OPINION - London Rape Review: Rape myths are still thriving

·3-min read
(Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Archive)
(Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Archive)

The stats are truly shocking in the London Rape Review published yesterday, but sadly very familiar for those who have worked with rape survivors. This report into rape investigations in London highlights with frightening clarity how far we still have to go to ensure rape victims have the confidence that they will get the justice they deserve.

The review has demonstrated that misconceptions and misunderstanding about rape remain rife – if a victim can’t remember an incident clearly or chronologically this is still taken as evidence that they are lying, rather than understanding the complex effect trauma can have on memory and recall. These kinds of harmful myths remain persistent in our justice system, and this is leading to victims feeling disbelieved and deterred from pursuing justice. The police are 12 times more like to declare ‘no further action’ on a case if the victim has any inconsistencies in their story. In addition, there remains a disproportionate focus on the victim, rather than the offender – for example victims report intrusive and invasive requests for their mobile phones – and this is having a serious impact on the number of victims progressing through the legal system and bringing rapists to justice.

The research found that in the Independent Sexual Violence Advisor report, police officers inadvertently influencing victim decisions to withdraw cases, due to police officers emphasising just how complex and challenging the justice process may be for victim. The interactions between police officers and victims have reflected outdated myths and stereotypes with questions about the victim’s behaviour, sexual behaviour, or dismissive and disbelieving attitudes.

While police officers may have intended to manage victims’ expectations of the investigation, we are seeing 46 per cent more victims withdrawing from pursuing justice in the first 30 days. Of those who stay in the system – only one per cent of cases make it to trial. This heavy-handed approach lacks understanding of trauma and victims are being pushed out of the system as they are made to feel like they are the one on trial.

What we need to see urgently, is vastly increased support for rape victims right from the very start of reporting and the onset of an investigation. There needs to be major improvements to the police process of requesting, searching and returning a victim’s mobile phone, and we need to truly introduce an approach that focuses on the offender and tackle the rape myths and victim blaming that, sadly, remain endemic.

London has led the way in pushing for improvements in justice for survivors of rape. Large strides were made in understanding the issues around rape through the London Rape Review, and it made the case for government to have their own review. It also led to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime designing Operation Bluestone, a programme which will transform policing and move the system towards a much-needed offender centric approach. This programme was adopted by the Government as part of its Rape Review and piloted in Avon & Somerset. The first phase of the full programme is now focusing on the Met, who are opening their doors to scrutiny in an effort to drastically improve their response to rape victims. The first step is an unprecedented deep dive looking at exactly what is going on with their rape investigations. I hope this will result in the focus being put back on offenders and not on victims.

This is a start, but much more is still needed. That is why today, I’m calling for both the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service to urgently roll out effective training on the impact of trauma on memory and recall and introduce new training to ensure all alternatives are explored first before a phone is seized – to minimise this re-victimising and intrusive process.

The stats are shocking, and it is clear it is not just one part of system that is failing victims, but that our entire criminal justice system must work together to overhaul the culture driving low conviction rates for rape, so that victims are not subjected to outdated myths and stereotypes that preclude them from justice.

Read More

MPs warned new protections for victims in rape trials ‘not workable’

Boris talks tough but his Drugs Strategy is strangely progressive

It’s My Party And I’ll Lie If I Want To

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting