Rape suspects ‘should be barred from contacting victims’

Silent victim
Silent victim

Men accused of rape should face bans on contacting their victims even if they are not charged, a minister has said.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Laura Farris, the Home Office minister, said police should consider court orders to clamp down on the behaviour of suspected rapists whose victims did not want to go through with a prosecution.

Ms Farris, the victims and safeguarding minister, said she was concerned that up to 60 per cent of rape victims withdrew from investigations, often because they were or had been in a relationship with their alleged attacker.

Because it was nearly impossible for police to prosecute without their support, Ms Farris said forces should consider applying for sexual risk orders that place tough restrictions on alleged rapists’ contacts and movements without the need to prove that they had committed the offence.

A court only has to be satisfied that a single “act of a sexual nature” has been committed by the alleged offender “on the balance of probabilities” for an order to be imposed to protect the victim.

Police can then seek to impose bans on contacting the victim, children or family, set geographical restrictions, bar them from taking any foreign travel and electronically tag them.

Any breach of the order carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

Office for National Statistics data show that 44 per cent of all rapes or sexual assaults are committed by partners or ex-partners of victims.

Ms Farris said she and James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, were focusing on such orders as a way to protect women, particularly those who might be reluctant to bring a prosecution.

“The category of victim who is the most likely to withdraw is the person who is still in a relationship with their rapist. And there are two reasons for that, because in plain English, they’ve been got at or because of family considerations,” said Ms Farris.

‘They want protection’

“Typically, that’s because they have children with the person who has raped them and they don’t want to put the father of their children behind bars.

“We have to recognise that the outcome they want is not for them to stand in the dock, they want protection.

“That’s why we’re very interested in things like sexual risk orders, which are pre-charge protective orders, and sexual harm prevention orders, which is the other side of that post-conviction.

“Sexual risk orders in particular create prohibitions on offenders’ behaviour, who they can contact, where they can go.

“If it’s breached, it could get five years in prison sometimes.

“We’re interested in this category of protective order, because we know that if it’s your partner, the father of my kids, there can be an obstacle to prosecuting.”

The move comes after the Commons backed proposals that MPs arrested for serious sexual or violent offences should be excluded from Parliament rather than delay any action until after they were charged.

Prosecutions have increased

Figures published on Friday show that arrests, charges and prosecutions of rapists have increased since the roll-out to all 43 police forces in England and Wales of Operation Soteria, an investigative model that focuses on suspects’ behaviour before, during and after reported attacks rather than testing victims’ credibility.

Arrests for rape are up by a quarter on 2019-20, referrals to prosecutors are up by 142 per cent from 590 to 1,429 and prosecutions have doubled since the introduction of Soteria to 633 in the last quarter.

More than 4,500 officers have trained in Soteria investigative techniques, double the Government’s target.

Ms Farris said she was considering extending the Soteria approach – of targeting the offender – to other similar offences such as domestic abuse and stalking.

Although charging rates for rape remain low at around three per cent, Ms Farris believed there were marked improvements through police working more closely with the Crown Prosecution Service, quicker forensic examinations of phones so victims had them back within 24 hours and specialist sexual violence advisers.

She also pointed to trials of new protection orders in Greater Manchester and south London where courts imposed conditions requiring the perpetrators to undergo treatment for their sexual behaviour, misogynistic attitudes and any drug or alcohol problems.

“We will work relentlessly to secure justice for victims”, says Laura Farris

By Laura Farris

Of all the non-fatal criminal offences, rape is perhaps the most serious. Both devastating and violating, it is little surprise that it is a frequent “weapon of war” in conflict and a grim hallmark of domestic abuse.

These are issues I worked on before becoming an MP – and have committed to since being elected.

‌When I first arrived in 2019, rape prosecutions were too low. Two high-profile cases that had collapsed on the eve of trial had prompted an overcautious approach by the police and CPS, who were keen not to repeat the same mistakes.

‌The government was determined to get to the bottom of what was going on and published an End-to-End Rape Review in 2021, in order to establish what was happening at every stage of the criminal justice process and create a radical plan to turn it around.

‌The objective we set ourselves was to return police referrals, CPS charges and cases sent to the crown court for trial to 2016 levels.

‌We continue to exceed that ambition. We have seen an increase of 87 per cent in police referrals, a 19 per cent increase in charges and a 20 per cent increase in cases sent to the crown court compared to 2016.

‌We are prosecuting well over double the volume of rape cases since 2019, with rapists serving an average of 50 per cent longer behind bars than they were when we came into office in 2010.

‌It is worth setting out how we have done this.

‌First, and perhaps most importantly, we have implemented a new national police model for the investigation of rape, developed through Operation Soteria. This was devised by academics, piloted (with impressive results) in Avon and Somerset and has been rolled out incrementally nationwide.

‌The objective is to shift rape investigations away from the perceived credibility of the victim, to an intense focus on the behaviour of the perpetrator. The results have been stark. We have seen some forces quadruple the number of cases they are referring to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision.

‌This change has engendered much closer cooperation between the police and the CPS at the start of investigations, resulting in higher charge rate – with well over double the number of cases reaching court.

‌Another key objective within our action plan was the deployment of specially trained officers across all 43 forces in England and Wales. Our target was 2,000 trained officers by April 2024 and I am delighted to say that we have vastly exceeded it. The College of Policing reports that training has been delivered to over 4,500 officers, meaning forces have the specialist skills to respond to rape and sexual offences.

We have also made significant improvements to victim support, funding close to 1,000 Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and Independent Domestic Violence Advisors who support victims through every step of the criminal justice process. We know that their involvement is often key to seeing the process through to its conclusion.

We’ve taken practical steps too: committing to adult rape victims that they won’t be left without a phone for more than 24 hours – and offering a 24/7 national Rape Support Hotline, so there is always support available.

‌Finally, we have expanded the use of special measures in court. Rape victims can give evidence privately and in advance of the trial, meaning that they never have to face the perpetrator and their evidence is played by video link to the jury.

‌Of course, there is further we can go to secure justice for victims of this appalling crime and we will work relentlessly to get there. But we have delivered real meaningful change for victims and have developed highly-effective strategies to take us there.

Laura Farris is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.