Rape victims 'failed' and left in limbo at long delays for decision on whether to charge alleged offenders

RAPE victims are being left in limbo and failed by the criminal justice system amid long delays for a decision on whether to charge alleged offenders.

Rape charities have highlighted concern at figures highlighting the length of time it takes for police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to reach a resolution in cases.

Hampshire Constabulary, responding to worries over the impact on victims, has insisted it is starting to see the results of greater collaboration with the CPS to reduce the time a case takes to get to court.

Read More

Read More
Decision on 200 homes at St James' Hospital in Portsmouth still 'several months ...
Picture: Habibur Rahman

It comes after analysis by The News’ sister publication NationalWorld of Home Office crime outcome figures. These reveal that it is far from unusual for alleged rape victims to have to contend with such long waits – it is even commonplace.

If you reported a rape in England and Wales in 2020, there is a one in eight chance you were still waiting at the end of January 2022 for either the police or the CPS to make a decision on whether to bring charges.

The database shows there were 6,816 rape offences first recorded in 2020 that still had no outcome assigned to them by January 2022. That was 12.5 per cent of all rapes recorded in 2020.

‘No outcome assigned’ means the police, in conjunction with the CPS, had neither decided to bring charges, nor to close the case with an unsuccessful outcome – leaving victims stuck in limbo.

Abuse victim.

In Hampshire during 2020 there were 2,088 rape offences recorded by police. Of these, 183 cases were still outstanding/no outcome assigned - or 8.8 per cent - as of January 2022, ranking the force as 25th in England and Wales.

There have been 48 charges or summons brought so far for those offences or 2.3 per cent, ranking the force for the highest proportion for charges brought at at 34.

The figures have led to a Portsmouth-based charity supporting victims of sexual violence to call for a ‘radical overhaul’ of the justice system to improve the plight of victims.

Shonagh Dillon, the founder and CEO of Aurora New Dawn, which supports survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking. Submitted March 13, 2021

Zoe Jackson, director of policy at Aurora New Dawn, said: ‘Long delays in the wait for justice add yet another layer to the trauma experienced by victims and mean many will drop out of the process entirely.

‘This is not just a police issue: the criminal justice system as a whole is failing victims and survivors of rape and needs a radical overhaul.

‘We support the ongoing efforts of organisations like the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) and the Centre for Women’s Justice who continue to campaign for this to be addressed at a National level, as a matter of urgency.’

Deniz Uğur, deputy director of EVAW, said: ‘Rape survivors face unacceptably long waits for decisions in their cases, and face longer waits than victims of other offences for their cases to be heard in court, in the unlikely event they ever get that far.

‘Myths and stereotypes inform decision making at every stage of the justice process, and this is particularly harmful to Black and minoritised women and all those who face additional discrimination on the basis of their race, disability, migration status or other characteristics.

‘Many survivors say these delays, and the other appalling ways they are treated during the criminal justice process, are retraumatising and worse than their experience of sexual violence.

‘The criminal justice system is not delivering justice to survivors but worse still, it is harming women who come forward to report rape and sexual assault. We need urgent action to transform our broken justice system, including transparency and accountability in leadership, so no more survivors are failed.’

Jayne Butler, CEO of Rape Crisis England and Wales, said the effect of delays on victims and survivors cannot be understated, with ‘many experiencing intensified trauma symptoms such as flashbacks, panic attacks, and heightened anxiety and stress’ as a result.

‘The compounding traumas have led to some survivors having nervous breakdowns, and many will inevitably drop out of the criminal justice process entirely,’ she said.

‘It is simply unacceptable that any survivor is waiting so long to know if their case will result in a charge. It takes a huge amount of bravery to report a rape: survivors are often faced with disbelief, institutionalised misogyny, and expected to give up huge amounts of personal data. To then wait a year to know if you will even have a chance at seeing justice: it is not good enough.’

Ms Butler said in the charity’s ‘The Decriminalisation of Rape’ report a number of issues have contributed to charging delays, including disproportionate demands for evidence – particularly when it comes to victim and survivors’ personal data, as well as overwhelming capacity problems within the police.

‘This all points to the need for sustainable funding. The changes needed to improve rape investigation and prosecutions go beyond system processes, they require a cultural shift across all justice institutions and this kind of change needs investment,’ she added.

Hampshire police said it appreciates how hard it is for victims to experience delays in getting justice and has vowed to continue building on progress made.

Assistant chief constable Rob France said: ‘We have been working hard to see what more we can do as a force and with partners to improve investigations and reduce the time it takes to get to court.

‘We are already starting to see the results of our stronger collaboration with the CPS.

‘We are getting quicker decisions on charges and working harder than ever to build strong cases that get to court with fewer delays for the victims.

‘Our officers work closely with a RASSO (Rape and Serious Sexual Offences) lawyer at the earliest opportunity and ensure joint working throughout the investigation.

‘Previous reports have shown that forces with specialist units tend to provide a better service to victims and in Hampshire we have a specialist team under Operation Amberstone, dedicated to providing the best response to reports of rape.

‘This includes the use of Specially Trained Officers (STOs) who are assigned to victims and support them throughout in partnership with victim services. However, we know there is much more work to do.

‘We know it takes immense courage for victims to speak to us about their harrowing experiences so we will continue to improve so that they have the confidence and trust in us to get justice for them.’

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson added: ‘In the last three months there has been a 15 per cent increase in the number of people convicted for rape offences and the number of outstanding cases in the crown court is beginning to fall, but we know there is a lot further to go to restore the swift access to justice victims deserve.

‘That’s why we are recruiting 1,000 more independent sexual and domestic violence advisers, launching a new 24/7 helpline for victims, trialling a new approach to police investigations, and rolling out pre-recorded cross-examination across the country so rape victims get the justice and support they need at every stage of the justice system.’