Rape victims are still being asked unnecessary questions about their sex lives in court

Rape victims are illegally being asked about their sexual histories in court, says study [Photo: Instagram/rapecrisisscotland]

When a woman is brave enough to take her experience of rape to the police, she doesn’t expect to have her entire sexual history dredged up in front of the judge and jury.

But that’s exactly what is happening in the UK, says a new study. Lime Culture, an organisation that gives sexual violence training to the likes of police officers and counsellors, has revealed that only a quarter of people don’t see their sexual history talked about in court.

What’s worse is that in almost half (44%) of cases, the alleged rape victim wasn’t warned about this particular line of questioning before the trial.

The study, which looked at 550 rape trials over the course of two years, found that alleged victims were being ambushed during cross-examination, leading to their sexual history being spoken openly about before the court.

The most famous case of this in recent years is with footballer Ched Evans who had his rape conviction overturned in October 2016 thanks to his alleged victim being forced to talk about intimate details of her sex life.

Women’s support groups spoke out against the tactic, arguing that using a person’s sexual history to disprove a rape case could deter future victims from coming forward.

“There is a big risk that this case overall has a negative impact on reporting,” chief executive of Women’s Aid, Polly Neate, told the Guardian at the time. “Only this week CPS figures revealed a quarter of women are not pursuing cases. If you look at the surrounding maelstrom about this case, it’s easy to see why that is the case.”

The intimate line of questioning could prevent future victims from coming forward [Photo: Pexels]

“A woman’s past sexual history bears no relevance on whether or not they have been a victim of rape. There is a need to challenge pervasive cultural assumptions that equate a woman’s former sexual history with her likelihood of being a victim of rape.”

This particular tactic used by courts appears to go against section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 which states that it is not lawful to treat a complainant’s previous sexual history or behaviour as evidence in court.

However, there’s a loophole which allows the defence to go ahead with the sensitive line of questioning – but only in extreme circumstances. The law states that a defence team may only introduce evidence of sexual history that is “in any respect, so similar that the similarity cannot be reasonably explained as a coincidence.”

A bill was proposed to close this loophole once and for all by Labour MP Harriet Harman but was unfortunately halted due to the general election.

There is a silver lining. In August, director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders announced that the same scrutiny will apply to alleged rapists. The Crown Prosecution Service will use CCTV, social media and witness testimony to report on the alleged attacker’s previous behaviour in the same way that the victim is treated.

The news could spell a big win for rape cases considering there are 78,000 rape victims each year with only 1,070 rapists being convicted.

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