in the length of time some forces retain victims’ mobile phones. But the reality remains dire for far too many women and girls, in a context of underfunded specialist support services, routinely and unnecessarily invasive investigations of victims, low perpetrator charging levels and extensive court backlogs.
For Black and minoritised victims and survivors, the situation is even worse – but the government has not demonstrated a commitment to addressing this. The scale of the change needed requires much more effort and ongoing investment which will rely on long-term political will, leadership and scrutiny.
We urge the government to use the legislative opportunity of the Victims and Prisoners Bill to introduce some of these much-needed reforms, including new protections for victims’ therapy records, the provision of independent legal advice and a firewall between statutory services and immigration enforcement.
We also call on government to look beyond the criminal justice system, including committing to prioritisation and investment in work to prevent rape and sexual abuse, so women and girls don’t become victims in the first place.
Harriet Wistrich, Director of Centre for Womens Justice (CWJ) said:
“Whilst there has been some improvement to charging levels for rape, they are nowhere near pre 2016 levels meaning only a tiny minority of survivors who report rape will see their cases prosecuted. The key problem now lies with a failure of the police to refer cases to the CPS or get Early Advice. Those that report rape are still facing disproportionate requests for personal data which impacts directly on the attrition rate. That is why the government must support our recommendations for independent legal advice to help challenge disclosure and for the protection of therapy records.
A fundamental shift from the interrogation of victims’ credibility to the investigation of suspects is required, initial signs that this has the potential to be transformational have been seen with piloting of the Operation Soteria, but the government must sustain funding and commitment to sustain development of this.”
Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said:
“Despite some green shoots of progress, after two years of promises and commitments we have barely scratched the surface to improve support for victims of rape – let alone preventing it in the first instance. The government must ensure leadership, transparency and accountability in its justice agencies and use the Victims and Prisoners Bill to accelerate progress.
Despite acknowledging the need to overhaul police culture, the government has handed the police more powers which can be abused, and made ongoing threats to the Human Rights Act and our access to the European Court of Human Rights. These are both vital mechanisms for accountability for victims and survivors – women’s rights are human rights.
We believe a different world is possible – a society in which women and girls can live their lives free from the threat of violence. In order to make that a reality, we desperately need more focus on the prevention of rape, with efforts to tackle the societal structures, norms and inequalities which underpin sexual violence. Victims and survivors deserve this.”
“It is well established that race and ethnicity remains one of the very biggest gaps in police data, despite our continual offer to support a pilot to improve data on inequalities. It is disappointing that nearly three years since our last joint report, there has been no progress in understanding who does and does not access the criminal justice system. To properly transform the justice systems’ response to rape disparities around access to justice, it must be properly understood. For systemic change, we need to know: what, how, and where inequalities manifest across the protected characteristics, before, during and after victim-survivor interactions with the CJS. Today we reiterate our call for commissioned independent research into this as a matter of urgency.”
Amelia Handy, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Rape Crisis England & Wales, said:
“We are realistic and know that real change takes time to embed, but the pace of change must pick up – victims and survivors of these highly traumatic crimes deserve justice now. Too many are still being denied justice, and are still left retraumatised after engaging with the system. This remains entirely unacceptable.
For most victims and survivors, whether they report their rape or not, specialist, independent, wrapround sexual violence and abuse services are required in order to understand the profound impacts of trauma, and re-establish a life after sexual violence and abuse. With ever-increasing demand, it is now imperative that this specialist provision is seen as a vitally important form of justice in its own right. This is why we continue to call for long-term funding for specialist sexual violence and abuse services like those provided by Rape Crisis Centres, and specialist by and for Black and minoritised women’s services.”
Notes to editors
- The report is available here: https://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/RapeReviewReport-160623FINAL.pdf
- Large print report here: https://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/LARGE-PRINT-FINAL-DECRIM-BRIEFING-13-June-23.pdf
- Spokespeople are available for comment and interview:
- Jayne Butler, CEO of Rape Crisis England & Wales
- Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW)
- Harriet Wistrich, Founder and Director of the Centre for Women’s Justice
Sinead Geoghegan, Communications Manager, EVAW: email@example.com