Only 3% of rape allegations in London result in convictions, a study has found, prompting the capital’s victims’ commissioner to call for an end to the “excessive intrusion into personal data” demanded when a person makes an allegation.
The London rape review, conducted by the mayor’s office for policing and crime (MOPAC) and the University of West London, looked at 501 allegations of rape made across the city in April 2016.
It found that while 84% of allegations were classified as a crime by the police, in 58% of cases the victim withdrew the allegation. Only 6% of cases reached trial and 3% resulted in a conviction. The average length of time from the date of reporting to the trial outcome was 18 months.
Seven per cent of cases surveyed were perpetrated by a stranger. Almost three in five offences were alleged to have taken place in a private or domestic setting and 28% related to domestic abuse.
The London victims’ commissioner, Claire Waxman, said drastic improvements were needed in the way rape victims were treated. She called for police to be trained how to deal with trauma victims and for more funding for services from central government.
Waxman was appointed the capital’s first victim’s commissioner by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in June 2017. In 2011 she won a landmark case to overturn the decision not to prosecute her stalker and in 2013 founded the campaign group Voice4Victims to work for improved legislation for victims of crime.
Last week, a Guardian analysis of recent Home Office statistics revealed that only one in 65 rape cases reported to police across the country resulted in suspects being summonsed or charged, which represented a steep decline.
Four years ago one in seven, or 14%, of cases led to a suspect being charged or summonsed – a total of 4,908 in 2015-16. Last year just 1.5% of cases resulted in a charge or a summons, for a total of 886 in 2018-19.
The analysis followed controversy over “digital processing notices”, in which police can request to download the contents of victims’ mobile phones. They were rolled out across police forces in England and Wales in April.
Civil liberties organisations have said they amount to a “digital strip search”, are unlawful and are “highly likely to infringe victims’ data protection and privacy rights”.
Waxman called for an end to “excessive disclosure” of victims’ data, saying the Crown Prosecution Service should only request therapy notes to show the impact of the crime. She said the government should fully fund legal support to provide independent advice and legal representation seeing as victims were “having their credibility routinely investigated”.
One woman, who did not want to be named, was raped by a stranger who was identified eight years later by DNA evidence after raping again. Despite having strong DNA evidence from two attacks, the police still asked her for extensive records.
“Despite the fact I was raped by a stranger who was identified many years later by DNA evidence, I was then told that in order to charge him the police would need to go through my school and university records, medical records and around six years’ of therapy notes,” she said.
“This felt so invasive and disturbing, as if rather than assessing the evidence gathered at time of the rape, they were evaluating my character over my lifetime. I felt I had very little power to object to this as they warned me missing information could jeopardise the case.
“The extent to which I was expected to give my life over for inspection and judgment eventually led me to decide that were the case to go to trial I would withdraw from the process as I was terrified of being subjected to further scrutiny and my life experiences and private therapy notes being used to discredit me.”