Our Response to the Government's Rape Review - My CMS

Today the Government published its long-awaited End to End Rape Review highlighting the extensive failures in our criminal justice system which has left many victims of rape re-traumatised and without justice. Here at Changing Lives we are all too aware of the ways that women have been let down. Our recent Nowhere to Turn report found that, during the first four months of lockdown, there was a 179% increase in the number of women disclosing that they have experienced sexual violence in some of our services, yet across all our services there have been zero convictions for any sexual offences reported to the police since the beginning of 2019.

We welcome the Governments’ acknowledgement of its failings and the apology that Ministers have made to victims – but apologies must be accompanied with action.

There is much that we welcome in the review. It acknowledges that for far too long the system has focused on the behaviour and sexual history of the victim rather than the perpetrator. People who report to the police are subjected to high levels of personal scrutiny throughout and several women we support have been deemed ‘unreliable witnesses’ because of their substance dependence, homelessness or mental illness, despite the fact that many of these things may in fact be the result of sexual abuse. Indeed, findings from our STAGE project found that perpetrators will often target women for rape and sexual exploitation because they know they are unlikely to be believed. We welcome Government’s commitment to focus on perpetrator behaviour, including the acknowledgement that rape is often not a one-off incident but part of a pattern of behaviour.

However our feeling is that the targets of the Government’s action plan are woefully unambitious. The Government aims to return rape prosecutions and convictions to 2016 levels – whilst that would be an improvement on the current state of rape cases, this is a very low bar and we can hardly say the system was working well in 2016 either.

Many of the actions involve further reviews, consultations and pilots. Whilst we encourage evidence-based practice, we have waited a long time for this review and now survivors of rape must wait even longer before any tangible changes will be made across our justice system. The introduction of Section 28, for example, where victims can pre-record their evidence and cross-examination, is showing great results both for survivors’ wellbeing and for achieving early guilty pleas, yet the rollout is happening at a painfully slow rate. The pandemic has shown that, where there is a will within Government, action can happen quickly, so how much longer will survivors be made to wait?

We also need to see far more done to prevent rape and sexual abuse happening the first place and urge the Government to address this in the upcoming Violence against Women and Girls Strategy. Even the best justice outcome cannot undo the trauma of experiencing rape and other forms of sexual violence and we must be more proactive in preventing it, as well as providing quality trauma-informed services to victims and survivors.

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