Leaked Cabinet Office report finds justice system fails claimants and lack of resources may impede investigations
Almost half of rape victims are dropping out of investigations, as a growing proportion do not want to pursue a prosecution even when a suspect has been identified, according to a Cabinet Office report leaked to the Guardian.
The figures, which were prepared for a secret internal government review earlier this year, reveal a system in crisis as tens of thousands of women are reluctant to pursue their alleged attackers when faced with invasive disclosure demands, a lower likelihood of securing a conviction and lengthy delays in seeing their case brought to court.
Reported rapes are on the rise. However, police are referring fewer cases to the Crown Prosecution Service, which in turn is prosecuting even fewer cases.
The highly sensitive data was assembled earlier this year by the prime minister’s implementation unit as part of an urgent investigation into the dramatic fall in rape prosecutions in England and Wales. Rape prosecutions are at their lowest level in more than a decade.
The briefing shows senior civil servants acknowledging the way the criminal justice system deals with crimes “is particularly poor for rape” and expressing suspicions – never publicly aired – that problems may be due to lack of resources.
The document, marked as “official – sensitive”, notes: “Police are assigning certain unsuccessful outcomes after shorter investigations than in previous years.” It also says: “The drivers for this are unclear, but it may be indicative of ‘rationing’ of police time and resources to more ‘solvable’ cases.”
While recorded rapes increased by 173% between 2014 and 2018, the police referred 19% fewer cases for charging decisions and CPS decisions to prosecute fell by 44% in the same period.
One of the most concerning changes is the growing proportion of cases resulting in “outcome 16”, whereby a suspect has been identified after a police investigation but the victim does not support further action. The document reveals that from 2015 to 2018, the proportion of cases dropped owing to an outcome 16 rose from 33% to 48%.
Last year, more than 20,000 women – an average of one every 30 minutes – decided not to proceed with a rape investigation, even when the suspect had been identified.
Campaigners believe the sharp rise may reflect victims being discouraged from pursuing complaints because they face disclosure of their intimate, private life through requests for the contents of their phones and laptops. The sheer length of time from offence to completion at court, which has increased by 37% to an average of two years since 2014, may be deterring others.