Rape victims left suicidal by eight-year court delays
Rape and sexual abuse victims are being left suicidal by delays of up to eight years in bringing their cases to court so they can get justice, a major report by the charity Rape Crisis has found.
The number of victims facing multiple postponements of their trials has more than doubled, meaning they are promised a court date only for it to be called off at the last minute, adding to their trauma, according to the charity.
On average, delays once a case is listed for trial have increased by 53 per cent since 2019 to 380 days before completion, meaning the average wait for a rape victim from the point they report it to police to sentencing is now 2.3 years or 839 days, according to official data.
However, the charity has highlighted cases – including one interviewed by The Telegraph – where victims have had to wait longer, including one delay of eight years involving a child sex victim. She has since decided to abandon the prosecution and withdrawn from the process, leaving her alleged perpetrator a free man.
Case postponed three times
The charity cited the case of Maria who spent five weeks receiving specialist hospital treatment for life-changing injuries after a suicide attempt. Her case had been postponed three times: in September 2020, September 2021 and then October 2022.
She was the victim of a multiple rapist who was this year found guilty on all counts. However, even as the family waited for sentencing they were left in the same room in the court house as the perpetrator’s parents.
Maria’s mother said: “I was verbally attacked several times by this mother. I understand she was upset, but so was I. I felt unprotected by the court.” Her daughter struggles to sleep after her experience and self-harms.
The delays stem from the backlog for sexual offence cases, which has risen by 800 to 7,859 in the year to September 2022, while for adult rape cases it has risen by 200 to 1,851, according to Ministry of Justice data.
The backlogs have been deepened by the fall-out from the barristers’ strike and a chronic shortage of barristers, primarily to prosecute cases, according to the charity.
Advocates not turning up
The number of “ineffective” trials – where they did not happen on the day they were due to start – rose by 1,722 to 1,925 cases in the year to June 2022, largely due to the failure of a prosecution advocate to turn up, according to official data provided to the Commons justice committee.
In an interview with The Telegraph, the mother of Ben described how the family had reported the seven child rapes and sexual abuse he suffered in 2018 but were still waiting for justice with a trial date now set for 2024.
Delays, adjournments and a hung jury resulting in a re-trial means that by the time his case reaches court again, he will have been waiting six years for justice, despite child sexual abuse being a level-one high-priority crime that should be fast-tracked through the criminal justice system.
‘Not wanted to live’
“My son has at times not wanted to live,” Ben’s mother told The Telegraph.
“I have been genuinely concerned for his mental health and how he can keep going and how he’s going to get through the next 18 months and the next 18 months because it’s been like a cloud that’s just sitting over us as we are waiting to be able to put it behind us and we still can’t.
“There has been no support. Very, very little support from anybody. Luckily my son has an incredibly supportive family. But I think without that, I’m not even sure he’d be here today.”
The Ministry of Justice said there had been “real improvements”, with a 50 per cent rise in rape cases referred to the Crown Prosecution Service; a 54 per increase in charges; and a 65 per cent improvement in convictions.
“But we know more needs to be done, particularly so that victims have confidence and feel supported, which is why we’ve quadrupled funding for victims’ services, enabled them to pre-record court evidence earlier and away from defendants, and launched a 24/7 helpline with Rape Crisis,” said a spokesman.