Dear Max Hill QC,
In your first 100 days in office as the Director of Public Prosecutions we are calling for you to address the serious failings of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in relation to victims and survivors of male violence, specifically sexual violence and rape.
Women’s rights campaigners have worked with and within the criminal justice system for years to combat sexist stereotypes and rape myths. While under no illusion that the system was working for women, we could see that progress was being made: more incidences were being reported and the number of rape charges had been increasing year on year, peaking at 3,910 in 2015-16.
The pace at which this slow and painstaking work is being reversed is alarming.
The high profile cases of Liam Allen and Oliver Mears prompted widespread media criticism of police forces’ late or omitted evidence disclosure. The narrative around these cases perpetuated exactly those myths that women have been working so tirelessly to dispel. Testimony about women communicating interest in consensual sex was cited to cast doubt on the truth of their allegations, for example.
The annual CPS report on violence against women and girls published in September, revealed a drop in the number of referrals, prosecutions and convictions for rapes in the past year. The number of people charged for rape is at its lowest in a decade, falling by 23% between 2016-17 and 2017-18. These are women who reported a serious sexual crime committed against them only to see their attacker walk free with absolutely no consequences.
The Guardian reported that in order to improve prosecution rates, rape prosecutors in specialist training seminars have been urged to take out a proportion of “weak” cases from the system. We fear that “weak” cases mean less palatable victims, such as women with mental health issues, women who have been assaulted before, women with substance addictions. These are precisely the women whose vulnerabilities are targeted by perpetrators and who need a criminal justice system that respects and supports them.
It is a year since the #metoo movement started. Over that year we have seen successive waves of stories come out through the press. One of the reasons these stories come out in the media is that over and over these women have been disbelieved and dismissed. The women who do report rape and sexual violence to the police stand little chance of a prosecution, and if their cases are heard, the only near-certain outcome is that their personal histories and characters will be questioned by the courts.
Women’s sexual histories should not ordinarily be brought into court hearings, because it prejudices jurors who are already influenced by the myths and stereotypes prevalent in our culture and peddled by our media. There is a process in place for defence lawyers to apply for permission from a judge to introduce such evidence if it meets specific criteria.
But we know that process is ignored by lawyers; we hear from women time and again who have been re-traumatised by having their pasts examined as if they, and not their attackers, were on trial.
Rape and sexual violence are criminal offences, yet too often it is the victims who are under suspicion. And that is because the victims are overwhelmingly women.
We urge you to undertake an end to end review of the crown prosecution service in relation to rape and sexual violence, and to work with the other parts of the criminal justice system to do the same.
This review should investigate the extent to which there is institutional sexism in the system; stereotyped and negative attitudes towards women which could affect the belief and treatment of women who report sexual violence and rape crimes.
Catherine Mayer, Co-founder Women’s Equality Party
Seyi Akiwowo, Glitch
Catherine Anderson, Jo Cox Foundation
Marai Larasi, Imkaan
Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader Green Party
Delyth Jewell, Senior Women's Rights Campaigns Specialist, ActionAid UK
Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters
Karen Ingala Smith, Chief Executive NIA
Sarah Hill, Chief Executive IDAS
Professor Clare McGlynn