Plans to reverse the five-year slump in rape prosecutions and convictions do not go far enough and should only be considered a “first step”, MPs have been told.
Campaigners and survivors said the ambition published last week in the Government’s long-awaited Rape Review to return to 2016 figures by the end of the current Parliament was welcome, but should not be considered the final target.
The latest Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) figures for 2019-20 show 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales last year – the lowest level since records began, and down from 1,925 the previous year, despite reports of adult rape to police almost doubling since 2015-16.
There were 4,643 rape prosecutions in 2015-16.
Ellie Ball, an independent sexual violence advocacy (IVSA) service manager with Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre, told the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday: “I think it’s been clear that 2016 was not ‘everything’s fine’.
“I think we’ve gone from really bad to non-existent and the Government ambition is to return to ‘really bad’ levels.
“I can’t see that that is a solution.
“I think, almost, the report reflects a gradual erosion of standards in this area of policing and prosecutions.”
Ms Ball said there were examples of the police actively deterring complainants from pressing ahead with their case.
She said: “I think there have been a number of cases where when the victim chooses to disengage, the police breathe a sigh of relief because it is one off their plate.”
Ms Ball added: “The Rape Review really fails to get to grips with the extent of the problem.
“I think we are at the lowest point already, I don’t think we have another three years to see if this works.”
Emily Hunt, a survivor who advised on the Government’s review, said the 2016 figures were not good enough, then or now.
She said: “This is not the time for a pat on the back or a victory lap. None of this has been good enough.”
Around 13% of reported rape cases in 2015-16 ended in a suspect being charged, but this dropped to just 3% in 2019-20.
There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year, but only 1.6% of reported cases results in a charge, according to latest figures.
Ms Hunt told the committee: “I think we need to do better and prosecute rapists – I’m also aware we can’t just flip a switch, the culture needs to change in the police and the CPS.”
Duncan Craig, from Survivors Manchester, an organisation supporting male survivors of sexual abuse and rape, said: “Reach for the moon, and if you miss, you fall in the stars.
“The reality is I think we have to get back to that (2016 levels).
“It’s small steps. If we become too ambitious to begin with, I think we will fail.
“I want to see 2016 – get there, actually make it happen. At that point, we make it more ambitious.”
Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, said that while the Rape Review was “underwhelming”, it was also a “watershed” moment.
She said: “There is a very large amount of kicking the can down the road, having more pilots, and causing delay, in there.
“Nonetheless, this is a watershed.
“As long as the strength of that (Government) apology … survives, and is publicly scrutinised, I hope that we can really bring a change and push from the outside to improve some of the weaker recommendations in the Rape Review and drive the Government further.”