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Harlow rape survivor's case discussed at House of Commons

15 May 2019

The case of a rape survivor from Harlow and her experience of the criminal justice system has been raised by her MP and discussed in the House of Commons today (Wednesday 15th May 2019).

Robert Halfon MP brought a range of concerns regarding the treatment of victims and survivors of rape and sexual abuse to a Westminster Hall debate in the presence of the Solicitor General after the woman, whose anonymity has been maintained, attended one of his constituency surgeries.

One of the main issues the MP raised on his constituent’s behalf was her sense of being let down by the decision to reduce her rapist’s sentence simply because she had successfully fought him off. He highlighted that attempted rape can carry the same sentences as rape in law, but in practice sentences are often reduced for the attempted offence, even when the criminal intent was clearly the same.

Robert Halfon MP said:

“Whilst [the perpetrator] got six years – now reduced to just three – my constituent feels that she has been served with a lifetime sentence, and left reeling from the anguish and suffering she has experienced.”

The MP also made strong statements on a number of other failings of the criminal justice system in relation to rape and sexual offences, including chronically low and falling rates of prosecution and conviction, lengthy waits for support and justice, and the inadequate resourcing of specialist services for sexual violence and abuse victims and survivors.

He said:

“I recognise that resources are limited but we can’t sit by and ignore these problems…statistics in this area are dire and they’re not getting any better…my Harlow constituent suffered because of the lenient justice system, suffered in the reporting of the attempted rape, suffered again in the context of the aftermath. This is just wrong. My constituent has suffered enough. Every rape and sexual assault survivors has suffered enough. The government must review all of these areas and make sure that no one feels let down by the justice system again.”

Rape Crisis England & Wales said:

“The representation from the MP for Harlow this morning strongly reinforces issues Rape Crisis know to be widespread from our frontline experience of providing specialist support services and from what victims and survivors routinely tell us.

Rape Crisis has been calling for a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system in relation to sexual violence and abuse, which currently fails victims and survivors at every stage of the process, for years.

In response to concerns raised, the Government is currently conducting an end-to-end review of the criminal justice system regarding rape and sexual offences, with which we are actively engaging. This review must take into account every aspect of victims’ and survivors’ experiences, including sentencing guidelines.

It’s clear that victims’ rights within the existing Victims’ Code are still not being applied consistently across the country. For example, victims and survivors are still having to request special measures in court in many instances. We look forward to working with the new Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC and the new Solicitor General Lucy Frazer QC MP on addressing these and other long-standing concerns going forward.

Today’s debate in Westminster Hall also highlighted how vital it is that Government funding be made available to ensure victims and survivors have access to specialist support and advocacy services when they need them. The Rape Support Fund from the Ministry of Justice has contributed towards such provision in recent years but in no way fully funds specialist services or ensures they can sustain and grow to meet the unprecedented and increasing need and demand from victims and survivors.”