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On 26 May 2022 the Attorney General’s Office and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) published new guidance that made it more likely for a rape victim’s private counselling notes to be requested during a criminal investigation. In practice these pieces of guidance could serve to dramatically reduce protection and rights to privacy for survivors of rape and sexual violence - many of whom experience severe, wide-ranging and long-term trauma.
Alongside the End Violence Against Women & Girls’ Coalition and the Centre For Women’s Justice, we at Rape Crisis have been calling for the Attorney General and the CPS to take a different approach, and to #KeepCounsellingConfidential.
Today (16 June 2022) 98 MPs have written to the Prime Minister to express their concern about the new Attorney General Guidelines, urging him to block the new rules before they come into effect on 25th July. We have been explicitly asking for years for counselling notes to be made non-disclosable (akin to legal professional privilege), as outlined in our joint ‘The Decriminalisation of Rape’ report, so the decisive action taken by MPs in writing this letter is a welcome step.
RCEW CEO Jayne Butler says:
“Counselling notes are very often used to find any material that could be used in some way to discredit and undermine victims and survivors. Rape Crisis England & Wales believe it is ethically wrong and damaging to disclose survivors’ private records, which often contain deeply personal and private feelings about the trauma they are experiencing as a result of their sexual abuse. Such an invasion of privacy adds to the wide-ranging trauma experienced by many victims and survivors. But we also believe it is entirely unnecessary for anyone to access private counselling records; therapy deals with thoughts and feelings, and not facts to be investigated. Disclosing counselling records, therefore, is a significant waste of police time and resource.
We are delighted to see the groundswell of support for the sensible recommendation for survivors to be able to access confidential therapy and counselling.”
We now look forward to engaging further with parliamentarians to see how we might enact changes that protect survivors, and ensure that those who wish to report are given access to the specialist support they deserve.