Rape trials in England are set to be overhauled, partly through the use of new technology, as part of a pilot to restore women's "faith" in the justice system. It comes after the police and court watchdog emphasised the need for specialist rape courts to help clear a backlog of cases – with one victim, who may have to wait as long as five years for her trial, saying that a generation of women "have no faith" in the system.
News of the pilot comes after a BBC investigation earlier this year found that "serious sexual offences are taking the longest time on record to go through Crown Courts in England and Wales." On top of that, a 2022 government report revealed that rape victims were waiting an average of 706 days from reporting an offence to the case reaching court. Victim support charity Rape Crisis also found that only one in 100 rapes were reported to police in 2021, with 38% of survivors saying they didn’t think the police could help.
The pilot, which is being rolled out in London, Leeds and Newcastle, will see Crown Courts receive upgraded technology that is needed for rape trials – this includes the means to show witness cross-examinations that have been pre-recorded. All court staff, police and prosecutors working on rape cases will be given specialist trauma training, and independent advisers will also be on hand to support victims throughout their trial.
Speaking about the impact that the current delay is having, Ella – who is using a fake name to protect her identity – told the BBC that she first reported her rape to police in 2018. After police initially closed the investigation, Ella complained and demanded a review resulting in suspects being charged last year. But this week she was told her case would be delayed and would not be going to trial before June 2023.
"By the time I actually make it to trial it will be five years since I first reported it," she said. "It's very hard to choose one word about how I feel about the whole situation. It will be easy to say 'angry' but that kind of doesn't cut it. Disappointed, disillusioned, tired, frustrated. It is just an incredibly tiring process to continue to fight for the basic right of being believed."
For help with any of the issues discussed in this article, visit: Rape Crisis England & Wales, Rape Crisis Scotland, or Rape Crisis Northern Ireland. RASASC provides emotional and practical support for survivors, families and friends.
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