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Rape and Sexual Offences:                 Chapter 5: Victims and Witnesses


Treatment of Victims

It is important that prosecutors understand the potential effects of sexual violence on victims. Not only can they suffer physical effects such as unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection, but they can also experience anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sometimes for a lengthy period of time.

It is vital that victims are treated with dignity and respect and provided with the opportunity to influence how their case is handled. Whilst sexual violence can rob victims of the feeling of "being in control", being kept informed and given choices, can help them "take back control". This may contribute to their recovery and avoid their re-victimisation.

The decision whether a witness should have counselling or therapy before a trial is not one for the CPS, but rather for the witness him or herself or his/her parents or those responsible for his/her care. See Provision of Therapy for Child Witnesses Prior to a Criminal Trial - Practice Guidance and Provision of Therapy for Vulnerable or Intimidated Adult Witnesses Prior to a Criminal Trial - Practice Guidance.

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Information and Support for victims and witnesses

The CPS is committed to taking all practicable steps to help victims through the often difficult experience of becoming involved in the criminal justice system [CJS].

Multi-agency Witness Care Units staffed by police and CPS Witness Care Officers in every CJS Area provide information and support throughout the criminal justice process, tailored to the individual needs of the victim or witness.


Victim Personal Statements

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime

The Prosecutors' Pledge


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Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs)

A SARC is defined by the Department of Health, the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) as:

  • 'A one-stop location where victims of rape, sexual abuse and serious sexual assault, regardless of gender or age, can receive medical care and counselling, and have the opportunity to assist a police investigation, including undergoing a forensic examination, if they so choose.'

    The concept of a SARC (and the term does not simply refer to a building but to a range of services) involves an integrated multi agency response to sexual violence that includes specialist clinical intervention with a range of assessment and support services through defined care pathways that promote recovery and health following sexual violence irrespective of whether the victim wishes to report to the police.

    For the Revised National Service Guide, including the minimum elements for every SARC see:

    SARCs rely on local police forces, NHS primary care trusts and local authorities for their funding and management and there is a wide variation in their availability and the services they offer. CPS encourages and supports the provision of effective SARC services, benefitting directly from the provision of sound medical and forensic evidence with which to build cases and well-supported confident victims, who are able to support a prosecution.

    It is important that rape specialist prosecutors familiarise themselves with the services available in their area and build relationships with SARC staff, to ensure a multi agency approach to supporting victims of sexual violence. It is good practice for the CPS to be involved in SARC steering groups and for the SARC manager or other representative to be involved in groups responsible for the governance of the local response to sexual violence, for example by membership of an operational or strategic group.

    Specialists Support Groups

    There are a number of specialist support services available across England and Wales that specialise in supporting victims of sexual violence. They differ widely, however, with some catering for victims regardless of their age or gender, whilst others focus on a specific group within society. Rape Specialist prosecutors should be aware of the services available locally so that they can pass on information to victims, if required. A reference to any such groups in a DCV letter is good practice.

    Rape specialist prosecutors should forge strong working relationships with specialist support services and any Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAS) (see below) available in their Area. The support they can offer victims may significantly improve the victim's support of any prosecution. Furthermore support from an ISVA or a specialist support organisation can reduce pressure on the CJS by enabling people other than the police and CPS to help answer victims' questions. ISVAs and others can also keep the police and CPS updated on the victim's situation at different stages of the proceedings.

    The following are some of the groups (including umbrella groups) operating nationally that may have local branches:

    Rape Crisis Coordination Group (England And Wales)

    This Group coordinates Rape Crisis Centres in England and Wales.

    Rape Crisis Centres have been established across the UK and Ireland to provide services for women and girls, and can generally also provide information on support agencies for men and boys. Not all Rape Crisis Centres provide the same services. The following websites give details of locations and services offered:

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    Survivor's Trust

    The Survivor's Trust provides support and networking opportunities to specialist voluntary services working with male and female survivors of rape, sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse.

    Groups are located throughout the UK. Some provide separate services for women or men. Many also provide a service for young people. Training and supervision for professionals working with survivors is offered locally by member groups.

    Victim Support and the Witness Service

    Victim Support

    Victim Support (VS) is an independent voluntary organisation that works alongside the criminal justice system, government, national organisations and local communities. VS works closely with SARCs to complement their services and promotes the rights of victims and witnesses. Referrals are only made to VS with the full consent of a victim of sexual violence, and VS will not contact a victim unless it is clear that they have given permission for their contact details to be referred.

    VS provides information, a free and confidential telephone support line, practical help and emotional support to victims of crime, whether reported or not. This service also extends to their partner, families and friends.

    VS offers a service to both female and male victims of sexual violence, and its services are responsive to the gender sensitive nature of this type of crime, and to the cultural needs of victims of sexual violence. VS also supports the families of children who have been victims of sexual offences, if they are not the perpetrator. VS ensures that its volunteers reflect the diversity of all communities in which they work, and that its services are equally accessible to all.

