The Women’s Equality Party has hit out against new forms being handed out in England and Wales, which require rape and domestic abuse victims to give police access to their phones and social media accounts or face their case being dropped.
Mandu Reid, the newly appointed leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said:
“I am outraged by this. The Crown Prosecution Service, police and politicians should be doing everything in their power to increase conviction rates and secure justice for the tens of thousands of women who are raped and abused every year. Instead, the requirement that victims provide access to their private communications reinforces the idea that it is the victims who are on trial and points to institutional sexism within the criminal justice system.
“Rape convictions are currently at a ten year low, despite a significant rise in reporting. More women than ever are finding the courage to come forward against their attackers. Our criminal justice system is failing those women and confirming the fears of the many others who choose not to report because they worry that criminal proceedings will be a further ordeal. The thought of having to turn over my phone or laptop and all its contents at my most vulnerable makes my stomach turn and would definitely make me think twice about reporting a rape
“We hear time and time again of women who have had their sexual history aggressively questioned in court, despite measures to limit this practice. By so doing, our criminal justice system is not only re-traumatizing individual women, it is also perpetuating damaging myths. People are used to the idea of ‘stranger rape’ when in fact up to 90 percent of rapes are committed by people known to the victim, and often by someone the victim has loved and enjoyed consensual sex with. The sexual history of a complainant should not determine whether they are believed or the extent to which they are worthy of justice.
“The spotlight should be on the CPS, which is failing to secure prosecutions, not on the women who are desperately fighting for justice. To address its failings, the Women’s Equality Party is demanding an end to end review to assess the extent of institutional sexism within the CPS. Earlier this year, the government pledged to investigate how reports are handled by police and prosecutors but we’ve seen no action. I invite the Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill, to meet with us to discuss how he can ensure that our justice system works for women.”
Jenn Selby, survivor and Women’s Equality Party Candidate for the Greater London Assembly elections 2020, said:
"Reporting rape to the police is one of the hardest and most terrifying experiences I have ever been through. The shame of what had happened, the knowledge it would impact my personal life so greatly because I knew the suspect very well, and the fear of not being believed made it seem impossible. So imagine how I felt when, as is already standard practice, an officer asked to take my phone away for evidence - my only way of contacting anyone, and full of private information I knew could be used against me in court.
"These consent forms are intended to get around legislation that ensures a victim maintains their right to a private life, but in truth, the wording of it acts like blackmail. The even harsher truth is with or without access to personal information stored on devices, 98.3 per cent of victims, like me, have their cases dropped anyway. This new policy will not only put women off coming forward, but it lays the blame - and all the shameful and complicated feelings that surround that - firmly back in their court. We should never be the ones on trial. Have we not suffered enough?"
Nazir Afzal, a solicitor who specialises in the law around violence against women, said:
“Whilst acknowledging some of the failures in disclosure that led to potential miscarriages of justice we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. A CPS survey in 2013 found that the proportion of cases where a rape complainant lied was minuscule.
“All the research tells us that rape is one, if not the most, under-reported and under-prosecuted crime we have. Conviction rates are now falling again. Anything that makes it more difficult for victims has to be carefully thought through.
“This new requirement creates the perception that its the victim who should be investigated rather than the suspect. We need to be reassured that suspects will be subjected to the same levels of investigation.”