By Isabel Ringrose
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2760

Rape conviction figures show how the system fails women

This article is over 2 years, 11 months old
Issue 2760
Women are let down by the justice system
Women are let down by the justice system

Women who have been raped are being systematically let down by the justice system.

The Tories have been forced to apologise for “failing” rape victims after the number of convictions for rape plummeted.

The government’s Rape Review, launched two years ago, has examined the slump in convictions.

In 2019-20, 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales—the lowest level since records began.

Sarah Green from End Violence against Women reacted to those figures by saying they “show starkly that we are right to say rape has been effectively decriminalised”.

Yet reports of adult rape to the police have doubled since 2015-2016. In 2015-16 a total of 6,855 rape cases were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) by police, with 4,643 prosecutions.

This is more than three times the number in 2019-20.

There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year, with only 1.6 percent reported cases resulting in a charge.


Justice secretary Robert Buckland QC and home secretary Priti Patel said they were “deeply ashamed” by the spiralling trend of not bringing sexual offenders to account. They are responsible for this system and should pay the price for its collapse.

The Tories claim they will now bring in reforms. These include reducing cross-examination in court by conducting pre-recorded interviews and a recognition that only evidence about the complainant that is “relevant” will be used.

But investigations could still include asking a victim what they were wearing or if they were drunk. Complainants will also still have to hand over their phones for examination.

In March this year, the Court of Appeal refused to consider a campaigners’ challenge to how the CPS deals with rape cases.

Struggles to tear out the roots of sexism
Struggles to tear out the roots of sexism
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Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice said, “The most plausible explanation for the undoubted collapse in rape prosecutions arose from the CPS decision to change their approach to prosecution decision making and prosecutors becoming more risk-averse as a result.”

Buckland has now said he wants to move away from “the obsessive focus on the credibility of the victim”. Emphasis will instead be placed on the suspect’s offending past.

The review said updating legal guidance on addressing rape myths and stereotypes will increase confidence in the judicial process. This, it says, will allow greater numbers of victims to come forward.

But the system works against any real change.

If the killing of Sarah Everard has taught us anything it’s that the police and the Tories can’t be trusted.

Women’s oppression is institutional, and sexual violence is a symptom of this.

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