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UK rape reports increase, charges decrease

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upsetExperts call for world-wide, wholesale change in preventing gender-based violence.

Following several newly published reports and data sets, activists around the world are calling for a complete rethink of the way gender-based violence is dealt with.

And recent events emphasise the urgent need for such a change in the UK too.

For one of these reports was the publication in the UK of information showing wide variation across England and Wales in the policing of rape cases.

At the end of last month, police data on the number of rapes recorded by each of the 43 police forces and the outcomes was published by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) on behalf of the Rape Monitoring Group (RMG).

This is the first time both sets of data have been published together, and as well as informing the public of the situation in any given area, the data will help the wider criminal justice community see trends over time of recorded rape.

To view the reports, click here.

In response to the publication, Professor Liz Kelly, co-chair of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said: ‘The wide disparities between different areas’ reporting, detection and ‘no crime’ rates… must be urgently tackled [because] the police play a critical role [in] enabling rape survivors to access justice.’

A few days after HMIC released the data, an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalists for The Independent found that since 2011, the number of rape cases referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for charging decisions has fallen by a third – despite a three per cent rise in reported rapes over the period.

It appears likely that the fall in referrals is due to a change made in 2011 to CPS guidelines, a change which put more emphasis on police forces identifying and stopping cases where the threshold for charging would not be met.

While the CPS says the changes were of language not substance, it seems that interpretation of the guidelines may have changed.

The CPS told the Independent: ‘We are exploring the reasons for the drop in rape referrals with the police. This will include looking at the appropriate interpretation and application of the guidance and the evidential standard of case files.’

The investigation found that in almost three-quarters of cases where the number of rape referrals by police forces has dropped, the number of charges made by the CPS has also dropped.

But when referrals have gone up, the number of charges has risen in all cases.

Low rates of reporting rape and other gender-based violence are well-known, and a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that only seven per cent of women around the world who experienced violence ever reported it to a formal source such as a doctor, justice system or social service provider.

One of the authors of that study, Amber Peterman, assistant research professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said she was especially struck that the reporting rates were so low even with the recent progress made in research, advocacy and publicity about the prevalence and harmful consequences of gender-based violence, particularly after the international fury over the rape and death of Jyoti Singh in New Delhi in December 2012.

The research also found that although the rate of informal reporting to family and friends dwarfs the rate of official reporting, it is still distressingly low, at less than 37 per cent.

Lori Heise, senior lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said those informal reports are most often given to a group she calls ‘first responders.’

She said that the latest findings ‘challenge the current investment or strategy that has been used globally in trying to reform formal institutional responses’ and that a more effective approach would be to focus resources on the networks of first responders.

Rape Crisis responsed to HMIC’s publication by referring to another type of first responder, saying that ‘We hope the data released will remind Police and Crime Commissioners and others of the crucial importance of ensuring access to specialist sexual violence services through sustainable funding.’

Such a reminder is much needed, as organisations such as the Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (EWRASAC) appeal for financial support in the context of continued public funding cuts.

Sadly, the reforming of institutional responses in England isn’t working, as was made abundantly clear after Tracy Shelvey killed herself days after a man was cleared of raping her.

She had given evidence in two separate trials, and in the re-trial her alleged attacker was found not guilty of raping her and two other women.

Shelvey’s death came a year after violinist Frances Andrade killed herself after giving lengthy, traumatic evidence in a case against her former music teacher, who was, after her death, found guilty of indecent assault.

Tony Lloyd, police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, said, ‘The court process is brutal. Many, many rape victims say that the court process is as traumatic as their original ordeal.

‘This can’t go on – a root and branch review of how victims and witnesses are treated is urgently needed.

‘We need to ensure that victims and witnesses are surround by support.’

Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester police, said, ‘If your house is burgled, nobody says it’s your fault because the front door is open.

‘If you’re a victim of rape or sexual offences there is a massive focus on your credibility, your character, your emotions, what you did on the night, what you were wearing, your other relationships.’

The survivor of an act of violence, who is not officially on trial, should not be forced to bear the burden of proof of innocence rather than the perpetrator.

Ravi Verma, regional director of the Asia regional office of the International Centre for Research on Women, is among several high profile figures, including US President Barack Obama, who recently called for men to shoulder their share of the burden of prevention of gender-based violence.

Verma said that to really address violence against women, it is necessary to ‘get into primary prevention work.’

By that he means expanding ‘the gender discourse beyond women’s empowerment.

‘We have always presented equality from the perspective of giving agency to women, without bothering to normalise man’s responsibility in achieving gender equality.’

One of the most obvious methods to begin making that change is through the media.

Following the recent ‘not guilty’ verdict in a high profile trial of a UK TV actor on charges of rape and indecent assault, EVAW and Rape Crisis appealed for ‘less sensational media reporting and a joint commitment to challenging myths and stereotypes about rape and other forms of sexual violence.’

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