Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Long delays blamed as victims drop two thirds of rape cases

‘Thousands of victims are failing to get the justice they deserve and this has to stop,’ Dame Diana Johnson says

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Tuesday 12 April 2022 04:01 BST
MPs condemned ‘unacceptably low numbers’ of prosecutions for rape and sexual offences
MPs condemned ‘unacceptably low numbers’ of prosecutions for rape and sexual offences

Long delays could be to blame for almost two-thirds of adult rape investigations being dropped because the victim wants to discontinue the case, MPs have warned.

A damning report by the Home Affairs Committee discovered 63 per cent of adult rape investigations were terminated between July and September last year because the victim decided to drop their case.

The research found some 63,136 rape offences were recorded from September 2020 to September 2021, with MPs noting this is an “all-time high”. Alongside that, the amount of completed rape prosecutions plummeted from 5,190 back in 2016-17 to only 1,557 in 2020-21.

MPs condemned the “unacceptably low numbers” of prosecutions for rape and sexual offences as they argued the collapse in rape prosecutions is not likely to be tackled unless victims are provided with improved support and proper nationwide funding is rolled out.

The report argued reforms are often still in their early stages or are “localised” and are in need of substantial funding to have repercussions nationally.

Earlier in the year, the prosecution rate nosedived to only 1.3 per cent of recorded rapes in England and Wales.

Dame Diana Johnson, a Labour MP who is chair of the committee, said: “The collapse in the number of prosecutions for rape and sexual offences over the last five years is truly shocking and completely unacceptable.

“While it is clear that significant effort is being put in to reversing this decline across the criminal justice system, there is much further to go. Thousands of victims are failing to get the justice they deserve and this has to stop. From now on the focus must be on supporting the victims.”

Dame Diana argued coming forward to the police to report rape should be the start of “getting justice” yet it is now “a source of further pain”.

“The fact that even now nearly two-thirds of cases collapse because a victim may not be able to bear going forward is unimaginable,” she added.

“We need to see much more ambition and focus. We need better data collection to understand exactly what resources are available to handle rape cases at a local level and how they are performing.”

Dame Diana said victims must be supported through their rape case with specialist support and “improved counselling” to cope with trauma. The politician also called for ministers to “further pilot the provision of independent legal advice to victims and survivors grappling with requests from the police to access data from their phones or third-party material.”

She added: “From now on there must be constant review and reform of every element of the system handling rape and sexual offences. There cannot be a single step back until prosecutions and convictions are far higher than they were even in 2016.”

MPs in the committee warned the government’s rape review, which outlined ministers’ plans to address the collapse in rape charges and prosecutions, has a dearth of “ambition”.

“Lengthy delays in cases reaching court, harmful evidence-gathering processes and poor provision of support services are turning people away from seeking justice,” MPs said.

The committee report noted at least two-fifths of police forces in England and Wales have no specialist rape teams, while the government fails to record how many police officers are specifically trained to investigate rape. The report called for each police force to have a specialist rape team.

It comes after the government apologised to thousands of rape victims last summer, saying it has been unable to seek justice due to the flaws of police and prosecutors.

“The vast majority of victims do not see the crime against them charged and reach a court. One in two victims withdraw from rape investigations,” a joint statement from the home secretary, justice secretary and attorney general said.

“These are trends of which we are deeply ashamed. Victims of rape are being failed. Thousands of victims have gone without justice. But this isn’t just about numbers – every instance involves a real person who has suffered a truly terrible crime.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in