The UK justice system is failing survivors


A report published in September 2018 showed a 23.1% fall from the year before in the conviction rate for cases of rape; even though there has been an increase in reporting. That’s 849 fewer perpetrators being held accountable for their actions which is the lowest conviction rate in a decade. The conviction rates in the UK for rape are lower than any other crime with only 7% of reported rapes ending in a conviction. Despite the general public’s attitude towards sexual assault and survivors shifting and a wider conversation being held due to the #metoo and #timesup movements- which you would assume might positively influence conviction rates, this has not been the case.

Few rape cases end up in court partly due to the process of attrition whereby survivors withdraw their reports for fear of further trauma during the legal process and partly due to the rigorous standards the CPS require in order to take a case to court. A case will only go to court if it is believed, beyond reasonable doubt that that person is guilty. The CPS also have to believe they can convince a jury to convict a perpetrator, if not then it is dropped. Due to the nature of most rape cases, there are few if any witnesses. Sexual violence typically happens between 2 people behind closed doors therefore leaving little evidence to investigate. Perpetrators and defence lawyers know this and consistently prey on the judicial systems weaknesses so as to be able to get away with it. Furthermore, if a victim decides not to hand over personal information such as doctors notes, therapy records, or their phone data then this is seen as an avenue of evidence not being pursued and the case is likely to be dropped; the victim is seen as hiding evidence and in contempt of the investigation. Even if a perpetrator gives a no comment interview this can be seen as the investigation failing to gather enough evidence and thus it can be dropped; however, this is seen as a legal right rather than being in contempt of a police investigation. The double standards are shocking, especially as the perpetrator is never asked for the same amount of information to prove their innocence. It is estimated that 30,000 pages of personal data are taken from each victim in order to see if they are a credible witness or not, and whether they may be lying.

In 2013 officers in the borough of Southwark, London were found to be persuading women to withdraw their reports in order to inflate statistics of successful prosecutions. Furthermore, a whistle-blower in the metropolitan police said that victims who might struggle in court to prove themselves as credible witnesses e.g. mental illness sufferers, and those with substance abuse disorders were specifically targeted to withdraw their complaints because it was unlikely that these cases would win in court. Performance statistics are being prioritised over justice for survivors which is abhorrent. It should come as no surprise that survivors are feeling let down, ignored, and not believed. Our judicial system is not fit for purpose and is not protecting the people it should. As a result, we have seen an increase in vigilantism style approaches to perpetrators of sexual assault. Now, doxing seems to be the best approach to seek justice and retribution, especially amongst more elite and revered members of society. If we cannot see our abusers put in jail and gain the feeling of safety that comes with that then we must look for other answers. If sharing our stories on social media and naming our abusers leads to them potentially losing their jobs or receiving some small ramifications I.e. not a criminal record, then shouldn’t we seek that?

The need for justice is sometimes intertwined with recovery. It can be more difficult to move on without the perpetrator acknowledging or taking responsibility for what they have done. Or knowing that the person who abused you is living a normal life, that you could run into them at any time. It creates extreme anger and self-doubt. Why should my abuser be free to live how they please when I am still suffering as a direct result from the crimes committed against me? For many survivor’s day to day things such as holding down a job become difficult and sometimes impossible. It can feel unjust to observe the person who inflicted this upon you enjoying and reaping the benefits from the things which you are unable to do. There are of course other reasons for seeking justice too, such as warning potential future victims, looking for other victims to put a case against an abuser, and even as a therapeutic part of recovery. Reporting can be a way of taking back the power that was taken from you and being able to say in a safe and legal way that what transpired was deeply wrong. It gives the opportunity to give a victim impact statement which for many can be helpful and the only opportunity to speak directly to the perpetrator and let them know, in our own words how we have been affected. If we aren’t offered these opportunities by the CPS is it wrong to then create those opportunities ourselves? These people are criminals after all. That isn’t to mean a vengeful or vigilante style approach, but even if it were, would that be so wrong? If outing someone as a rapist on social media gives the survivor an instant feeling of justice as opposed to arduously waiting for months, potentially years from a decision from the courts which is almost always that the case is dropped then why would we not pursue that? That isn’t to say violence, which I’m sure would be satisfying for many albeit illegal.

Pursuing justice through traditional routes i.e. reporting to the police and going through the courts isn’t accessible for everyone. As statistics show reports rarely lead to justice, or survivors may choose not to report for very valid reasons. Being cross examined as a witness is a traumatic thing to go through and many decide they do not want to be re-live that experience in front of strangers. To not report is most often for self-preservation. Furthermore, in the UK we don’t get to choose a solicitor who represents us. The CPS argue on our behalf, without needing to communicate with the survivor. Survivors who report are witnesses not plaintiffs and as such have no say in the court proceedings and often aren’t even offered an explanation into the court processes and what will happen at trial. To hand over that control to someone you might never meet is a difficult decision, especially after your control has been taken from you so violently. However, just because we can’t or don’t want to achieve justice the traditional way shouldn’t mean that we can’t achieve justice through alternative ways. For many, this is a much more appealing way to achieve justice. Unlike with the CPS survivors have full control and agency over the process. We get to decide what we share, we don’t have to hand over our personal data, our electronic devices, and we are more likely to get retribution.

It is illegal to be above the law and attempt to take it into your own hands, but speaking out about what a perpetrator has done and then sitting back whilst they are indirectly punished through the court of public opinion isn’t really trying to be above the law. It’s just how social media works in the modern age. Negative attention typically accompanies the outing of serious allegations- as it should and perpetrators and future perpetrators should fear for their futures, they have been kept feeling safe by the system for far too long. Is it wrong to ask for ramifications? That applies to public and private figures but particularly in the case of famous perpetrators. It can be harmful and triggering to see the person who committed violence against you consistently in the media e.g. Kathryn Mayorga. She was raped by Cristiano Ronaldo and has cited that seeing him on billboards was incredibly triggering and directly inhibited her ability to heal. The women who were abused by R. Kelly have also said similar things.

It is often assumed that if a person is not convicted of a crime in a court of law then they are innocent. But if we have proof that the justice system is not convicting guilty people then we need to take a look at every single person who has allegations against them. We need to stop looking at things at face value and question each case individually because these attitudes are harming people. Is Ed Westwick innocent because the allegations against him didn’t make it to court? Or is it because the majority of those allegations exceeded the statute of limitations and because the court rejected the case as it didn’t have enough evidence? That doesn’t sound entirely innocent to me, just a job a prosecutor pushed to the side because it seemed unwinnable. This is what is happening with the majority of cases. Only 7% of sexual assaults which are reported end in a conviction, meaning lots of rapists are walking free.

We have a moral obligation to listen and respond to allegations because we can potentially prevent similar violence occurring again. It is in the public interest to prosecute these people too. But most importantly we need to be looking after and protecting survivors, helping them to heal, and helping them to trust again. The current system is only causing further pain to the people it is supposed to help.

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