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Rape has ‘effectively become decriminalised,’ women's rights activists warn

The Crown Prosecution Service’s annual Violence Against Women and Girls report reveals slumping prosecutions for the crime

RAPE is becoming “effectively decriminalised,” women’s rights campaigners warned today, as “appalling” figures show slumping prosecutions for the crime.

The Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) annual Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) report revealed the statistics today.

It showed that there were only 1,925 convictions for rape or an alternative sexual offence during the financial year 2018-19 in England and Wales.

The convictions are down nearly 27 per cent on the previous year.

But the decline comes as rape claims dealt with by police rose from 35,847 to 57,882 over the last four years, meaning that only around 3.3 per cent of all reported rapes end in a conviction.

End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAWC) head of public affairs Andrea Simon said: “These numbers represent real women subjected to rape, a crime which does enormous harm, who are then further victimised by a system that does not take them seriously.

“These shocking and unjustifiable failings speak to a clear and concerted shift in how the CPS has decided to prosecute rape.

“Leadership across the CPS needs to answer for these figures, which we say can only represent what is becoming the effective decriminalisation of rape.”

EVAWC is among those in a coalition of women’s organisations, represented by the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), preparing to launch a judicial review against the CPS over claims cases are being “dropped” without good reason.

Campaigners have previously argued that so-called “weak” cases are ditched in order to improve notoriously low rape conviction rates.

But the CPS said the drop in charges was due to “a number of factors,” including a reduction in the number of referrals from the police and an increase in the volume of time-consuming digital data available.

CWJ founder Lawyer Harriet Wistrich labelled the statistics “appalling” and argued the “fault lies first and foremost with the CPS.”

She suggested there had been changes to the “merits-based approach” of prosecuting rape towards a “bookmaker’s choice,” where you “kind of second-guess what a jury is going to decide.”

CPS director of public prosecutions Max Hill QC denied there had been any changes.

He announced that the independent CPS watchdog, HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, will hold a review of rape charging decisions “to increase accountability and reassure victims of sexual offences.”

Shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti said it was “a disgrace” that the advocates of victims have to take the CPS to court because rape convictions are so low.
 
“Cuts to our justice system have serious consequences, and will inevitably lead to timid charging,” she said.
 
“Instead of using police officers for photo shoots, Boris Johnson should get a grip on this scandal. Labour will provide the investment that our justice system needs.”

Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird said the warning of decriminalisation was “absolutely right.” She called on the government to commit to properly funding counselling and support service for all survivors of sexual violence.

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