November 30: An alliance of women’s organisations is calling for radical reforms to address the “disastrous state” of rape investigations and prosecutions, including a ministerial lead, a commission on juries and a ban on the use of sexual history evidence.
The call comes after rape convictions in England and Wales fell to a record low this year, while figures show that prosecutions and convictions have more than halved in three years, the Guardian reported.
A joint report from the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), Rape Crisis, the Centre for Women’s Justice and Imkaan will be presented to MPs on Monday and comes in advance of a government review due before the end of the year.
Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, said the report revealed “catastrophic systemic failures in the criminal justice system that embolden serial rapists and misogynists and abandon traumatised victims”.
The “shadow” end-to-end review calls for the creation of a minister focused on rape and sexual abuse, and for cabinet members and the prime minister to speak out about the crime. “In short, rape should be an active area of public policymaking; currently it is not,” it states.
Rape investigation should be a “clear, named specialism […] with a strong and rewarded career route” within police forces, it said. Cuts to police budgets have meant that many specialist rape units, including in London and Manchester, have been disbanded.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) needs greater leadership to improve rape outcomes “at every level”, said the report. It recommends a reintroduction of the “merits-based approach”, which requires prosecutors to make decisions guided by the quality of the evidence rather than by a perception of how a jury might respond to it.
Concerns have been raised in recent years by whistleblowers, campaigners and the police that the CPS has become more risk-averse when making charging decisions, a claim the director of public prosecutions, Max Hill, has consistently denied.
The report, which features the views of rape and serious sexual assault victims, also calls for specialist support services for particularly marginalised women. Sumanta Roy, director of policy for Imkaan, said many victims received further harm from the system rather than justice. “Black and minoritised women tell us about the level of racism and sexism and other types of discrimination from police and juries,” she said.
The report called for more research into how rape trials were conducted and a ban on the use of sexual history evidence, currently allowed on application to the judge if relevant to the case. Further research was needed into why only two in 10 raped women report to police, what justice would look like for victims and successful rape prevention policies, the authors stated.
“We urge the government to commit to long-term change – which is why commissioning research on who is not reporting rape, and on what works to prevent rape, is vitally important alongside reform to police and CPS workforce practices,” said Sarah Green, EVAW director.