Overhaul of criminal justice system delivers significant improvement for rape victims
Government delivers on pledge to return number of cases reaching court to 2016 levels
- All 43 police forces in England and Wales to implement new approach to investigating rape
- Remote sentencing hearings to be offered to improve victims’ experience in court
Rape victims are being better supported across the criminal justice system 2 years on from the landmark End to End Rape Review, thanks to progress in delivering the government’s action plan to transform the response to rape and put more perpetrators behind bars.
The progress report published today (Monday 10 July) shows the government has already met 2 of the 3 key ambitions in the Rape Review ahead of schedule – restoring the number of police referrals and cases reaching court to 2016 levels – and is on track to exceed all 3 ambitions before the end of this parliament.
It comes as all 43 police forces across England and Wales, and all rape prosecutors across the country, begin implementing a new approach to dealing with rape and other serious sexual offences, ensuring forces conduct thorough investigations which put the focus on the suspect and centre the rights and needs of victims. Known as Operation Soteria and piloted in 19 police forces and 9 Crown Prosecution Areas already, the programme brings together police forces with academics, using evidence and new insight to enable forces and prosecutors to transform their response to rape and serious sexual offences.
There are early signs of improvements in the police forces and CPS Areas already participating in the Operation Soteria programme. All five pathfinder forces have seen an increase in the number of cases being referred to the CPS – more than doubling in West Midlands Police and Durham. The number of cases being prosecuted by the CPS from Avon and Somerset have more than tripled, and all pathfinder forces have seen a reduction in the average days taken for a charge outcome to be assigned – with South Wales seeing a reduction of almost 300 days in the latest quarter.
And to further improve the response to rape, 2,000 extra police investigators will be specially trained in rape and sexual offences by April 2024. It will also be compulsory for new recruits to undertake rape and sexual offences training, which will also be rolled out to all existing first responders.
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk KC, said:
"Rape and sexual violence are horrific crimes that can impact victims for the rest of their lives. That’s why we launched an action plan in the 2021 Rape Review to drive up prosecutions.
"We’ve made significant progress, hitting two of our Rape Review ambitions ahead of schedule, and there are more rape cases before the courts today than in 2010.
"Now we are going further, extending our action plan with more support for victims, encouraging survivors to come forward and see justice done."
Home Secretary, Suella Braverman MP, said:
"As a society, too often we have failed the victims of sexual violence.
"I have been clear that we must transform the way these investigations are handled, to make sure that all victims have the best support possible throughout the entire process. This is a vital step in delivering on that promise.
"It will help ensure investigations focus on the suspect, and never on seeking to undermine the account of the victim, as well as placing the utmost importance on their rights and needs."
The Rape Review progress report shows improvements have been made in response to rape across every stage of the criminal justice system and, crucially, data suggests more and more victims are reporting these abhorrent crimes to the police – demonstrating an increase in victim confidence.
The government recognises that there is more work to be done to support rape victims in coming forward and bringing perpetrators to justice.
To further support victims, pioneering CPS areas, police forces and leading academics have developed a new National Operating Model for the investigation of rape and serious sexual offences, and all police forces and prosecutors in England and Wales have committed to implementing it from today.
This will see police and prosecutors work more closely together to build stronger cases which focus on the behaviour of the suspect, and place victims at the heart of the response.
The Home Office, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and College of Policing Unit will oversee the implementation of the new national model, supported by the College of Policing and the government will be consulting with police leaders on the effectiveness of dedicated rape investigation units in all police forces.
Having completed more than 150 published Rape Review actions over the last 2 years, with less than 10 outstanding due to be completed in the coming months, today’s publication extends the government’s action plan until the end of parliament, continuing to deliver activity across the criminal justice system that will drive further improvements
These actions include:
- Giving more victims the option to hear their attacker being sentenced away from a courtroom - avoiding seeing their attacker face-to-face. This brings sentencing in line with measures already brought in which allow victims to provide evidence remotely
- Recommissioning the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Fund (RASASF) providing £21 million over 2023/24 to specialist support services for rape and sexual abuse victims across England and Wales, helping them cope and move forward with their lives
- The Home Secretary has commissioned His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to carry out a thematic inspection of forces’ implementation of the Soteria Model, and will produce a report with findings in due course
- Publishing a step-by-step guide for frontline investigators on conducting suspect-focused investigations and toolkits to ensure victims’ needs and rights are central to all investigations
Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill KC, of said:
“Today marks the latest milestone for the Crown Prosecution Service in our journey to transform the way rape cases are investigated and prosecuted, learning from Operation Soteria.
“Over the past year, we have seen the volume of adult rape-flagged cases charged increase by 40% and are on track to significantly increase the number of cases going to court year on year.
