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Specialist prosecutors work to overcome cultural barriers associated with rape and serious sexual offences

|News, Sexual offences

REMOVING cultural barriers that may prevent people from ethnic minorities in pursuing a rape or serious sexual offence (RASSO) prosecution is the focus of an ongoing programme of work at the Crown Prosecution Service.

CPS staff have joined forces with local charities and community groups in a bid to better understand the impact these offences have on different communities so steps can be to improve their experience of the justice process.

Siobhan Blake, CPS lead on rape and serious sexual offences, said: “It is really concerning that harmful myths or cultural barriers prevent victims of serious offences coming forward and reporting. I want to be absolutely clear that under the law, everyone, no matter their background, has a right to consent.

“Where consent has not been given, our expert prosecutors are trained to do all they can to hold perpetrators account for rape and serious sexual assaults.

“It’s vital we identify where the issues are for people from different cultural backgrounds and do everything in our power to increase confidence, so people come forward and seek justice when they’ve experienced these traumatic offences.”

The CPS has worked hand in hand with victim support groups, to update our guidance on myths and stereotypes to provide prosecutors with the material they need to challenge harmful stereotypes in court.

Expert views have been sought on what might be driving the trend behind lower conviction rates and this pointed to cultural barriers having a real impact on willingness to report attacks.

For example, the guidance contests the myth that if your culture is perceived to condone marital rape or underage ‘sex’ then you should not be upset about it, stating under the law everyone has the right to choose and consent must be given. Prosecutors are also pointed to case law which can be used in court to identify and challenge any racial or religious justification for rape.

The work has focused on local areas, in the North East, a specialist team has spoken with residents of the Halo refuge centre, who work with victims of forced marriage and honour based violence, to understand issues regarding reporting RASSO and other offences. They found that in some cases, victims were told by alleged abusers that if they made a report, they would be sent home and have their children taken away.

CPS North East work closely with the Halo and Angelou Centre, who will raise any cases they’re concerned about with the local RASSO team, to see how prosecutors can assist and support. The CPS, police and support services also meet regularly to discuss issues facing victims from different backgrounds and how improvements can be made to increase confidence in the justice system to encourage more reports.

Yorkshire and Humberside RASSO prosecutors met with BASIS Yorkshire in September to understand the issues facing victims, including some of the barriers faced by people from the local South Asian Community in reporting incidents. A representative from BASIS Yorkshire is part of the local scrutiny and involvement Panel, which meets twice a year to scrutinise rape casework and decision-making.

CPS Wessex has set up a working group with representatives from ethnic minorities to action steps addressing issues of trust in the CPS and overcome barriers to reporting incidents. Meanwhile in the East of England, regular sessions are held with a survivor led organisation for Black women to raise awareness of the impact of certain crimes on the different local communities.

Siobhan continued: “We are working really hard to break down barriers that may prevent someone from reporting a rape or serious sexual offence. We know there is still much more work to do until everyone has full confidence in the justice system.”

Notes to editors

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