Moment of contact: The review examines how victims are treated
By Peter Jackson
The care and support of rape victims should be given greater priority, according to a review of how cases are handled. One young woman's experience of the system shows there is much still to be done.
When Sally Freeman's 15-year-old daughter told her she had been violently raped, she had hoped justice would be swift and conclusive. Instead, the experience left her daughter depressed and her family disillusioned with the effectiveness of the justice system.
The accused man - who was almost twice the girl's age - was cleared of rape (and witness intimidation) in 2006, a year after the alleged incident took place.
But Mrs Freeman was so stung by the experience, she lodged an official complaint with the police. In response to this, a report last year, carried out by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, found there had been a series of failings, including lost evidence, a failure to gather it and a lack of proper training.
Mrs Freeman (who withheld her real name for fear of reprisals) says her daughter, now 20, has not recovered from the ordeal nor her subsequent treatment and is struggling at university with severe depression.
"Her life was destroyed before she'd even started out... she always says if police can't protect you who can? I think it's destroyed our lives, each and every one of us. I don't trust anyone, I don't trust a soul, nor does any of our family."
Ensuring cases progress fairly through the criminal justice system, and a greater focus on victim care, are at the heart of a wide-ranging review of the treatment of rape cases. Carried out by the cross-bench peer Baroness Stern, it makes 23 recommendations for reforming how rape case are handled in England and Wales.
Lady Stern says people's experiences range from the "very best quality response" to some of the "most abysmal experiences that one feels really ashamed is still happening in this country".
Mrs Freeman's daughter says she was raped at a flat in London by a man she had met in the street the day before.
He had asked for her phone number and called the next day to see if she wanted to help walk his dog. But she says when her daughter got to the flat to pick up the animal, he attacked her.
It took the 15-year-old six weeks to pluck up the courage to tell her, and her daughter was left traumatised, confused and unwilling to go to the police because she did not think they'd believe her.
THE REPORT SAYS
"There is concern that the 6% figure can make victims feel it is not worth reporting"
"Kids around here don't really trust the police, that's how they grow up," says Mrs Freeman, who lives in inner-London.
The report says some women who report rape to the police feel they are seen as liars because women are known to "cry rape".
It suggests others may feel they are in some way to blame for being raped if they wear revealing clothes and have too much to drink.
The conviction rate for reported rapes is just 6.5%, but Baroness Stern says this often-quoted figure is misleading and may discourage victims from coming forward.
She says the conviction rate for those charged is 58% and has recommended the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and national statisticians work to make the picture clearer.
Video interviews - mandatory for minors, but available to others too
A Sexual Offences Investigation Trained (Soit) officer was appointed to Mrs Freeman's daughter to act as a go-between between her and the investigating officers. But Mrs Freeman was unimpressed - saying communication and contact from the Soit officer was "very poor".
Because the victim was a minor, she was obliged to make her full statement by video, although many women are also encouraged to do so.
"She said the woman was really horrible to her and they were trying to catch her out," Mrs Freeman says.
She also says there was no after care or contact following the trial which made them feel like they'd been "thrown out to the wolves".
THE REPORT SAYS
"All victims should have access to an independent sexual violence advisor if they want it"
The Stern review recommends independent specialist advisers are assigned to all victims and wants all police forces to consider setting up specialist rape units. They currently exist in about a third of forces.
Victims should also have the choice of a male or female forensic physician for their medical examination and responsibility for that should be transferred from the police to the NHS.
ROLE OF POLICE
Mrs Freeman says the police investigation had been riddled with errors. Phone evidence was lost which would have proved calls were made to her daughter's mobile, which the accused man denied.
In its report, the IPCC revealed police had taken three months to arrest the suspect, despite having his address, name, and car registration.
"I was getting angry and frustrated for my daughter, it was freaking me out, I was thinking 'this can't be possible'. He was still walking around the streets, they fobbed us off."
RAPE CASES - KEY FACTS
Prosecutions rose from 3,264 in 2006/7 to 3,495 in 2008/09
Convictions for those charged up from 55% in 2006/07 to 58% in 2008/09, but less than 7% of reported rapes are successfully prosecuted
99% of defendants are men and 88% of victims women
8% of reported cases are the rape of a man
The CPS charged in 30% of cases in 2006/07 and 39% in 2008/09
Unsuccessful prosecutions remain at 42% and guilty pleas at 35%
Just under a quarter of prosecutions are dropped
Source: Crown Prosecution Service March 2006 - March 2009
The IPCC report also revealed police never gathered evidence at the man's flat and failed to use available CCTV.
Baroness Stern's report has called for a greater emphasis on intelligence-led policing. It follows two major cases that exposed serious flaws in how detectives investigate rapes in the London area.
John Worboys, a taxi driver, was arrested in 2007 but released without charge only to be later convicted of attacking 12 women. A further 85 have come forward to say they too were victims.
The separate case of Kirk Reid, suspected of 71 offences, has also raised questions.
The Stern review wants intelligence shared across boroughs and better use of computer technology.
TAKING THE CASE TO COURT
Mrs Freeman says the whole experience of court was "worse than rape" for her daughter.
She criticised the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyers for only making the first contact with her daughter five minutes before the trial began. She says they also failed to tell them when the charge of having sex with a minor was dropped.
"It was like nothing on earth. I felt the CPS prosecutor wasn't protecting her, it was like she was on trial, it's a character assassination," Mrs Freeman says.
THE REPORT SAYS
"Video-recorded 'achieving best evidence' interviews is an issue of considerable concern which is posing problems for the smooth running of trials"
She felt the video evidence meant the jury did not connect with her daughter because they only saw her face on a screen.
The Stern review says there are strong views that the practice of video evidence is a big hindrance to effective trials. Recordings can be badly filmed and interview training unsuitable.
It says the CPS should take better individual ownership of cases despite the busy courts and conflicting performance targets between the police and the CPS should end.
Mrs Freeman says she had to fight hard for the full compensation of £11,000 eventually awarded to her daughter.
Her local MP and the borough police commander wrote to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (Cica) on her behalf.
There is a lower burden of proof required to get compensation - "more likely than not" rather than the courts' "beyond reasonable doubt".
THE REPORT SAYS
"Rape victims should not normally get less compensation if they have a previous unspent conviction or if they have not reported the rape immediately"
"The woman at Cica was saying 'I don't care if you've got a letter from the queen, we'll decide whether your daughter was raped'.
"I thought 'how dare you, she [my daughter] was failed along every path."
The Stern report says Cica shoud "reconsider its eligibility requirements" to made it clear rape victims should be properly compensated even if they have a previous unspent conviction or did not report the rape immediately.
It wants the policy that victims being under the influence of drugs or alcohol also has no effect on compensation, made clearer.
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