Major review announced to examine ‘alarming’ fall in rape charges

An “alarming” fall in rape charges will be examined in a major review announced as part of a new Government crackdown on violence against women and girls.

The probe will assess the handling of alleged sexual offences to establish why there have been reductions in the numbers of cases referred, prosecuted and convicted.

Ministers have also ordered new studies to be carried out into potential links between online pornography and attitudes to women, and the causes, impacts and influencers of body dissatisfaction.

They are among a raft of measures contained in a refreshed Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy to be published by the Home Office on Wednesday.

Unveiling the refreshed action plan, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “It is not acceptable that in today’s society, one in four women in the UK will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime, and one in five will experience sexual violence.

“As a father, I want to see my children grow up in a world where VAWG is a thing of the past, and where they have no reason to fear those closest to them.”

The review into how the criminal justice system responds to rape and serious sexual offences will examine agencies’ handling of cases from police report to conviction or acquittal in court, reporting back to the Criminal Justice Board, which includes senior figures from government, the judiciary and policing.

The strategy also sets out plans for research to consider whether, as has been suggested by some academics, “rape myths” may be negatively impacting the ability of juries to analyse the evidence and make informed, objective judgments on the merits of each case.

Figures published in September showed a decrease in the number of cases across the VAWG category in England and Wales.

The volume of “rape-flagged” referrals from police fell by nearly a tenth in 2017-18, while the number of suspects charged by the CPS dropped by nearly a quarter (23%).

Convictions were down by just under 12%, although the conviction rate went up slightly.

This data includes cases initially reported as rape allegations, but where charges for other offences were subsequently brought.

Rachel Krys (pictured), co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, welcomed the review.

She said: “Despite a huge increase in the numbers of women reporting rape to the police over the last five years, there has been an alarming recent collapse in the rate of cases being charged.

“Women who report rape can be made to feel it is they who are under investigation and on trial and we need to turn this around.”

Ministers also announced that research will be commissioned into “what links exist between consumption of online pornography and harmful attitudes towards women and girls”.

Previous studies have examined connections between porn and sexual violence, but the new analysis will investigate whether there is any broader link to harmful attitudes towards women.

Separate research will look at the “causes, impacts and influencers of body dissatisfaction, and what works to tackle the cause and effects of low body image”.

In total, the strategy details 54 commitments designed to build on steps outlined in the first version, which was launched in 2016.

The blueprint also commits to:

– Introduce a statutory code of practice for employers on sexual harassment;

– Work with online dating apps to raise awareness among users;

– Consider the impact of alcohol on violence against women and girls;

– Explore the issue of “online flashing”, where sexual images are sent without the consent of the recipient;

– Develop further measures to support lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender victims.

Minister for Women Victoria Atkins said: “Violence against women and girls strikes at the heart of our families, friendships and communities and it is our responsibility to bring light, justice and support to victims and survivors.”

A CPS spokesman said: “We want to reassure anybody affected by rape that where there is sufficient evidence for us to prosecute, we will not hesitate to do so.

“The increase in digital evidence means charging decisions are taking longer to complete.

“We now advise police at an earlier stage to build the strongest possible cases for prosecution. We can pass files back for further work but this does not necessarily mean the case is at an end.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Rick Findler / PA Wire.