    The services of VS include:

    • Contacting victims of sexual violence by telephone or arranged visit, and doing so in a way that reflects the particular sensitivity of the situation;
    • Arranging for a trained volunteer to see victims in their homes, at the VS local office, or if appropriate, at another place that is private, safe and convenient for the person being supported;
    • Providing a volunteer to listen to the victim, support them and help them to explore their options. If help is required beyond the scope of VS, such as accessing medical support or legal advice, VS will assist in finding that help;
    • Referring victims to SARCs, and other agencies, if they want to use their services;
    • Providing practical help including applying for criminal injuries compensation, providing support if the person wants to go to the police station, help with claiming benefits and access to crime prevention and a range of other services;
    • Providing information which might include the victim's rights, and if they have reported the crime, finding out if there has been any progress in the case;
    • Arranging support at court through the Witness Service (WS).

    The Witness Service

    The Witness Service (WS) is part of VS and it helps victims, witnesses, their partners, families and friends when attending any of the criminal courts in England and Wales. It assists prosecution and defence witnesses, but not defendants. All criminal courts in England and Wales now have a WS managed by VS.

    The WS offers:

    • Pre-court visits for witnesses so that they are familiar with the courtroom and the roles of the various people in court before they give evidence;
    • Support, including in the courtroom, if necessary, on the day of the trial, during sentencing and afterwards;
    • A separate waiting area;
    • Information about court and legal processes;
    • Special help and support for witnesses who are vulnerable and intimidated.

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    Women's Aid Federation of England

    Women's Aid Federation of England (Women's Aid) is the national domestic violence charity which coordinates and supports a network of local domestic violence organisations in England providing refuges, helplines, community-based advocacy and outreach services. It responds to serious sexual offence cases when related to domestic violence. Women's Aid works in partnership with national and local government, police, social services, health authorities and voluntary organisations to promote the need for an integrated approach to prevent domestic violence and to protect abused women and children.

    Women's Aid provides a range of resources, publications, training and national information services. Publications include the UK Gold Book which is a directory of domestic abuse services and includes details of specialist refuges and advice services for black and minority ethnic women, languages spoken and other specific provisions.

    For further information see:

    Women's Aid in England works in cooperation with other Women's Aid federations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. National helplines are available in each country. In England the Freephone 24-hour Domestic Violence Helpline is run in partnership with Women's Aid and Refuge.

    The following web sites provide information for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively:

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    Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs)

    A network of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) has been introduced across England and Wales to provide targeted professional support to victims of sexual violence, whether they report to the police or not.

    ISVAs work alongside victims from soon after their initial contact with a SARC or other emergency service. They provide practical advice and information that can range from how the CJS works to how to access housing benefit. Where a victim has reported the offending to the police the ISVA will work with him or her throughout the legal process and beyond. This includes accompanying the victim when they give evidence in court.

    ISVAs may be based in Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) or operate from specialist sexual violence organisations. They link in with essential services such as victim and witness organisations, counselling and health, whilst ensuring that the safety of the victim is co-ordinated across all agencies.

    Achieving Best evidence in Criminal proceedings - Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures includes a section on supporting victims and at page 104 box 4.1(a) sets out that:

    Depending on the supporter's role, they can:

    • Provide emotional support;
    • Educate and give information;
    • Understand the witness's views, wishes, concerns, and any particular vulnerabilities that might affect them during the criminal process (including the witness's views on Special Measures), and convey these to the relevant criminal justice system agency;
    • Agree the manner and frequency of the provision of information;
    • Familiarise the witness with the court and its procedures, and with the responsibilities of the criminal justice system;
    • Support the witness through interviews and court hearings;
    • Explore with the witness their preferences in respect of Special Measures and if it is relevant who they would want to accompany them into the live link room and relay that information to the Witness Care Unit or CPS Prosecutor;
    • Undertake court preparation and pass on information about the forthcoming trial;
    • Accompany the witness on a pre-trial visit to court;
    • Accompany the witness when their memory is to be refreshed (this should not be undertaken by a supporter who will accompany the witness while giving evidence);
    • Accompany the witness while they give evidence in court or the live link room (where the court approves this);
    • Liaise with family members and friends of the witness;
    • Liaise with legal, health, educational, social work and other professionals and act as an advocate on behalf of the witness;
    • Liaise with those offering therapy and counselling prior to a criminal trial; and
    • Arrange links with experts in any of the witness's specific vulnerabilities or difficulties, e.g. communication problems, learning disabilities, specific cultural or minority ethnic group concerns or religious priorities.

    This guidance which may usefully be applied to ISVAs can be found at:

    If a witness wishes to be accompanied in the live link room by her/his ISVA, the ISVAs name should be included in the relevant special measures application. Appendix L4 of ABE sets out guidance on The Court Witness Supporter's Conduct.

    Witnesses who withdraw support for the prosecution or indicate that they are no longer willing to give evidence

    In cases of rape - as in all cases - the reviewing prosecutor must apply the Code for Crown Prosecutors with regard to the determination of the public interest. The CPS prosecutes on behalf of the public at large and not just in the interest of any particular individual. However, in deciding whether a prosecution is required in the public interest, prosecutors should take into account any views expressed by the victim regarding the impact that the offence has had.

