North East’s Chief Crown Prosecutor urges challenging of public rape myths

17/06/2014

The North East’s Chief Crown Prosecutor has today stressed the importance of challenging persistent public myths around rape, because of the damaging effect that they can have on the prosecution of such cases.

CCP Wendy Williams voiced her concerns following the launch of a major national action plan by police and prosecutors to tackle rape offences.

Wendy said: 'Prosecutors from our dedicated Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) unit continue to challenge the myths and stereotypes around rape in the courtroom. However, the Rape Action Plan also stresses the need to educate the wider public, which is reinforced by the significant number of jury acquittals in rape trials. Over half of all unsuccessful outcomes in rape trials over the whole of the North East are the result of jury acquittals.

'To ensure that prosecutors themselves are taking appropriate action to address such myths, CPS North East has been hosting a regular Violence Against Women (VAW) scrutiny panel for almost two years now.

'The Panel consists of members of organisations providing specialist support services to victims of VAW offences across the North East, who bring their considerable knowledge and expertise to bear in scrutinising the way the CPS prosecutes such offences: telling us what we are getting right and suggesting areas where improvements can be made.'

Mary Hull, the Independent Co-Chair for the VAW Scrutiny Panel, has previously worked on the VAW agenda through Government Office North East and now works with Victim Support.

She said: 'Members of the panel very much welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with the CPS and see it as a two way process, building respect and understanding on both sides.

'Not only is it useful for the CPS to learn more about the victims perspective, it can be really useful for panel members to increase their understanding of legal systems and some of the constraints under which the CPS operate.

'While the panel acknowledge the proactive stance currently taken by prosecutors to challenge rape myths in court, there is a real need to challenge the existing public discourse around rape and sexual offences. Key to this is improving understanding around the fundamental issue of consent.'

The Rape Action Plan was jointly published by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, and Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, the National Policing Lead for Adult Sexual Offences. The plan sets out their clear commitment to addressing the issues preventing rape cases from successfully progressing through the criminal justice system.

The rape action plan includes:

  • Steps to ensure better application of the legislation on consent and that police and prosecutors focus on steps taken by a suspect to seek consent from their alleged victim where this is an issue.
  • Updating the joint police and CPS national rape protocol on the investigation and prosecution of rape cases.
  • Steps to monitor police decisions to take no further action in rape cases, including the quality of record-keeping and authorisation of decision making.
  • New practical guidance for frontline police officers and prosecutors.
  • A National Conference later this year with all specialist rape prosecutors and police rape leads to raise awareness of key issues.
  • Reviews of the operation of CPS rape and serious sexual assault units and the instruction of appropriate advocates in rape trials.