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Rape survivors have lost faith in the justice system

A survey of 491 survivors of rape, by the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, found just 14% believed they would receive justice.

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55,000 reported rapes but just 1,867 cases charged

“This survey of rape survivors tells us that not only are they denied justice, but they feel actively re-victimised by the criminal justice system. If survivors of this deeply damaging and highly prevalent crime are to feel “…the state is on their side” the government’s end to end rape review must produce radical cultural transformation across the criminal justice system.”

Vera Baird QC, Victims' Cmmissioner

A survey of nearly 500 survivors of rape, undertaken by the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, has highlighted just 14% believed they would receive justice by reporting the crime to the police. The findings of the survey were published earlier this week (20 October 2020) in a report titled “Rape survivors and the criminal justice system” written by Julian Molina and Sarah Poppleton.

This comes at a time when reports to police about rape have increased hugely but cases charged by CPS have dropped markedly. In 2019/20 there were 55,000 reports of rape to the police, but only 1,867 cases charged. In addition, the proportion of victims who chose to withdraw their support for their case has steadily increased (from 25% in 2015/16 to 41% in 2019/20).

In response to the fall in rape prosecutions, in 2019, the government launched an End to End Review of how rape is dealt with in the criminal justice system.

Dame Vera launched the report by saying:

“The government’s Review’s team took the surprising decision not to seek the views of those who really matter – rape survivors. As Victims Commissioner, I believed it was imperative that the victims’ voice be heard. We placed a questionnaire on our website and were overwhelmed by the response – nearly 500 survivors took part and shared their experience of the justice system with us.
“On every page of this report, the victims’ voice can be heard loud and clear and the findings speak for themselves.”

The key issues that the survivors raised were:

  • Being believed is one of the most important things to survivors, but many feel their credibility is tested through each stage of the criminal justice process
  • Many survivors experienced poor treatment from individual criminal justice practitioners
  • Survivors had serious concerns about the use of digital disclosure requests and how they felt that their privacy had been violated
  • Prompt, proactive communication is very important to survivors, though many told us they had to chase for updates
  • Survivors highly value the support given by victims’ services and Independent Sexual Violence Advisors
  • Decisions to take no further action and not to prosecute can have devastating effects on survivors and it often appears to them that good evidence has not been considered and the reasons for discontinuing are insufficient.
  • Survivors gave various reasons for not taking further action and withdrawing their rape complaints, such as fears of the criminal justice process and wanting to move on
  • Survivors’ experience of the courtroom and rape trials is traumatic, they often feel isolated and attacked in the courtroom
  • Survivors want to be treated sensitively, fairly, respectfully, to be believed, but also for criminal justice system professionals to better understand trauma, provide clear and timely information, and to offer better access to ISVA and support services
  • Rape survivors have low levels of confidence in the criminal justice system’s handling of rape complaints


To gauge overall levels of confidence, the survey asked survivors’ level of agreement with a range of statements about how well rape and sexual offence survivors are treated by the criminal justice system.; focusing mainly on expectations of justice and the degree to which survivors of rape are supported by police, CPS, courts and victims’ services. 

Just 5% strongly agreed and a further 9% agreed that survivors could obtain justice by reporting to the police. Agreement that the police, CPS and courts were fully supportive of survivors was also low. The only statement that achieved more widespread agreement was that survivors of rape and sexual offences are fully supported by victims’ services, at 45%.

The authors noted that those reporting more recently tended to be more likely to agree that survivors are fully supported by the police, the courts, the CPS and victims’ services. Those whose cases were charged were more likely to agree in relation to the support of the police and victims’ services. However, there were no differences by recency of reporting, or whether or not their case was charged, in levels of agreement that survivors can get justice by reporting to police.

The report’s overall conclusion is that  survivors want to be treated sensitively, fairly, respectfully, and to be believed. They also want criminal justice system professionals to better understand trauma and provide clear and timely information. They need to be offered the best possible access to Independent Sexual Violence Advisers and support services.


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