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Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre manager condemns government’s lack of ambition over rape prosecutions



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A manager at Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre has condemned the government’s lack of ambition in reversing the five-year slump in rape prosecutions and convictions.

Ellie Ball, an independent sexual violence advocacy (IVSA) service manager with Cambridge Rape Crisis centre, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on the subject of the investigation and prosecution of rape
Ellie Ball, an independent sexual violence advocacy (IVSA) service manager with Cambridge Rape Crisis centre, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on the subject of the investigation and prosecution of rape

Ellie Ball, an independent sexual violence advocacy (IVSA) service manager with the centre, also told the Commons Home Affairs Committee that she believes police sometimes “breathe a sigh of relief” when a complainant decides not to pursue a case.

Her comments came after the government published its long-awaited Rape Review, which called for a return to 2016 prosecution figures by the end of the current Parliament.

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) figures for 2019-20 show 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales last year – the lowest level since records began.

PICTURE POSED BY MODEL. Waiting to be seen in a clinic. (48592613)
PICTURE POSED BY MODEL. Waiting to be seen in a clinic. (48592613)

That was down from 1,925 the previous year, despite reports of adult rape to police almost doubling since 2015-16. There were 4,643 rape prosecutions in 2015-16.

Ms Ball told the committee last Wednesday: “I think we’ve gone from really bad to non-existent and the government ambition is to return to ‘really bad’ levels. I can’t see that that is a solution.

“I think, almost, the report reflects a gradual erosion of standards in this area of policing and prosecutions.”

Ms Ball said there were examples of the police actively deterring complainants from pressing ahead with their case.

“I think there have been a number of cases where when the victim chooses to disengage, the police breathe a sigh of relief because it is one off their plate,” she said, adding: “The Rape Review really fails to get to grips with the extent of the problem.

“I think we are at the lowest point already. I don’t think we have another three years to see if this works.”

Emily Hunt, campaigner and independent Expert Advisor to the Ministry of Justice, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on the subject of the investigation and prosecution of rape. (48592567)
Emily Hunt, campaigner and independent Expert Advisor to the Ministry of Justice, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on the subject of the investigation and prosecution of rape. (48592567)

Emily Hunt, a survivor who advised on the government’s review, said the 2016 figures were not good enough, then or now.

She said: “This is not the time for a pat on the back or a victory lap. None of this has been good enough.”

Around 13 per cent of reported rape cases in 2015-16 ended in a suspect being charged, but this dropped to just three per cent in 2019-20.

There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year, but only 1.6 per cent of reported cases results in a charge, according to latest figures.

Ms Hunt told the committee: “I think we need to do better and prosecute rapists – I’m also aware we can’t just flip a switch, the culture needs to change in the police and the CPS.”

Duncan Craig, CEO of Survivors Manchester, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on the subject of the investigation and prosecution of rape. (48592587)
Duncan Craig, CEO of Survivors Manchester, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on the subject of the investigation and prosecution of rape. (48592587)

Duncan Craig, from Survivors Manchester, an organisation supporting male survivors of sexual abuse and rape, said: “Reach for the moon, and if you miss, you fall in the stars.

“The reality is I think we have to get back to that (2016 levels).

“It’s small steps. If we become too ambitious to begin with, I think we will fail.

“I want to see 2016 – get there, actually make it happen. At that point, we make it more ambitious.”

Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on the subject of the investigation and prosecution of rape. (48592569)
Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on the subject of the investigation and prosecution of rape. (48592569)

Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, said that while the Rape Review was “underwhelming”, it was also a “watershed” moment.

She said: “There is a very large amount of kicking the can down the road, having more pilots, and causing delay, in there.

“Nonetheless, this is a watershed. As long as the strength of that (government) apology … survives, and is publicly scrutinised, I hope that we can really bring a change and push from the outside to improve some of the weaker recommendations in the Rape Review and drive the government further.”

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