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Keir Starmer announces changes to criminal justice handling of child sexual abuse

6 Mar 2013

Rape Crisis (England and Wales) warmly welcomes today’s announcement from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) of an overhaul of the way the criminal justice system addresses child sexual abuse.

RCEW represents a network of independent Rape Crisis Centres with 40 years’ experience of providing specialist, front-line services to women and girls whose lives have been affected by sexual violence of any kind at any time.  Over 60% of the 60,000 women and girls we support each year come to us because of events that happened three years or more ago and nearly half are adult survivors of child sexual abuse.  Yet at the same time, only 15% of our service users will ever report to the police.  Amongst the reasons women and girls tell us they are reluctant to engage with the criminal justice system is the fear of not being believed. 

DPP Keir Starmer’s words today therefore echo what we within the Rape Crisis movement have known and argued for decades; that “the yardsticks for testing the credibility and reliability of victims in sexual abuse cases do not serve the police or prosecutors well and risk leaving an identifiable group of vulnerable victims unprotected by the criminal law.”  We’re pleased to hear Chief Constable David Whatton of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) support this view and acknowledge that ‘trust and being believed are key to victims of sexual offences having the confidence to report.’

RCEW acknowledges that some significant improvements in the handling of sexual offences have been seen in recent years but similarly knows from extensive experience that there is still a long way to go as improved responses remain patchy.  We welcome the ‘radical clearing of the decks’ in favour of an overarching policy to ensure consistent best practice from all agencies in tackling sexual offences and the intention of closing the gap between policy and practice. 

Rape Crisis is eager to participate in the round-table discussions over the next few months as a specialist campaigning and support organisation.  We’re committed to the implementation of an effective criminal justice system for the large numbers of children and young people our member Centres work with and, importantly, for adult survivors of child sexual abuse.  We know that the effects of child sexual abuse on physical, reproductive, sexual and mental health can last years and even decades and yet the needs of this significant group are so little met and their voices so rarely heard.  Like the DPP, we hope this marks a watershed moment for survivors of child sexual abuse.