Just 2% of rapes reported in Suffolk over one-year period led to a charge
- Credit: Archant
So few rape suspects are being charged in Suffolk that police are more likely to catch bike thieves than rapists.
Police figures show just 2% of rapes reported in 2019-20 led to charges against a suspect. That rate has plummeted from 10% in 2016-17.
Last year 774 reports were made of a rape of a woman aged 16 to Suffolk Police, making it the 16th most reported crime in the county.
But despite the number of rapes recorded rocketing by more than 128% in five years, this newspaper’s research found 61 common crimes with a higher charge rate, including bicycle thefts, stalking and voyeurism.
The charge rate for reported bicycle thefts in the county was 3% last year and has been higher than the charge rate for reported rapes of women aged 16 or over since 2018-19.
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Campaigners have warned the number of reported rapes will only be the tip of the iceberg, with only 20% of victims and survivors ever reporting the offence.
Rape Crisis’ Katie Russell said a long, traumatic process put off a lot of victims and survivors, and figures for Suffolk show more than 55% of victims who came forward didn’t support further action.
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“Very often this process can take a long time,” said Ms Russell.
“Before Covid-19 we were talking about two years being very common, but now with the delays in the criminal justice system cases will take even longer to conclude,” she said.
A further 20% of cases in Suffolk fell through because of evidential difficulties, despite the victim supporting further action.
Campaigners say the number of rape reports have soared since the Jimmy Saville and Operation Yewtree revelations, and more recently since the Me Too movement.
A spokeswoman for Suffolk Rape Crisis said the figures were part of a vicious cycle where falling charge rates would translate in to more victims and survivors dropping out of the process before a suspect is convicted.
“These women’s lives are changed forever by the act and by the process that follows. No other crime sees victims having to hand over their phone for months on end, and face intimate physical examinations.
“The fall could be partly to do with local systems and victim blaming within those systems, and the thought of not getting any justice at the end of the process is sure to be putting many victims off.
“We regularly see victims dropping their reports because of the level of trauma involved, the level of fear around it is palpable, with victims scared of retaliation while the process is ongoing.”
Rape Crisis’ Ms Russell said the plummeting charge figures suggested a systematic problem within the criminal justice system and a change of policy within the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
“Within the criminal justice system itself stereotypes and myths still have hold and sway,” she claimed.
“It’s our perception that there’s sometimes an assumption on the part of the CPS that certain types of victim are believed over others, or that certain witnesses are more compelling.
“Criminal justice professionals are pre-empting the prejudices of juries and are not processing cases that they might perceive to be more difficult to get a conviction.”
The CPS said its own charges data, which is the percentage of cases referred to it where charged are authorised, shows rates have also fallen from 67% to 54% across Suffolk and Norfolk, though there was a rise to 67% in the period between 2015-2021.
A spokeswoman said: “Rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) are some of the most complex cases the CPS prosecutes, the fall in charges is a major focus for the CPS and we have been working hard to reverse the trend we’ve seen in recent years.
“Earlier this year we launched RASSO 2025, an ambitious five year strategy to narrow the gap between the number of offences reported to the police and cases going to court, and encourage more people to come forward and report with the confidence that they will be supported through the system.”
Meanwhile pressure group End Violence Against Women has launched a judicial review to examine whether the CPS did change their policies.
National figures from the organisation show the number of completed rape prosecutions more than halved in the three months to June, compared to the previous quarter, and warnings have been sounded about a Covid backlog further delaying cases and leading to victims pulling out of the process.
Detective chief superintendent Eamonn Bridger of Suffolk Police said charging figures could be affected by challenges around evidence collection, for example when the victim is not seeking prosecution and time has elapsed since the report, then forensic and other physical evidence can be lost.
He added: “While we understand that it may be extremely difficult to approach anyone initially, all victims can be assured that we will listen respectfully to their views and make sure that they are directed to the most appropriate services.
“We will always work hard to gain a successful conviction and to ensure that victims and their families benefit from long-term support.”