Last year, 252 disabled women reported rape to South Yorkshire Police but only three had their accused charged. What does the CPS think is going wrong? I wish I knew.
Content note: discussion of rape and sexual assault
252 disabled women told South Yorkshire Police that they had been raped last year. Just three of them saw the people they accused charged with rape and one person was charged with an alternate offence.
The number of reports of rape vs charges or summons in South Yorkshire
Comparing disabled women with non-disabled women
Other outcomes included:
What happened to the 252 reports of rape by disabled women last year?
Each of this brings up questions of their own and my Justice Gap series is looking at how few cases lead to charges or summonses. I want to know what obstacles are getting in the way of disabled women seeing justice when they are raped.
Why are so many victims pulling out of the process by choice? What kind of ‘diversionary, educational or intervention’ activities are considered appropriate responses to accusations of rape? Why are 16% of disabled women’s cases closed because the suspect wasn’t identified, compared to 8% of non-disabled women’s?
For the 42 women who wanted further action but whose cases the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or the police did not pursue because of evidential difficulties in particular, hearing the perspective of the CPS is vital.
The CPS website says that the organisation “decides which cases should be prosecuted” and “determines the appropriate charges in more serious or complex cases, and advises the police during the early stages of investigations”.
It also says that “to charge a suspect with an offence, the case needs to pass a two-stage legal test:
- Is there enough evidence against the suspect to provide a realistic prospect of conviction?
- Is it in the public interest to prosecute this person?
“If the case passes both stages, we will charge the suspect.”
So a conversation with somebody from CPS Yorkshire and Humberside was a priority for me when investigating and writing the Justice Gap series. They preferred to answer questions by email and sent the following statement:
“No one should receive worse access to justice as a result of a disability. The CPS policy is to identify disability hate crimes as early as possible and to build strong cases with the police to satisfy the tests within the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
The Code provides that a prosecution is more likely to be in the public interest where the victim is vulnerable, particularly if that victim was targeted because of their vulnerability.
We also remind the court of its powers to increase a sentence under s.66 Sentencing Act 2020 (SA 2020) where there is evidence of disability hate crime, including minor offending. We support victims to give their best evidence and aim to continuously refresh our understanding of disability hate crime specifically and crimes against disabled people more widely.
Rape is one of the most serious and devastating crimes we prosecute. We are working jointly with our partner agencies to continuously improve the service we provide to all victims of these traumatising crimes. In Yorkshire and Humberside, 76% of cases involving rape and serious sexual offending brought to us by the police result in a charge. Where we take no further action, we review the case to see what lessons can be learned for the future.
We remain committed to seeing justice done for all victims of rape.”
I appreciate the CPS’s response and that they are committed to improving their service, but I also read the statement with some dismay.
For context, the questions I had asked (trimmed slightly here for length) were:
- What’s causing such a low level of charges when women report rape in general?
- I appreciate that CPS is only part of the story, they make the decision but that is based on what the police present to them and is inevitably influenced by that. Looking at the CJS [criminal justice system] as a whole system, what do you think is going wrong that’s causing the discrepancy with disabled women?
- What are the difficulties / barriers, from the CPS’s point of view, with working with disabled women who report rape?
- What do you think can be done to improve these stats for all women who report rape, including disabled women?
- In terms of what happens in response to a complaint of rape, other than the numbers charged or summonsed, the proportions are similar for both groups of women except for one category – Investigation Complete; No Suspect Identified. Crime Investigated As Far As Reasonably Possible-Case Closed Pending Further Investigative Opportunities Becoming Available – which accounted for 8.4% of non-disabled women’s cases but 15.9% of disabled women’s. Do you see any significance in that?
The Justice Gap series is trying to understand what is going wrong in the system in order to improve the vast lack of justice that disabled sexual assault survivors are facing. I am asking every interviewee about what they think is going wrong and what needs to change. The CPS did not engage with any of these vital questions and this suggests a disappointing lack of curiosity into resolving these injustices.
Saying that “in Yorkshire and Humberside, 76% of cases involving rape and serious sexual offending brought to us by the police result in a charge” is interesting, but provided without context. It apparently describes only the cases the police are presenting to the CPS without looking at why the other cases are not being brought forward, nor whose guidance the police are following.
The CPS website says that the police are responsible for, amongst other things:
- taking “no further action” in cases that cannot meet the appropriate evidential standard, without referral to a prosecutor;
- assessing whether cases meet the relevant criteria for referral to the CPS for a charging decision, including whether the Full Code or Threshold Test, as set out in the Code, is met on the available evidence and circumstances of the case;
Whereas prosecutors are “responsible for making charging decisions and providing advice and guidance in accordance with the Code and this Guidance, and within agreed time periods”.
What leads to women dropping out of the process, or being ruled out of the process before CPS are involved, is not addressed by the statement sent to me by CPS Yorkshire and Humber. And I had not asked anything about disability hate crime.
Ultimately, while it is easy to state that, “No one should receive worse access to justice as a result of a disability”, the fact remains that disabled survivors of rape are receiving worse access to justice. If vital cogs in the justice machine are not looking into why that is happening, it’s hard to see how anything can improve.
In the coming weeks, Now Then will seek answers from campaigners, academics and survivors to try to understand what is going wrong and what needs to change if disabled women – who are twice as likely to experience sexual violence – are to ever see an end to this justice gap.
If you are a disabled survivor of sexual violence and want to talk to me – anonymously if you prefer – for the Justice Gap series, email me.