This week the Centre for Women’s Justice joined with three umbrella women’s sector organisations that between us support and advocate on behalf of tens of thousands of rape victims seeking justice, to launch our report on the decriminalisation of rape.
We have done this in the light of the recent plummeting volume of cases prosecuted and our own case work, which tells us that rape myths and stereotypes continue to infect the system and decisions are being made to halt investigations and prosecutions even where evidence is compelling.
We regularly see cases being dropped where weapons have been used and serious injuries caused, where suspects have been shown to be lying and where there are multiple victims providing testimony against the same perpetrator.
When rapists are not held to account many will repeat their attacks knowing the weaknesses in the system and planning their attacks accordingly.
Despite many reports, commissions of inquiry, legislative changes and policy initiatives; despite the imposition of legal duties on the police and prosecutors to effectively investigate and prosecute rape; despite clear guidance on disregarding myths and stereotypes, and other measures designed to ensure fair trials, our report reveals catastrophic systemic failures in criminal justice that embolden serial rapists and retraumatise victims.
Our report makes a series of recommendations designed to ensure accountable leadership, radical thinking in our court system including a commission on juries and the adversarial approach, funded independent legal advocates, a ban on previous sex history, and adequately funded holistic specialist support services for survivors.
In 2013, Sir Keir Starmer held the post of director of public prosecutions and led a concerted effort to bring about change in the system following the scandalous revelations about Jimmy Savile and other high-profile serial perpetrators and of the operation of grooming gangs across parts of the country.
At the time he said: “If all that we achieve in a set of guidelines which are jettisoned in five years because of further critical reports, we will have achieved nothing and we will have let victims, and indeed suspects, down in a profound way.”
We hope at this latest watershed moment, as we await publication of the Government’s own rape review, that it will not be reflected on in seven years’ time as the same old, same old.
Harriet Wistrich is founder and director of Centre for Women’s Justice