Jun 18, 2021 - World

British justice system has “failed” rape victims, officials say

Picture of a floral tribute with flowers surrounding a sign that says "the police are London's biggest and most dangerous gang"

Floral tributes left at Clapham Common bandstand where people continue to pay their respects to Sarah Everard in London, England. Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

The British criminal justice system has "failed" rape and sexual assault victims, a report released Friday said, prompting officials to apologize and vow "lasting improvements" to the way rape cases are investigated in the country.

By the numbers: The report — which only covered cases with adult victims, but acknowledged that minors are also victims — revealed that prosecutions and convictions for adult rape have fallen by 59% and 47% respectively since 2015-2016, with the number of reported rapes almost doubling since then, from around 24,000 to approximately 43,000 in 2019-2020.

  • The government estimated that less than 20% of rape victims report their assaults to the police, adding that there's likely around 128,000 victims every year.

The state of play: The British government said that the reasons for the decline in cases reaching the court are "complex and wide-ranging, including an increase in personal digital data being requested, delays in the investigative processes, strained relationships between different parts of the criminal justice system, a lack of specialist resources and inconsistent support to victims."

  • The government released some recommendations to better prosecute and investigate sexual assault cases, including focusing more on the subject's behavior.
  • Officials said that victims often "do not feel believed" and added that by focusing on the subject, they could "help ensure decision-making is based on evidence, rather than subjective judgments of victim credibility."

Between the lines: The sexual assault and killing of 33-year-old Sarah Everard has spurred a cascade of concerns and worries over women's safety in Britain and how rape and sexual assault cases are handled.

  • A British police officer pleaded guilty for Everard's kidnapping and rape earlier this month.

What they're saying: "Victims of rape are being failed. Thousands of victims have gone without justice. But this isn’t just about numbers – every instance involves a real person who has suffered a truly terrible crime," Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Attorney General Michael Ellis wrote in the report.

  • "Too many victims of rape and sexual violence have been denied the justice they deserve as a result of systemic failings," Buckland said in a statement. "We are deeply sorry for this and will not rest until real improvements are made."
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