Criminal justice system ‘failing to tackle potential serial rapists’

The criminal justice system is putting more people at risk by “failing to tackle potential serial rapists”, the Victims’ Commissioner has warned.

Dame Vera Baird expressed the concerns as official figures showed that reports of rape are on the increase but the number of charges being brought against attackers has fallen.

The overall number of rapes reported to police rose by almost 13,000 to 54,045 in 2017/18, compared with 41,186 the previous year.

Some 11,913 attacks were not recorded as crimes, an increase from 8,624 the year before.

(PA Graphics)

The overall charge rate has fallen in the same period from 6.8% to 4.2%, according to data recorded by public bodies which has been gathered by the Rape Monitoring Group (RMG) and published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

The number of cases referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a charging decision has fallen slightly, from 6,606 to 6,012.

Fewer suspects were convicted after admitting the offence or being found guilty by a jury – 1,062 compared with 1,350 the previous year.

Dame Vera said the Government needs to “act quickly” in its review of how rape complaints are handled to make sure victims receive “the justice they deserve”.

“The criminal justice system is letting down current victims and creating new victims by failing to tackle potential serial rapists,” she said.

“Rape victims are being badly let down by the criminal justice system. More complainants are coming forward, but fewer cases are being prosecuted and only one in every 50 cases is resulting in a conviction. How can this be justice?

“These figures show that perpetrators can act without fear of being held to account. Many will go on to commit further offences and will only stop when caught.

“These figures not only highlight how we are letting down existing victims, but how we are creating future victims.

“We know that nearly four in five victims of sexual assault choose not to report the crimes committed against them. How can we ever give these victims the confidence to report when so few cases ever secure a conviction?

“We need to understand the reasons behind this failure. It is in part down to the treatment of complainants by police and prosecutors; for example, failing to update them on investigations or making intrusive and disproportionate demands on their personal data. We also know that the treatment of complainants in the courtroom can cause trauma and distress.”

(PA Graphics)

The RMG published the figures to show how cases of rape were dealt with at all stages of the criminal justice system in 2017/18.

The data was recorded by bodies including the Home Office, Office for National Statistics, CPS and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) covering all 43 police forces in England and Wales and the British Transport Police and previously published separately.

The group gathers the information together so it can be viewed and considered as a whole.

The CPS decided not to charge any suspects in just under half of the cases referred to it in 2017/18, according to the figures.

For 24,280 of the offences recorded in 2017/18 there were “evidential difficulties” such as the victim not supporting a prosecution.

Some 2,238 offences resulted in a charge or summons, with the outcome for 6,647 not yet recorded.

Prosecution was “prevented” or found not to be in the public interest for 1,015 recorded offences.

According to the latest Ministry of Justice figures, the average time behind bars for rape as recorded at 2016/17 is 115 months – about nine years.

Rebecca Hitchen, campaigns manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said the figures are “truly shocking” and evidence of “just how broken the system is”.

She added: “This is a crisis and it needs the highest level of political attention.

“We urge the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary to get fully involved in the ongoing Rape Review, from which very little has been heard. We urge them to demand answers as to what is going on.

“They should also make clear, public reassurances to women, and men, who are considering reporting rape, that meaningful work will be done to improve access to justice.”

A CPS spokesman said: “The growing gap between the number of rapes recorded and the number of cases going to court is a great cause of concern. That’s why the CPS is taking part in a system-wide review to scrutinise how these cases are being handled.”

He added that the “significant fall in the volume of referrals from the police” had contributed to the drop in rape charges.

Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams, chairwoman of the group, said it was vital statistics about rape were made as transparent as possible and hoped the data will help the criminal justice system do all it can to “prevent this most heinous of crimes”.

A Government spokeswoman said it was “taking action to restore public confidence in the justice system” by hiring more police, reviewing sentencing of violent and sexual offenders, giving more money to the CPS, funding victim support services and creating more prison places.

She added: “Victims deserve to know their cases will be pursued rigorously through the courts.”

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