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Exclusive Rape Crisis data on rape victims' mobile phone downloads

21 Sep 2019

The Guardian today (21st September 2019) reported on exclusive data from the Rape Crisis England & Wales network about digital evidence disclosure in rape cases.

They reveal rape complainants, including children, are being asked to divulge all their mobile phone data, raising questions about the proportionality of requests for personal information in rape investigations and prosecutions.

As many as eight in 10 rape complainants in some police force areas are being asked to disclose personal data from their phones during investigations, according to exclusive figures gathered from frontline workers by Rape Crisis England & Wales for the Guardian.

The surveys of frontline staff at Rape Crisis England & Wales found:

  • All had clients who had been asked for large amounts of personal information and most (86%) said it was now standard practice.
  • More than half said that when data was requested complainants were told it was required by the Crown Prosecution Service (53%) and the case might not proceed without it.
  • Almost all (95%) said the requests had a negative impact on complainants, with some noting it deterred people from coming forward.
  • The majority also noted that the requests were happening in some rape cases involving a stranger (61%).
  • Support workers also noted that the information gathered from phones appeared to be disproportionate in some cases, with details about the complainants’ “previous sexual history” and “lifestyle” under scrutiny.

Katie Russell, national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales said:

“This exclusive new data makes plain what the specialist independent sexual violence advocates (ISVAs) across our network have been reporting for some time: that full downloads of victims’ mobile data, the majority of it inevitably completely irrelevant to the case under investigation, is becoming increasingly common, even routine.

Victims and survivors too often tell us they end up feeling like the ones under investigation, especially when their rapist is rarely subjected to the same intensive level of scrutiny or invasion of privacy.

There's no doubt this practice already contributes to high rates of victims and survivors dropping out of the criminal justice process after reporting, and puts others still off reporting to the police altogether. This situation will only continue unless this practice is urgently reviewed and reformed.

When less than 20% of those who are raped, sexually assaulted or sexually abused currently report to the police, and when the criminal justice system is so badly failing the majority of those who do, this treatment of victims and survivors is not justified, proportionate, in the interests of justice or acceptable."

Read the full story in The Guardian