    In cases where the victim has reported a rape to the police, the defendant has been charged, and the victim or witness then decides that they no longer wish to give evidence, it is essential that we ask the police to make full enquiries into why support for the prosecution has been withdrawn. See CPS Policy for Prosecuting Cases of Rape - What happens when the victim withdraws support for the prosecution or no longer wishes to give evidence?

    As a result of receiving any withdrawal statement and accompanying police report, prosecutors may need to consider whether further charges of, for example, witness intimidation, are appropriate. The prosecutor should liaise closely with the Witness Care Officer, ISVA or any local specialist support service to establish what support has been provided to the victim and to establish whether it would be appropriate to offer the victim such services if this has not already been done.

    Prosecutors should assess at an early stage whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed without the victim, for example, by relying on statements from other witnesses, 999 call recordings, admissions in interview, CCTV evidence, scientific evidence, photographs and officers' statements. If there is sufficient evidence, and provided the public interest test continues to be met, there may not be any reason to consider a witness summons if the victim subsequently withdraws support. In any event, it is important for perpetrators of sexual crime to know that a prosecution will not simply rely on the victims willingness to give evidence.

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    Continuing a case where the victim indicates a withdrawal of support

    Special measures should always be considered by the prosecutor at the earliest stage in the proceedings (see Chapter 5 - Special Measures).In some cases, a special measures application may provide sufficient reassurance to the victim for them to decide to reconsider and to support a prosecution (see below for further information). If such an application is not possible or the victim remains unwilling to give evidence, consideration must be given to whether any of the following options is possible and appropriate:

    • proceeding without using the victims evidence;
    • making a hearsay application under section 116 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003;
    • compelling the victim to give evidence; or
    • discontinuing as a result of the victim withdrawing support for the prosecution.

    Where we are considering proceeding against the victim's wishes, we must consider all parties' human rights issues and endorse fully and clearly the decision-making process on the file.

    In addition to the evidence of the nature and seriousness of the offence, background information is crucial in helping a prosecutor to make the correct decision about how to proceed in a case where the victim has withdrawn their support for the prosecution. Some factors that should be considered include:

    • the ability of the victim to testify;
    • whether there is an ongoing relationship between the victim and the defendant;
    • if there is an ongoing relationship, the history of that relationship
    • and any previous incidents;
    • the likelihood of the defendant offending again;
    • the impact on the victim of proceeding or not proceeding with the case; and
    • whether there have been any threats made since the incident.

    Before taking a decision to issue a summons to require the victim to give evidence, prosecutors must make enquiries to satisfy themselves as far as possible that the safety of the victim will not be endangered by their decision. The safety of the victim is a prime consideration. Some factors to be considered in assessing the safety of the victim are:

    • the views of the victim about the impact on their safety in proceeding with the prosecution;
    • whether a witness summons would make it safer for the victim to attend by effectively making it clear that the decision to proceed with the case is that of the CPS rather than that of the victim;
    • the views of the officer in the case on the safety of the victim and the likelihood of further harm; and
    • whether or not the victim is being supported by any specialist agency outside the CJS.

    Prosecutors should ask the police about a risk assessment when making decisions about how to proceed in the case.

    If the reason for a victim or witness's withdrawal is based on fear or intimidation, the prosecutor needs to have such evidence brought to their attention. This will allow appropriate decisions to be made about any applications under section 116(2)e) Criminal Justice Act 2003. Such applications are only likely to succeed where there is other evidence to put before the court. Section 116 applications are often unsuccessful when the victim is the only witness to the offence, because in such cases it is very difficult to satisfy the court that justice is being served when the defence cannot cross-examine the only witness against them.

    If there is insufficient evidence to continue without the evidence of the witness or victim, the reviewing prosecutor will need to weigh up whether the facts of the case are sufficiently serious to require the victim or witness to attend court under a witness summons. Factors that will help in determining the public interest in these cases are:

    • the seriousness of the offence;
    • the victim's injuries - whether physical or psychological;
    • if the defendant used a weapon;
    • if the defendant has made any threats before the attack;
    • if the defendant planned the attack;
    • the chances of the defendant offending again;
    • the continuing threat to the health and safety of the victim or anyone else who is, or may become involved
    • the victim's relationship to the defendant;
    • the defendant's criminal history, particularly any relevant previous offences;
    • if the offence is widespread in the area where it is committed;
    • repeat victimisation by that defendant [reported or unreported].

    The final decision is that of the prosecutor, but the decision to compel a witness to give evidence may be construed negatively, so every attempt should be made to regain the victim's or witness's support for the prosecution wherever possible.

    If a rape specialist prosecutor has considered whether it is possible to proceed without the victim, and decided that it is but that it would not be right to do so in the particular circumstances, the case will be discontinued. These cases will be rare and should be marked as discontinued in the public interest.

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