Labour urges action as rape prosecutions target not set to be reached for decades

Elliot Chappell
© Joe Dunckley/Shutterstock.com

Labour has told the government that “rape victims cannot be left to wait decades for action” after official figures suggested the target of increasing rape prosecutions to 2016 levels will not be reached for decades.

Ellie Reeves has called for “root and branch” reform in response to Crown Prosecution Service data released this week, which showed an increase of 88 people charged with rape at the end of 2020/21 when compared with the previous year.

The end-to-end rape review published last month recommended that the volume of cases going to court be returned to 2016 levels, and the ruling Conservatives have pledged to achieve that by the end of this parliament.

But Labour has pointed out that, based on the rise in charging recorded this year, it would take over 22 years to achieve this target.

“Rape victims are being failed by this Tory government, and these figures show just how badly. The time for piecemeal pilots and tinkering on the edges is over – rape victims cannot be left to wait decades for action,” Reeves said today.

There are around 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape each year but fewer than 20% of them report the crime to the police, according to the end-to-end review. Just 1.6% of rapes reported result in someone being charged.

CPS data also shows a 50% drop in rape charges over the past five years. In 2016, there were 3,910 people charged with rape. In 2020/21, 1,955 rape charges were brought. Rape convictions fell from 1,439 to 1,109 over the same period.

Labour’s Shadow Solicitor General said: “The government should urgently introduce Labour’s root and branch reforms to support rape victims, as set out in our ending violence against women and girls green paper.”

Labour has published a green paper on ending violence against women and girls and is currently asking members of the public to submit their views on the subject by emailing [email protected].

The government launched a new violence against women and girls strategy last week. It followed ministers telling the public that the government was “deeply ashamed” of the low conviction rates for rape exposed by the rape review.

David Lammy described an apology offered by Boris Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions as “hollow” because he had instructed Conservative MPs to vote against a new minimum sentence for rape earlier in the same week.

The government’s new strategy includes a senior police officer in charge of tackling violence against women and girls, a 24-hour rape and sexual assault helpline and a £5m funding commitment to tackle violence in public places at night.

Labour has set out its own proposals, such as make misogyny a hate crime, toughen up existing sentences for perpetrators of rape and stalking, and create new specific offences for street sexual harassment and ‘sex for rent’ landlords.

Campaigners have been calling for ministers to make sexual harassment of women in public places, such as wolf-whistling and sexual comments, illegal. Victoria Atkins said last week that the government would look “very carefully at this”.

But the Home Office minister insisted during a BBC Radio 4 interview that many of these behaviours were already illegal and said police officers did not always understand that these offences “can and should be prosecuted”.

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