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Rape support ‘needs drastic improvement’

Claire Waxman, Image copyright Mayor of London
Image caption Claire Waxman, London’s victims’ commissioner, has made a number of recommendations to help rape victims

Poor access to counselling and support is one of the reasons most of those who report rape later withdraw their allegations, London’s victims’ commissioner has said.

Claire Waxman said delays were another huge factor.

Of the 501 people who told police they had been raped in London in April 2016, 58% later withdrew their allegations, a University of West London study shows.

Only 6% of the 501 cases went to trial and just 3% resulted in a conviction.

The study found the average length of time from the date of reporting to the trial outcome was 18 months.

“If victims are not accessing counselling and then it is taking months on end, then you’re forcing people to stay in trauma, which has huge ramifications for people’s mental health,” Ms Waxman told BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

“We must work together to drastically improve the treatment that rape victims receive.

“The system is still deeply entrenched in myths and stereotypes, a victim almost has to prove they’re not lying.

“They worry that their counselling records might have something in them or there may be some digital evidence that might have something that could be used against them unfairly. That isn’t right.”

Chris’s story: ‘I had to prove I’m not lying’

“When you have your survivor hat on you feel like ‘No-one is listening to me, no-one is taking notice, why is it taking this long?’ Waiting around and you get more more stressed.”

Chris Tuck, 49, from south London, approached the police in 1979 and 1988, to report that she had been abused at the age of nine and again at the age of 15, but, she says, no further action was taken.

In 2016, she again reported the abuse she received as a 15-year-old.

During the investigation, Ms Tuck was asked to hand over her mobile phones to police – for three to six months – to enable her social media records to be checked.

“I have no contact with my perpetrator and haven’t for years and years, so I thought it was odd they even requested it,” she says.

“The toll on my mental and physical health was immense at the time.

“The police officer has such a big workload and we’re expecting them to be our emotional support as well as investigating officers and communicators.

“Even to this day I feel like I had to prove I’m not lying.

“I really understand why people are giving up their fights as it takes an enormous amount of energy.”

After the investigation, no further action was taken.

Ms Waxman’s recommendations include:

  • Police officers and those working for the Crown Prosecution Service should have trauma training to ensure the best evidence is gathered and the impact on the victim is minimised
  • The CPS should request a victim’s therapy notes only to show the impact of the crime – and not for any other purpose
  • All suspects under investigation for sexual assault or other crimes with significant safeguarding issues should be released from police custody on bail only
  • Third parties should have to provide medical, social services or educational records accusers have consented to sharing within three months
  • The government should fully fund independent advice and legal representation for accusers – especially concerning the use of personal information

“The system is structured to misunderstand trauma,” she said.

“It’s normal for victims to have inconsistencies to memory or behave in unusual ways but that can all be used to discredit them in the process.”

Met Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmons said the force welcomed the publication of the research, to which it had contributed.

“We know that there is more we can do with partners in the criminal justice system to improve the experience for victims who show great bravery in reporting offences committed against them to police, and bringing more offenders to justice,” he said.

“Instilling trust and confidence in the criminal justice system starts with police interaction.

“We have a responsibility to safeguard and support all victims through what is a hugely traumatic experience and officers are specially trained to treat all victims with dignity and respect throughout the process.

“We will review the report and the recommendations made and continue to work with the mayor’s office, the Crown Prosecution Service and other relevant partners to improve enforcement, and make the process as comfortable for victims as possible.”

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