We have witnessed the ‘decriminalisation of rape’. Will we continue to?

On July 30th, the Court of Appeal overturned a High Court decision that the national union of women’s rights organisations, End Violence Against Women Coalition, should not be granted judicial review concerning CPS’ rape and charging practices. They were ‘delighted’ as the Court directed a review to be heard. No doubt, this will bring hope to many, especially when analysing new CPS figures published that same day. With a reported 1 in 70 chance of cases resulting in a charge, such statistics solidify a hard truth: victims of rape and sexual assault continue to be failed.

Previously stated by the BBC, rape cases reported in the last five years have risen exponentially to 59,747. Yet, those prosecuted in this period have ‘more than halved’. Perhaps some may be shocked by this, but prosecutions have continuously declined for many years now; in fact, they are at a 10-year low. Countless articles have speculated why – fewer referrals from police, cuts to services, and the troubling changes to the CPS’ treatment of rape. Whether a specific cause or a combination, this is especially troubling as rape can be a serial and persistent offence. Dame Vera Baird QC, Victim’s Commissioner For England And Wales, has been particularly vocal stating that ‘what we are witnessing is the decriminalisation of rape’. A comment both dismal and, frankly, true.

Although still very much a part of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it is clear that the continued collapse in prosecutions is both disheartening and problematic. Not only has this allowed perpetrators to escape justice, but it has also acted as little deterrent for serial or prospective offenders. The knowledge that these offences can be committed, and the statistical likelihood of prosecution is out there. Noting this evidence, some may even act with a feeling of impunity.

The judicial review granted by the Court of Appeal is a step in the right direction. A chance for the critical evaluation of our evidently erronous procedures and practices. But it should not be forgotten that – for many – the damage is already done. There may be no solace or comfort, no confidence or trust. Offenders have been enabled by a system in dire need of refinement and political attention. Accountability and reform are the only way forward.

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