UK government ‘ashamed’ at poor rape conviction rates

LONDON — Britain’s government has apologized to rape victims for declining conviction levels, with senior Cabinet ministers saying they’re “deeply ashamed” by the downward trend in bringing sexual offenders to justice.

The government’s Rape Review, published Thursday, said the situation was “totally unacceptable” and that authorities are determined to change it.

Figures from the Crown Persecution Service showed that 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser sexual offenses in England and Wales in 2020 — the lowest level since records began — despite reports of rape to police almost doubling since 2015.

Of an estimated 128,000 reported cases of rape or attempted rape each year, just 1.6% result in a charge. The review said it found no one specific cause for the overall drop in prosecutions.

“These are trends of which we are deeply ashamed. Victims of rape are being failed,” Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Attorney General Michael Ellis wrote.

“Thousands of victims have gone without justice. But this isn’t just about numbers — every instance involves a real person who has suffered a truly terrible crime,” they added.

The report set out recommendations such as reducing cross-examination of victims in court by conducting pre-recorded interviews and focusing more on the behaviors of the suspect rather than the accuser.

Buckland said he wanted to move away from “the obsessive focus on the credibility of the victim.” Emphasis should instead be put on the suspect’s offending past, to “help ensure decision-making is based on evidence, rather than subjective judgments of victim credibility,” the report said.

Max Hill, Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales, said the stark drop in cases that have successfully been brought before a jury meant that too few victims are seeking justice.

While some campaigners welcomed the government’s apology, most said the review fell short of expectations.

“Overall, while there are individual elements of the government’s report that are encouraging, it’s hard to identify any big commitments that will radically and swiftly improve the experience of the justice system for victims and survivors,” said Amelia Handy, policy lead for Rape Crisis England and Wales.