Government apologises for 'failing' rape victims as long-awaited review is published
- Credit: Archant
The co-founder of a Suffolk support charity has welcomed the long-awaited rape review after the government apologised for "failing" victims over years of plunging conviction levels.
Fiona Ellis, chief executive of Ipswich-based Survivors in Transition, said she was largely pleased with the government-led review - which has been published more than two years after it was launched to examine the slump in convictions.
The government has set out plans for a "system and culture change" which will include focusing more on the behaviour of the suspect than the accuser.
Justice secretary Robert Buckland QC and home secretary Priti Patel said they were "deeply ashamed" by the downward trends in bringing sexual offenders to justice.
National figures show that in 2015-16 a total of 6,855 rape cases were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) by police, with 4,643 rape prosecutions.
Around 13% of reported rape cases in 2015-16 ended in a suspect being charged, dropping to just 3% in 2019-20.
While in Suffolk, the number of reported rape cases ending in charges was just 2% in 2019-20 — down from 10% in 2015-16.
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The review said it found no one specific cause for the overall drop in prosecutions.
Ms Ellis said: "This review contains lots of positives despite being long overdue. We particularly welcome the intention to move away from focusing on the credibility of victims and survivors.
"We have been and continue to work with Suffolk Constabulary and the CPS to better understand thresholds, decision making processes and rationale involved in serious sexual offences investigations and charging - we want to ensure the voices of victims and survivors are integral to these processes and their concerns taken seriously.
"Locally there is a good understanding of what needs to change and we believe a genuine commitment to makes change happen."
The government cited a raft of measures intended to see the volume of allegations referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the number of suspects charged, and the amount of cases reaching court return to 2016 levels by the end of this Parliament.
Measures include a pilot scheme aimed at reducing cross-examination of victims in court by conducting pre-recorded interviews, a nationwide recognition that only evidence about the complainant that is pertinent to the case should be used, and a new approach to investigations which ensures that there is an "early and robust assessment of suspect behaviour and offending patterns".
The review said: "The current situation is totally unacceptable and the government is determined to change it: we owe this to every victim and are extremely sorry that the system has reached this point."
Summarising the report's findings, Mr Buckland, Ms Patel and Attorney General Michael Ellis QC wrote: "These are trends of which we are deeply ashamed. Victims of rape are being failed.
"Thousands of victims have gone without justice. But this isn't just about numbers - every instance involves a real person who has suffered a truly terrible crime.
"Our mission, set out in this publication, is to understand why we are letting down rape victims, and to right this wrong."
Superintendent Kerry Cutler, from Suffolk police, said there has been "significant investment" to tackle serious sexual offences in the county.
She said: “Suffolk Constabulary and its partners are committed to delivering professional and empathetic services to the victims of domestic abuse and serious sexual offences.
"There has been significant investment in investigators and support services across the county and the constabulary investment is now greater than ever."
Detective Superintendent Neil Pudney, from Essex Police's crime and public protection command, said by having specialist teams and utilising new measures, the force is in a better position than ever to help victims and get them justice.
He said: “Investigations into rape and sexual abuse are often lengthy and complex and we cannot underestimate the psychological toll they take on the victims.
“In reporting their concerns victims have to relive their trauma. The bravery it takes to come forward is immense.
“Our detectives and police staff in our sexual abuse investigation teams who work tirelessly and with great compassion to support and safeguard victims and bring perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes to justice.”
Katie Russell, national spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England and Wales, said the review contained many positives - not least the apology - but added that she was concerned about a lack of urgency to bring about change.
She said: "Whether what has been announced today will be enough remains to be seen.
"But we sincerely hope it will lead to change and we are fully invested in it being a success - it has to be a success for the benefit of victims and survivors who are currently being failed, and victims and survivors of the future.
"Those improvements are long overdue - this is a genuine crisis."