Skip to content

Breaking Point

Our report on the re-traumatisation of rape and sexual abuse survivors in the Crown Court's backlog of cases.

⬇️ Download the full report

Update (28th March 2024):

Since this report's release, the situation has deteriorated. The number of sexual offence cases waiting to go to the Crown Court now stands at 10,141 – a new record high. This is a 21% increase compared to the number waiting at the same time the previous year. And a 196% increase from 2019 (the year before Covid-19 impacted the running of the Crown Court). The number of adult rape cases waiting to go to court stands at 2,786 – another record high.

'How can they let me down again? Fail me?'

Victims and survivors of some of the worst crimes imaginable are being made to wait years for their cases to reach court, having court dates postponed – often multiple times – and being kept in the dark about important updates.

These problems are having a devastating impact on their lives. Some survivors have told us that they've felt suicidal. Others have tried to take their own life.

This must not go on.

Download our full report
An older woman sits at a table with her head in her hands. Her glasses sit on the table in front of her.

In numbers

How the court system is failing to prioritise victims and survivors of rape and other sexual offences.

All figures cited in our Breaking Point report.

  • 614days

    = how long child sexual abuse cases typically took to complete in court in the year 2021/22

  • 7,859sexual offences cases

    were waiting in the Crown Court backlog in September 2022 – a then record high

  • 133per cent

    = how much the number of postponed rape trials increased by from the year 2019/20 to 2021/22

Adult rape and other sexual offence cases are among the longest to reach trial.

Victims and survivors tell us that they feel stuck in limbo while they wait – unable to move on from what happened or start to heal.

They also say they feel forgotten about, like they're not a priority or that no one cares.

Join our campaign to cut court waiting times

Maria's story

  • Maria,* a young woman who was raped multiple times by a serial rapist, was forced to wait 3 years and 7 months for her case to go to trial. During this time, the trial was postponed twice.
  • After being told about one of these postponements, Maria heartbreakingly tried to take her own life. She spent five weeks in a specialist hospital in another part of the country and was left with life-changing physical injuries.
  • Her mother wasn't always informed about developments in the case – something that she says would have allowed her to better support Maria.

*All names have been changed.

The image shows a photo of a piece of thick white string being pulled so taut that it is about to completely break. Just one strand is left, holding it together.
The photo shows two girls with their backs to us, standing in a square. Both have backpacks on.

Charlotte's story

  • Charlotte, an adult survivor of child rape and sexual abuse, experienced the trial for her case being postponed three times over the course of two years due to Covid-19 restrictions and barrister strikes. On one occasion, the trial was postponed on the day it was due to start.
  • She described to us the emotional rollercoaster that she experienced as a result of the delays – and how this severely impacted her mental health, as well as her relationships with her partner and children.

💬 “Then the court date finally come; I thought, ‘This is it. Finally, I get to get it over with and then I can try [to] heal from the trauma’. Thinking that I can finally heal properly instead of dragging it all back up, time and time again.

I spent weeks having panic attacks and not sleeping; I wasn’t eating; my whole life was falling apart again ...

But [I was] prepared to tell my side to the court so I could finally be heard. Then it got postponed again – I was told I had to wait a year."

*All names have been changed.

'It’s so painful to feel so stuck somewhere yet hopeless'

For many victims and survivors, their experience of the court system worsens their existing trauma or re-traumatises them further.

For some, it feels like the breaking point.

Find more survivor stories in the report

Data obtained by Rape Crisis* shows the proportion of rape trials that are delayed has been increasing since 2015:

This image shows a graph with two lines - one represents trials completed with delays since 2015 and is going down; the other represents trials completed with at least one delay since 2015 and is going up.

*This data was released to Rape Crisis England & Wales in March 2023 by His Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service, under the Freedom of Information Act.

What's going wrong?

💰 Low pay and bad working conditions for barristers and solicitors. This has led to strike action and a shortage of criminal lawyers.

👨‍⚖️ A shortage of judges. This is due to the government decreasing the number of days that courts could be open for in the past (which meant that fewer judges were recruited), plus the shortage of criminal lawyers – the people who can go on to become judges!

🏢 Courtrooms sitting empty due to repairs needing to be carried out and not enough staff. On every working day in January 2023, between 10% and 46% of Crown courtrooms across England and Wales sat empty.

📆 Problems with how court dates are being scheduled. It's not clear whose job it is to make sure that this is done well. Meanwhile, multiple cases are sometimes scheduled for the same courtroom at the same time, while some cases are scheduled on the off-chance that a courtroom becomes free.

🦠 No pandemic planning for the courts. This meant that, when Covid-19 struck, the Crown Court did not have the IT systems or processes in place that would have enabled remote hearings and socially distanced courts.

⚖️ Inefficient trials. All of the problems above have led to more and more trials being delayed (as seen in the graph above), or collapsing at the last minute.

How can these problems be fixed?

Our recommendations include:

  • The fast-tracking of sexual offence cases.
  • Specialist sexual offence courts where all staff receive trauma-informed training.
  • Judge-only trial pilots (because of jury trials being more costly and lengthy).
  • A long-term and properly resourced strategy for recruiting and retaining criminal lawyers.
  • Victims and survivors recognised as participants in the court process, rather than just witnesses to a crime.
  • Long-term grants for specialist sexual violence and abuse services that support survivors through the criminal justice system.
Find the full list in our report

Let's talk about what's happening and make change!

You can show solidarity with victims and survivors of rape and sexual abuse by posting about these problems with the court system on social media.

If you're on Twitter, we have a ready-made tweet about our Breaking Point report that you can post in just two clicks. Post it now

Are you a journalist who wants to cover this story?

Please contact us at

❗ This address is not staffed 24 hours but a member of our team will respond as quickly as possible.

"The only reason I am doing it now is for other women ... I don’t want to do the trial ... But I want something good to come out of this"

Rebecca,* a survivor of multiple rapes, sexual abuse and other forms of abuse by her ex-partner (who has been released on bail ahead of the much-delayed trial)
The image shows a photo of the back of a statue of Lady Justice, holding up scales in her right hand.

Are you a victim or survivor who's waiting for their case to go to court?

Please know that you are not alone – we are here for you.

If you don't already have an ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Adviser) supporting you through the process, your nearest Rape Crisis centre might be able to offer you one.

You can also contact our 24/7 Support Line and speak to one of our specialist operators. They will listen to you, believe you, and answer any questions that you might have.

Find your nearest Rape Crisis centre
A female counsellor holding a clipboard and her female patient sit on armchairs. The female patient is mid speech and looking at the clipboard and the counsellor is looking at her.