Criminals more likely to be punished for bike thefts than rape as charges plummet
PUBLISHED: 06:30 24 October 2020
So few rape suspects are being charged in Norfolk that police are more likely to catch bike thieves than rapists.
Government figures show only 2pc of rapes recorded in 2019-20 in the county led to charges. The rate has plummeted from 15pc since 2015-16.
Last year 755 reports of a rape of a woman aged 16 or over were made to Norfolk Police.
But despite the number of reported rapes rocketing by more than 120pc in five years, this newspaper’s research found almost every crime has a higher charge rate.
The charge rate for reported bicycle thefts, for example, in the county was 3pc last year and has been higher than the charge rate for reported rapes of women aged 16 or over since 2018-19.
And campaigners have warned the number of reported rapes will only be the tip of the iceberg, with only 20pc of victims and survivors ever reporting the offence.
Figures for Suffolk follow a similar trend, with the charge rate also collapsing to 2pc last year, down from a high of 10pc in 2015-17.
The chair of Norfolk charity, the Sue Lambert Trust, said rape was among the hardest of offences to prosecute.
“The low rate doesn’t surprise me, even compared to other crimes,” said Clive Evans.
“Trying to gather evidence against someone is incredibly difficult as it’s often your word against theirs.”
Katie Russell, from charity Rape Crisis, said a long, traumatic court process puts off a lot of victims and survivors.
Figures for Norfolk show half of victims who came forward later decided against taking action, making prosecution impossible.
“Before Covid-19 we were talking about two years being very common (from charge to trial),” she said.
“But now with the delays in the criminal justice system cases will take even longer to conclude.”
A further 24pc of cases in Norfolk and 20pc of cases in Suffolk fell through because of evidential difficulties, despite the victim supporting further action.
Campaigners have blamed systematic issues within the criminal justice system for falling charge rates.
Ms Russell suggested a change of policy within the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which decides whether a suspect should be charged, could be to blame.
“Within the criminal justice system itself, stereotypes and myths still have hold and sway,” she claimed.
“It’s our perception that there’s sometimes an assumption on the part of the CPS that certain types of victim are believed over others, or that certain witnesses are more compelling.
“Criminal justice professionals are pre-empting the prejudices of juries and are not processing cases that they might perceive to be more difficult to get a conviction.”
Meanwhile pressure group, End Violence Against Women, has launched a judicial review to examine whether the CPS has changed its policies, leading to fewer suspects being charged.
A CPS spokesman said it had recently launched a five year strategy to increase the conviction rate.
“CPS data shows our charge rate (the percentage of the cases referred to CPS where charges are authorised) has fallen from 67 per cent to 54 per cent in Suffolk and in Norfolk, it has risen from 63 per cent to 67 per cent in the period between 15-16 and 20-21,” he said.
“Rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) are some of the most complex cases the CPS prosecutes, the fall in charges is a major focus for the CPS and we have been working hard to reverse the trend we’ve seen in recent years.”
National figures from the organisation show the number of completed rape prosecutions more than halved in the three months to June, compared to the previous quarter, and warnings have been sounded about a backlog caused by Covid-19, further delaying cases and leading to victims pulling out of the process.
Detective chief superintendent Chris Balmer of Norfolk Police said many factors could affect conviction rates, such as the strength of evidence and the pressure faced by victims during the process.
Suffolk Police said charging figures could be affected by challenges around evidence collection.
DCS Balmer added: “I think it’s important to recognise that this isn’t about victims not wanting justice.
“It’s because the prospect of going to court about such a personal and traumatic experience can be a very frightening one.
“We should never underestimate the strength it takes people who have already experienced trauma to relive this through the criminal justice system.”
-Contact charity Rape Crisis for help at www.rapecrisis.org.uk or contact the Sue Lambert Trust at www.suelamberttrust.org
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