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Only 1.5% of rape cases lead to charge or summons

27 Jul 2019

Only one in 65 rape cases reported to police result in suspects being summonsed or charged, a Guardian analysis of the latest crime figures has revealed.

The most recent Home Office statistics highlight an alarming decline in rape prosecutions in England and Wales over recent years amid increasingly acrimonious rows over the disclosure of evidence and suggestions that CPS prosecuting policies changed. 

The drop is particularly dramatic at a time when victims are reporting more attacks. Four years ago one in seven or 14% of cases led to a suspect being charged or summonsed – a total of 4,908 in 2015-16. Last year fewer than one in 65 reports of rape (1.5%) resulted in a charge or a summons, for a total of only 886 in 2018-19.

The extent of the fall emerged as separate Ministry of Justice figures showed that victims of sexual assault were being forced to wait longer to secure justice in the crown court.

In response to a question by the shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, MoJ statistics revealed the average waiting time between a defendant’s not guilty plea in magistrates court and a crown court trial has stretched to seven months in sexual offence cases. 

That is a four-week rise since 2011. In some areas the delays are longer. Complainants in Leeds crown court now wait more than twice as long (43.1 weeks) than they did in 2011 (17.8 weeks).

There has been a sharp rise in reports of rape made to police. In the four years from 2015 to 2019, the number of rape claims dealt with annually by police in England and Wales rose by 61%, from 35,847 to 57,882.

Last month the government revealed that the average number of days between police submitting a rape case file and the CPS deciding on whether to charge had risen from 32 in 2010-11 to 78 days in 2017-18.

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

"The rise in reports of rape and other sexual offences to the police in recent years has been paralleled by the unprecedented increase in need and demand for our members' specialist Rape Crisis services we've seen over the same period.

At the same time, we mustn't forget that by the Government's own estimates, less than 20% of those who experience these serious, traumatic crimes ever report to the police.

Victims and survivors tell us the reasons for this are many and varied but include their fear of not being believed, of being retraumatised by the criminal justice process and made to feel 'like the ones under investigation' and the sheer length of time pursuing justice takes when they want to be moving forward positively with their lives.

We cannot say this enough or more bluntly: our criminal justice system is currently failing victims and survivors of sexual violence and abuse, at every stage of the process and in multiple ways.

Urgent action is long overdue and more desperately needed than ever. And it must include sufficient sustainable resourcing for the specialist Independent Sexual Violence Advocacy services that can make such a crucial difference to those going through this process."

Responding to the decline in prosecutions, a Home Office spokesperson said:

“We welcome the fact that more victims are having greater confidence to come forward and report these horrendous crimes. However, we are concerned by reductions in charges and prosecutions for crimes such as rape and serious sexual offences.

“We are conducting an end-to-end review of rape cases to establish why this has happened, and identify any issues within the criminal justice system that have contributed to the fall in volumes. This will help us identify where issues exist so we can take steps to improve our response.”

Case study: ‘If I could do it again I would not do it’

Lara is one of at least three women who allege rape by a musician she dated. She decided not to report the rape at the time but later heard from others, including a 14-year old, at which point she decided to go to the police to report the attack.

Over a two-year period Lara supplied the police with evidence including all of the data on her phone, which was not returned to her until eight months later. During that time Lara says she was advised not to get counselling, as the defence could request access to her notes if the case proceeded to a trial.

Lara says she heard little from the police or CPS until they notified her by letter that they had decided not to charge. She says there were basic queries that stalled the case that could have been answered if she was contacted. “I would have just liked the opportunity to explain and answer some of their questions but I was shut down. I wasn’t even given the option.”

Lara appealed against the decision but the case remains closed. “If I could do it again I would not do it. What it did to my mental health, it was not worth it.”

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