Police forces and prosecutors in England and Wales failed to bring charges against suspects in almost 18,000 rape cases in the six months after Sarah Everard’s death, analysis by NationalWorld reveals.
One leading rape charity said the situation facing victims was “unacceptable” and added that immediate action was needed to address “ineptitude, indifference and misogyny in the system”.
The latest Home Office police recorded crime data, covering April to September 2021, shows forces recorded 34,608 rape offences in that period – 31,194 (90%) against females.
As of September, 18,205 of them had been wrapped up and assigned a formal outcome. Of these, only 327 saw charges brought or a summons issued – leaving 17,878 closed without a prosecution being pursued.
The rest were still being investigated.
When looking at all the rape cases that had an outcome logged between April and September regardless of when the offence was recorded (a rape reported in 2020 but only given an outcome in April 2021 would be counted here for instance), police closed 27,679 cases.
Of these, 1,446 saw charges brought, giving a charge rate of 5.2%. When cases involving child victims aged under 16 are excluded, the charge rate drops to 3.7%.
The overall rape charge rate has fallen since the same period in 2020, when it was 5.5%, although the charge rate for adult victims was a slight improvement, up from 3.5%.
Decisions to charge may be made jointly between police forces, who investigate and gather evidence, and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which fights cases in court. A CPS spokesperson however told NationalWorld it can only consider bringing charges if police refer to us by the police.
Sarah Everard was abducted, raped and murdered by Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens one year ago on 3 March 2021.
Her death reignited scrutiny of the criminal justice system’s failure to tackle violence against women and girls, which has seen charge rates and prosecutions plummet in recent years.
Harriet Wistrich, a lawyer and founder of legal reform group the Centre for Women’s Justice, said it is important to remember that not all cases where a charge is brought will actually make it to court.
The CPS may later drop cases, if they consider evidence has emerged that weakens their case, she said.
The most common reason given by police for closing a case without charges was the victim not supporting further action, the data shows.
There were 16,026 cases closed between April and September where the victim did not support further action – 11,301 where a suspect had been identified and 4,725 where they had not. This was 58% of cases.
Ms Wistrich said the numbers of victims dropping out of investigations is “unsurprising” given the process of supporting a prosecution “can be deeply traumatic”.
She continued: “Victims feel as though they are under investigation and required to provide much disclosure about their personal and intimate lives.”
Long waits for cases to reach trial are also a disincentive, she added, as victim’s lives can be “suspended” for years at a time, preventing them from concentrating on healing.
The charity Rape Crisis also warns the CPS is taking an increasingly long time to make charging decisions.
Women are more likely not to support further police action, according to the figures. Of cases with adult victims, 62% involving females ended with this outcome versus 55% with male victims.
A report published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Services Inspectorate (HMCPSI) in February outlined multiple ways in which rape victims are being failed by the criminal justice system.
These include long court delays, poor communication from police and prosecutors, a lack of support from specialist services, and a feeling among victims that they, and not the alleged perpetrator, are on trial.
Jayne Butler, Rape Crisis chief executive officer, said victims are facing “ineptitude, indifference and misogyny” throughout the criminal justice system.
“The situation is unacceptable, and immediate action is needed,” she added.
“We support the recommendations set out by the inspectorates and commend the amount of work and level of detail that has gone into this report.
“However, we now require an in-depth review of CPS governance in order to hold such poor performance to account and prevent such a scandalous drop in rape prosecutions happening again.”
In a statement, the National Police Chiefs Council said forces are transforming the way they deal with violence against women and girls to prioritise “relentless pursuit of perpetrators”.
The Government has made tackling violence against women a “strategic policing requirement”, which places it ont he same footing as terrorism – which the NPCC said reinforced the commitment already made by police chiefs.
“Priority action is to challenge sexism and misogyny in policing and to turn the tables so violent men feel under threat from police action, not women and girls going about their lives,” the spokesperson said.
A CPS spokesperson said prosecutors are “determined to help more victims see justice”.
““That’s why we are working with police from the outset to build stronger cases which pass efficiently through the system,” they said.
“We are also working to better support victims through the legal process and recruit more staff into our specialist rape units.”
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