The collapse in rape prosecutions has created a climate of impunity. Women are right to be furious
The pledges made by ministers in their keenly awaited rape review must lead to immediate and tightly focused action, enabled by sufficient funding. The current picture with regard to the criminal justice system’s handling of rape is a disaster, of which ministers have rightly said that they are ashamed. Of 52,210 rapes recorded in 2020, just 843 resulted in a charge or a summons. Emily Hunt, an independent adviser to the review and a victim of a sexual offence herself, sums up the situation accurately in saying that rape victims are “nearly always” failed.
Some of the reasons for this are, as the review recognises, complex. These include a chronic failure to reckon with the digital environment and the vast information trails it creates. Others are pretty straightforward, notably the destructive impact of austerity. Prosecuting rape and other sexual offences is acknowledged by all to be difficult. The disbanding of specialist teams in police forces had predictably harmful effects. Chaos in the courts system leading to delays, and a lack of victim support, have also contributed to a collapse in confidence: the proportion of complainants dropping out of cases rose from 25% to 43% in five years.