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Just one in seven rape survivors believe reporting will lead to justice

20 Oct 2020

A survey of nearly 500 survivors of rape, undertaken by the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC has highlighted just 14% believed they would receive justice by reporting the crime to the police.

It also found that of those survivors who had not reported what had happened to them to police, 95% said they had not done so because they did not think they would be believed.

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

“The findings of this in-depth, timely piece of research from the office of the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales will be shocking to many.

Much of the direct testimony from victims and survivors about their experience of our so-called criminal justice system following the trauma of sexual violence and abuse is devastating to read.

And yet, heartbreakingly, none of it will come as a surprise to those of us who work in the specialist sexual violence and abuse sector.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of those who chose not to report to the police took that decision because they didn’t think they’d be believed chimes with what victims and survivors tell us at Rape Crisis Centres across England and Wales.

The damning statistic that only 14% of respondents believe it’s possible for victims to get justice by reporting sexual offences to the police reflects the chronic failures of our system and the re-traumatisation it so often causes.

At the same time, the report highlights the vitally important and positive difference the support of specialist sexual violence and abuse services - including counselling and Independent Sexual Violence Advisers / Advocates (ISVAs) - can make to victims’ and survivors’ experiences and lives.

This research reinforces and adds to a wealth of evidence that radical, urgent action is long overdue.

Nothing short of cultural and systemic shift will do if we are to deliver the criminal and social justice for victims and survivors of these serious crimes that they so need, want and deserve.”

Survivors told the survey:

  • Being believed is one of the most important things to survivors, but many feel their credibility is tested through each stage of the criminal justice process
  • Many survivors experienced poor treatment from individual criminal justice practitioners
  • Survivors had serious concerns about the use of digital disclosure requests and how they felt that their privacy had been violated
  • Prompt, proactive communication is very important to survivors, though many had to chase for updates
  • Survivors highly value the support given by victims’ services, including Independent Sexual Violence Advisors
  • Decisions to take no further action and not to prosecute can have devastating effects on survivors and it often appears to them that good evidence has not been considered and the reasons for discontinuing are insufficient.
  • Survivors gave various reasons for not taking further action and withdrawing their rape complaints, such as fears of the criminal justice process and wanting to move on
  • Survivors’ experience of the courtroom and rape trials is traumatic, they often feel isolated and attacked in the courtroom
  • Survivors want to be treated sensitively, fairly, respectfully, to be believed, but also for criminal justice system professionals to better understand trauma, provide clear and timely information, and to offer better access to ISVA and support services
  • Rape survivors have low levels of confidence in the criminal justice system’s handling of rape complaints ​

This comes at a time when reports to police about rape have increased hugely but cases charged by CPS have dropped markedly. In 2019/20 there were 55,000 reports of rape to the police, but only 1,867 cases charged. The proportion of victims who chose to withdraw their support for their case has also steadily increased (from 25% in 2015/16 to 41% in 2019/20).

In response to the fall in rape prosecutions, in 2019, the government launched an End to End Review of how rape is dealt with in the criminal justice system.

Dame Vera says:

“The government’s Review’s team took the surprising decision not to seek the views of those who really matter - rape survivors. As Victims Commissioner, I believed it was imperative that the victims’ voice be heard. We placed a questionnaire on our website and were overwhelmed by the response – nearly 500 survivors took part and shared their experience of the justice system with us.

“On every page of this report, the victims’ voice can be heard loud and clear and the findings speak for themselves.”

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