“We know we still have a long way to go to drive lasting change, and will continue to listen carefully to partners and victims as we go, but the work we have been doing through genuine partnership with police colleagues is bearing fruit.”
Victims Minister, Ed Argar MP, said:
"Since 2019 we’ve almost doubled the number of suspects charged and the volume of convictions is up a third – meaning more rapists being put behind bars.
"We’ve introduced a round-the-clock rape support line and are quadrupling funding for victim support by 2025, but it’s vital we maintain this momentum and keep building on all the action we’ve taken so far."
Emily Hunt, survivor and independent advisor to the government on the Rape Review, said:
"Two years on from the Rape Review, it is amazing to see what the beginning of success looks like.
"Fundamentally, now more rapists are going to prison and victims are being better supported. But it is not the time to stop - it is time to double down and really consider what we should be doing to build on these successes."
Since the Rape Review was published the government have taken a number of steps to provide better support for rape victims including:
- Launching a 24/7 Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Line so victims can speak to trained specialists whenever they need
- Quadrupling funding for victim support services by 2025 compared to 2010 levels
- Stopping unnecessary and intrusive requests for victims’ phones through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act and introducing new legislation through the Victims and Prisoners Bill so that therapy notes or other personal records are only accessed when necessary and proportionate to an investigation
- Providing Police and Crime Commissioners with dedicated ring-fenced funding for at least 900 Independent Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse Advisors and will fund an additional 100 - bringing the total to over 1000 by 2025.
- Driving down Crown Court backlogs so cases can be heard faster, lifting the cap on the number of days courts can sit, and recruiting 1,000 more judges
These steps build on progress made on convictions which are up 33% on 2019 levels, while adult rape prosecutions are up 4% on 2010.
The Victims and Prisoner Bill will also provide additional support for all victims, including rape victims, by giving ministers powers to direct the inspection of justice agencies, such as the police and courts, that are failing victims.
Attorney General, Victoria Prentis KC, said:
"The aftermath of rape and serious sexual offences can last a lifetime, so I hope today’s announcement means victims feel they can report these sickening crimes with confidence.
"More cases are being referred and charged and thanks to better joined up working between police and prosecutors, more robust files are being built which can pass through the system more swiftly.
"Support measures to keep victims engaged are so much improved, but the momentum must continue right across the country."
National Police Chiefs’ Lead for Rape and Adult Sexual Offences, Chief Constable Sarah Crew, said:
"Rape is one of the most complex and challenging crimes the criminal justice system deals with. The roll out of the National Operating Model is a huge step forward in how we investigate crime and the experience victims receive.
"While we know there is more to do, the national operating model will see all forces adopt new processes, guidance and training to enable more victims to get the justice they so deserve. In order to improve trust and confidence, we have to show victims we are making significant changes and getting results. Operation Soteria offers this.
"We have opened up our doors to academics and to scrutiny. This has not always been a comfortable process. However, it’s an essential step towards achieving our goal of comprehensive and transformational change."
Professors Katrin Hohl and Betsy Stanko OBE, joint academic leads of Operation Soteria, said:
"The National Operating Model is an evidence-based solution to the seemly intractable problem of low charging rates and poor victim experiences in rape cases. Never before have academics, policing, and the Crown Prosecution Service come together in this way.
"Together, and in close consultation with victims and the victim support sector, we have developed principles, guidance, toolkits and other practical materials to support officers to better investigate sexual offending behaviour and to better engage with victims in line with their rights and needs. We are hopeful that this could mark the beginning of a new era of criminal justice."
College of Policing Chief Constable, Andy Marsh, said:
"I’m delighted to see Op Soteria, first trialled when I was chief constable at Avon and Somerset Police, being rolled out across the country.
"The College of Policing will be the gateway to all of the guidance, knowledge and best practice so it is easily accessible at any time day or night.
"By transforming our response to rape we can better stop those who commit these horrific crimes and help victims get the justice they deserve."
London’s Victims’ Commissioner, Claire Waxman OBE, said:
"This is an important step forward that demonstrates radical change is possible in the criminal justice system to improve the response to victims, and I welcome the national rollout of Operation Soteria to transform how officers in all forces investigate rape and sexual offences.
"I was grateful to play a role in this project following my London Rape Reviews, which highlighted deteriorating rape conviction rates and victim withdrawal, and the need for radical overhaul of the justice system’s response to rape. The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) and I have been leading the way in reforming victims’ justice journeys.
"The findings from the Met and four other forces visited by the Soteria team last year lay bare the extent of the issues that needed urgently tackling if we want to improve rape prosecutions. I welcome the establishment of a new unit to oversee the deep-rooted and systemic changes needed in implementing this new model, that is key to driving progress so that all victims have confidence that they will be supported and able to access the justice they deserve."