Last night Channel 4 aired two programs centred around rape and sexual violence. The first “Rape - Who's on Trial?” was a documentary filmed at Avon and Somerset Police that followed officers investigating sexual crimes, from the reporting stages through to the courts. This was followed by “The Rape Debate: Who’s on Trial?” which brought together a series of professionals working within the criminal justice system and campaigners in front of an audience of survivors, with the aim to debate the crisis in the investigation and prosecution of rape and sexual assaults. Our CEO Jayne Butler gives her response on these programs and outlines what can be done to improve experiences for victims and survivors going through the criminal justice system.
"Last night’s documentary was a difficult watch. It was difficult to see the trauma experienced by women coming forward to report the horrific instances of rape and sexual assault they had been through; it was difficult to see police officers engage in rape myths and spout inaccuracies around consent; it was difficult to see no-charge decisions being made; and it was difficult to see the utter injustice of a case that went to trial and returned a no-guilty verdict despite clear indications it should have resulted in a conviction. It was difficult, but not at all surprising. We have known and discussed for some time the failings within the criminal justice system for victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault. At every stage of the criminal justice journey, women and girls are subject to unjust scrutiny. They can be questioned on everything from what they were wearing, how much they drank, if they’d taken drugs or how they were behaving. To be very clear, NONE of those things should have any impact on how they are treated by the police, and to see officers question women’s behaviour and discuss whether or not they believe her account was so discouraging.
The subsequent panel show was billed as a debate on the crisis in the investigation and prosecution of rape and sexual assaults, yet no one from the CPS was present. The brave survivors in the audience, who showed such incredible courage in sharing their stories, were therefore not given the proper opportunity to hold anyone to account. It is incredibly important to give survivors a platform to share their experiences, but we need institutions to listen to survivors and then take action. There is clearly a need for a whole system overhaul. Andrea Simon, Director of the Violence Against Women Coalition, summed it up, "The entire system is connected and that’s why we say it’s broken. It’s not delivering justice".
Whilst we welcome any coverage that helps to shine a light on the injustices women face, we mustn’t get stuck in a loop of talking about how bad things are without doing anything about them. Last year Rape Crisis England & Wales, in conjunction with Imkaan, the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), and the Centre for Women's Justice, released our ‘The Decriminalisation of Rape’ report, which sets out recommendations for the police and CPS. It is now a year on and we are yet to see any improvements, we continue to call for major changes to police and prosecutor work practices, a Special Commission on juries, wraparound victim support, and research on which women don’t report rape and why."