U.K. government apologizes to rape victims, says justice system "failed" them

·2 min read

The British criminal justice system has "failed" rape and sexual assault victims, a report released Friday said, prompting officials to apologize and vow "lasting improvements" to the way rape cases are investigated in the country.

By the numbers: The report — which only covered cases with adult victims, but acknowledged that minors are also victims — revealed that prosecutions and convictions for adult rape have fallen by 59% and 47% respectively since 2015-2016, with the number of reported rapes almost doubling since then, from around 24,000 to approximately 43,000 in 2019-2020.

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  • The government estimated that less than 20% of rape victims report their assaults to the police, adding that there's likely around 128,000 victims every year.

The state of play: The British government said that the reasons for the decline in cases reaching the court are "complex and wide-ranging, including an increase in personal digital data being requested, delays in the investigative processes, strained relationships between different parts of the criminal justice system, a lack of specialist resources and inconsistent support to victims."

  • The government released some recommendations to better prosecute and investigate sexual assault cases, including focusing more on the subject's behavior.

  • Officials said that victims often "do not feel believed" and added that by focusing on the subject, they could "help ensure decision-making is based on evidence, rather than subjective judgments of victim credibility."

Between the lines: The sexual assault and killing of 33-year-old Sarah Everard has spurred a cascade of concerns and worries over women's safety in Britain and how rape and sexual assault cases are handled.

  • A British police officer pleaded guilty for Everard's kidnapping and rape earlier this month.

What they're saying: "Victims of rape are being failed. Thousands of victims have gone without justice. But this isn’t just about numbers – every instance involves a real person who has suffered a truly terrible crime," Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Attorney General Michael Ellis wrote in the report.

  • "Too many victims of rape and sexual violence have been denied the justice they deserve as a result of systemic failings," Buckland said in a statement. "We are deeply sorry for this and will not rest until real improvements are made."

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