The report recommends that in order to reverse the trend Specialist rape investigation teams should be installed in every police force in England and Wales.
Reported rapes are at an all-time high, while prosecutions fell by 70% in the past four years, MPs said.
Further that police investigations should be focussed on suspects as opposed to victims but what could that mean in practice? The Abuse Team point out that the burden of proof is on the prosecution. It has to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt and so it is curious as to how this would play out in practice? There have of course been high profile cases where there have been acquittals following emergence of evidence that discredited the prosecution case.
The Team discuss whether some fundamental issues have yet to be addressed for example consent which is not, perhaps, really understood by too many in society and indeed those in the justice system.
The question is asked by the Team whether there was better education on consent then maybe there would not be so many sexual assaults, and where there are a better conviction rate. What is jury supposed to do when what they are being told is all over the place? We know that victims can be so traumatised that they cannot speak let alone explain at the time and subsequently.
The MPs in their report said they were “deeply concerned” by reports victims were avoiding accessing mental health support because they feared records of their therapy sessions could be disclosed to the defence and used to undermine their case. They further said new guidance on pre-trial therapy should be published as soon as possible. The Crown Prosecution Service said it recognised many victims felt let down by the criminal justice process.
The team discuss the concern that there has always been that therapy records would be used by the defence to discredit the victim. We see this in civil cases. Defendants and their lawyers routinely seek sight of medical records. There are looking for something to use. This is very intrusive often unnecessary and there should be more judicial toughness on this than there has been.
New “fundamental principles” on pre-trial therapy published by the CPS say police must request specific information when requesting therapy notes for an investigation, not make “unfocused requests”. And they say therapy notes must only be disclosed to the defence when they might be considered to undermine the prosecution case or help the defence.
The team wonder how that will help in practice? Supposing the defendant knows something of the victim’s past, but only a little detail which may or may not be relevant: could it be a fishing expedition?.
Of course people today live their lives to a significant extent on-line texting and dare we say it “sexting”. What may seem private and ok turns out later to be far more significant than thought of at the time.
Among the recommendations in the MPs’ report were that:
- The government should make it clear that every police force should have a specialist rape investigation team, as at least 40% of forces in England and Wales currently do not
- Ministers should consider creating a dedicated commissioner to represent the interests of victims of sexual violence, or expanding the role of an existing commissioner
- More victims should be given independent legal advocates to support them with requests for personal data, applications to refer to their sexual history in court or applications to access records of their counselling or therapy sessions
- There should be greater support for long-term counselling and therapy
- Police must be given the funding to get the equipment and skills to ensure rape victims do not have their phones removed for evidence-gathering for more than 24 hours
The team conclude by remarking will be interesting to see how this pans out but we are all agreed that what is necessary is:
- Proper funding
- Better and meaningful support for victims
For more information or advice, please visit our abuse website page.