Rape investigations are being hampered by an attitude of “defeatism” within the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), a report has found.
An examination by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate identified that there “needs to be an urgent, profound and fundamental shift in how rape cases are investigated and prosecuted”.
Recent figures showed that forces received 56,081 rape reports in a year, but only 4,181 of those were referred to the CPS, which successfully prosecuted just 1,400 rapes.
Concerns over the low conviction rates have created a “vicious circle” where officers and prosecutors adopt a more cautious approach to rape reports than they do to other crimes because they believe they are less likely to be successful, the report found.
“This cycle must be broken,” said Wendy Williams, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary.
One victim representative told the inspectorate that there was a sense of “defeatism in the attitude of police and prosecutors” towards rape cases.
“We are concerned that this mindset may be affecting police and CPS decision-making in many cases,” the report warned.
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“We agree that rape cases can be – and often are – complex. Some have significant evidential difficulties.
“But based on evidence from our case files, our interviews and focus groups, and from our knowledge of police and CPS practices more widely, we conclude that the police and CPS can be more cautious in their approach to investigating and prosecuting rape cases than they are towards other types of offences.”
The report by the two watchdogs was prompted by the decline in police referrals to the CPS, the number of charges, prosecutions and convictions.
The joint investigation found that the average time from report until a case was closed with “no further action” was 456 days, meaning victims were left waiting for more than a year to find out that their case will not be taken to the courts.
The long delay was encouraging more victims to withdraw from the justice process, the report said. “This is unacceptable,” the report stated.
Ms Williams, who led the reviews, said the current approach by the CPS and the police was more focused on weaknesses in the case.
“That in turn can result in delays, which in turn can result in low conviction rates so you begin to see this vicious cycle, which is founded on a failure to adopt a positive mindset when it comes to prosecuting and investigating rate offences,” Ms Williams said.
‘Blame culture’ between police and prosecutors
The report also found that there was a “blame culture” between police and prosecutors over the responsibility for dismal conviction rates, identifying “finger pointing” and a “deep division” between agencies.
“At a national level, there is a lot of activity to improve the response to rape,” the report said.
“But beneath the surface of these joint structures, we were told of continuing underlying tensions between the police and the CPS, and a desire on both sides to blame the other for low charge and conviction rates.”
It added: “Until this blame culture is eradicated, a real shift in attitudes seems unachievable.”
The report follows the Government’s rape review, published last month, in which it apologised for “failing” rape victims and set out plans for a “system and culture change”.
The plans to restore rape prosecutions to 2016 levels
The latest 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, and down from 1,925 the previous year – despite reports of adult rape to police almost doubling since 2015-16.
There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year, but only 1.6% of reported cases results in a charge.