Why have rape prosecution rates in England and Wales dropped so low?

May Bulman

The proportion of reported rapes being prosecuted is at its lowest level in more than five years, having plummeted to just 1.7 per cent in 2017/18. In real terms, prosecutions of sexual offences dropped by 27 per cent in 2018 – despite sex crimes recorded by police rising by 9 per cent in the same period.

This dramatic decline in prosecutions – at a time when the number of reports are increasing – brings into question the efficacy of the criminal justice system in bringing these devastating crimes to justice.

While the figures speak for themselves, now victims are beginning to come forward and tell their stories. Today, The Independent reveals how Bonny Turner, 41, was in “despair” after it was decided that a man who “confessed” on Facebook to raping her would not be prosecuted because authorities thought there was “no real prospect of conviction”.

When the man admitted to what he did in a series of online messages to her, Ms Turner went to the police. She was questioned for five hours and told to hand over her mobile phone and grant access to her personal records. She was not told what was taken from her mobile.

The alleged rapist, who left the UK days after the incident in 2016, was not interviewed until more than a year later. Nearly two years after Ms Turner’s first report, she received the news no further action would be brought against him.

Ms Turner called the process “incredibly painful” and accused authorities of “lulling victims into a false sense of security”.

Indeed, she is not alone. The Independent has also spoken to victims who dropped rape complaints after being told they must hand their mobile phones in to the police, amid concerns about “excessive and disproportionate” trawling of their phones and personal records.

Senior officers have accused the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) of “raising the bar” for the evidence needed in rape cases following a scandal over collapsed trials, including that of 22-year-old Liam Allan, whose charges were thrown out after lawyers discovered messages showing the claimant wanted and enjoyed the sex she later claimed was non-consensual.

Seeking good evidence should of course be a priority in any rape case. But this apparent requirement that victims must now hand over their phones or see the case dropped is one that many experts have said will do little to improve prosecution rates. It could be argued that this deflects from the crux of the issue here: swingeing government cuts to both police and CPS budgets, at a time of rising crime and ever-increasing data generated by smartphones.

It is not only rape prosecutions that have fallen, although they have seen the steepest drop. Overall, almost 92 per cent of all criminal offences do not result in perpetrators being charged or summonsed in England and Wales.

Meanwhile, since 2010, police forces have lost more than 20,000 officers and the CPS saw its funding cut by 27 per cent in real terms between 2010/11 and 2016/17.

Without more resources to navigate crime in an technologically advancing world – and a rethink of the move requiring victims to hand their phones over to police – the drop in rape prosecution rates looks set to continue.