Responding to the media reporting (29 April newspapers) on the rollout of new ‘digital consent’ forms which will be very relevant in rape cases, and will reportedly lead to those reporting rape usually being asked to handover phones and other devices for a full digital inspection, Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:
“We have an extremely serious problem with prosecuting rape in this country, and it is a fact that most rapists get away with it. Part of the reason for this is that investigations too often focus on women’s character, honesty and sexual history, despite rules which are supposed to prevent this, instead of the actions and behaviour of the person accused.
“If the new ‘national consent form’ which victims will be asked to sign gives the police complete access to a woman’s entire personal records, phones, computers and so on – which may include thousands of personal and private conversations and images – these prejudices and the tendency to make a rape investigation about women’s honesty and history will be further stoked.
“It is clear that what will be strongly implied is that if you will not handover your device, the investigation may well not be continued. It is an attempt to make intense scrutiny of victims routine and accepted, when for many years we have attempted to ensure the investigation and trial process is fair to those reporting rape.
“Making this demand of victims routine is likely to create a huge further barrier to reporting rape, as suggested by the scary tone of today’s (29 April) newspaper headlines.
“There is no need for rape investigations to require such an invasion of women’s privacy as a matter of routine. There is a pressing public interest in prosecuting this very serious and harmful crime, and victims shouldn’t be coerced into sacrificing their privacy to get the crimes against them investigated. Anything which gets in the way of the system working for all of us and bringing rapists to justice must be challenged.
“We note the legal challenges already being prepared by two victims following requests which unnecessarily invaded their privacy, and that the Information Commissioner is looking into this. What is proposed today is a backwards step and it is time for comprehenasive change in our response to rape.”
The End Violence Against Women Coalition is campaigning for comprehensive and radical change in the way the police and courts and our wider society responds to rape. We are very concerned at the collapsing charging rate for rape as presided over by the CPS, and we hope that the upcoming Government ‘rape review’ will shed light on what is going wrong and improve justice and support for victims.