Don’t forget rape victims, review presses

By Alex Stevenson

An obsession with rape convictions means victims are being overlooked, a review into the way the crime is handled has concluded.

Baroness Stern’s independent assessment of the way rape is dealt with in England and Wales found the six per cent conviction rate has been allowed to “dominate the public discourse on rape”, distracting attention from the needs of victims.

She has recommended that the criminal justice system focus more on the victims of rape than the perpetrators.

“We need to look at rape victims as people who have been harmed, whom society has a positive responsibility to help and to protect, aside from the operations of criminal law,” the review said.

“Whether the rape is reported or not, whether the case goes forward or not, whether there is a conviction or not, victims still have a right to services that will help them to recover and rebuild their lives.”

The review recommends sexual assault referral centres be put on firmer basis and expanded and calls for each victim to be offered the services of a sexual violence advisor, who would help the victim make sense of the police and prosecution processes.

“These advisors represent a cost-effective investment that can bring substantial improvements to the way rape victims are treated,” the review stated.

“We would see this recommendation as central to improving the treatment of rape complainants by public authorities.”

Only about 11% of those who have been raped tell the police about it, according to the review.

This leads to uncertainty about the exact number of cases involved, made even more confusing by false allegations. The review backs the commissioning of new research to help clarify the picture.

Amnesty International has welcomed the review, but says its research shows a widespread tendency to blame women for being raped continues to exist.

Its UK director, Kate Allen, argued that while reforms to the criminal justice system are vital, wider changes are still needed.

“We need to stop so many rapes being committed in the first place, not just deal with it afterwards,” she said.

“We need a government-led ‘integrated strategy’ – that focuses on how we construct masculinity and attitudes to women as well as supporting, resourcing and monitoring the performance of front-line public sector organisations dealing with violence against women.”