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Rape and Sexual Offences - Chapter 5: Issues relevant to particular groups of people

This guidance is currently out for consultation - see sidebar|Legal Guidance, Sexual offences

PLEASE NOTE - INTERIM GUIDANCE: APPLIES FROM 1 NOVEMBER 2020

This section of the document identifies the different impacts of sexual abuse on people from a range of communities and groups, and the particular considerations that prosecutors will need to bear in mind. 

The following paragraphs provide some examples of issues, needs and barriers which may be relevant to individuals belonging to particular groups - prosecutors should note that this list is not exhaustive and should only be used as a guide as it is not possible to include every scenario. Complainants may fall into one or more of the categories listed below - therefore, each case will need to be assessed on its own facts and merits, and support needs identified accordingly.

Sexual abuse in a domestic setting

Victims of domestic abuse face particular pressures which influence responses to abuse and to efforts made by the prosecution team to secure justice via the criminal justice system which may at times appear to be counter-intuitive. Factors including continuing love for a perpetrator, fear of repercussions, pressures from the wider community, impact on children, impact on finances, uncertainty regarding immigration status and fear of the court process will cause some victims to choose to remain in abusive relationships and to disengage with a prosecution. With this in mind prosecutors must ensure that all necessary steps are taken to secure and maintain the support of the complainant for the duration of the prosecution process which will include a full investigation of available special measures.

Some victims of sexual abuse will also be victims of other forms of domestic abuse including physical abuse and/or coercive and controlling behaviour and it is essential that when reviewing cases prosecutors seek to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the extent of abuse that has taken place within a relationship and the impact that this abuse has had.

Prosecutors should refer to Domestic Abuse legal guidance and Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family relationship legal guidance for more information.

Victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation

In 2012, the Office of the Children's Commissioner in England (OCCE) began an inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups. The interim report of this inquiry outlines a list of vulnerabilities which may be present in children prior to abuse and a further list of signs and behaviours generally seen in children who are already being sexually exploited. Prosecutors should consider whether the victim whose evidence they are considering demonstrates any of these factors. Whilst the absence of any of these characteristics does not mean that an allegation of exploitation is unlikely to be true, their presence may assist the prosecutor in forming an overall view in the case. The OCCE listed the following (pages 51-52 in the interim report, November 2012):

Typical vulnerabilities in children prior to abuse

  • living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household (including parental substance use, domestic violence, parental mental health issues, parental criminality);
  • history of abuse (including familial child sexual abuse, risk of forced marriage, risk of 'honour' based violence, physical and emotional abuse and neglect);
  • recent bereavement or loss;
  • gang association either through relatives, peers or intimate relationships (in cases of gang associated child sexual exploitation only);
  • attending school with young people who are sexually exploited;
  • learning disabilities;
  • unsure about their sexual orientation or unable to disclose sexual orientation to their families;
  • friends with young people who are sexually exploited;
  • homeless;
  • lacking friends from the same age group;
  • living in a gang neighbourhood;
  • living in residential care;
  • living in hostel, bed and breakfast accommodation or a foyer;
  • low self-esteem or self-confidence;
  • young carer.

The following signs and behaviour are generally seen in children who are already being sexually exploited:

  • missing from home or care;
  • physical injuries;
  • drug or alcohol misuse;
  • involvement in offending;
  • repeat sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancy and terminations;
  • absent from school;
  • change in physical appearance;
  • evidence of sexual bullying and/or vulnerability through the internet and/or social networking sites;
  • estranged from their family;
  • receipt of gifts from unknown sources;
  • recruiting others into exploitative situations;
  • poor mental health;
  • self-harm;
  • thoughts of or attempts at suicide.

Teenagers in abusive peer relationships

Prosecutors need to take into consideration a number of factors when dealing with cases of teenage victims who find themselves in abusive relationships with individuals of their own, or, similar age.

Abuse between teenagers may take place in an 'online space' and/or other places outside of their home. For example, certain behaviours may be perpetrated at school or college/university, at extra-curricular clubs, within social events/circles or in their own neighbourhoods.

Some teenagers may also live with the perpetrator's family. In some instances, this may prove to be an additional barrier, even in circumstances where the family are unaware of the abuse taking place.

Prosecutors should carefully consider the background of the relationship between teenagers. Some victims may not recognise they are in an abusive relationship, or that they may have 'normalised' the behaviour of the perpetrator in some way.

Prosecutors should be mindful that the parents of those involved may not know about the relationship (individuals may fear telling their parents about their own, and/or their partner's sexuality or race, or even the fact that they are in a relationship). They may fear their family's reactions to the offending or any subsequent proceedings.  These factors may pose additional barriers to the reporting of any crime.

Prosecutors should be wary of the impact the family's reactions may have on the victim, and therefore need to be careful in their communications. Prosecutors are advised to find out about the victim's family life and dynamic, to establish who should receive any communications sent. The parents'/guardians' or family's lack of awareness of a relationship, or the nature of any abuse taking place, could in some circumstances place the young person at further risk - prosecutors should ask about family relationships and to whom, where and how communications should be sent.

Prosecutors should be aware that:

  • young victims will experience abuse and violence irrespective of their race, religion, class, culture;
  • young people may not be aware that the behaviour actually constitutes abuse, or may see it as a 'normal' part of a relationship;
  • victims may not be aware of the methods their abusers use to perpetrate abuse (e.g.- they may not be aware that abuse can be perpetrated through emails, texts or social networking or gaming sites; they may only consider physical violence as abuse);
  • victims may be abused by other older family members or relatives, and may again not realise their behaviour constitutes abuse;
  • the victims relationship with their family may prevent them from coming forward to report a crime.  Where a victim has no family support as a result of being estranged or homeless, prosecutors may find victims less willing to report a crime;
  • victims may feel they cannot trust some adults or authority figures;
  • teenage victims are unlikely to be financially independent and may fear their family's reactions or how they can access services without their family's knowledge;
  • teenage victims may have children of their own, and may fear the removal of their children;
  • victims may not know of the services offered by the criminal justice system such as the use of special measures and pre-trial witness interviews;
  • teenagers may have a fear of 'getting into trouble' for their own behaviour being revealed (e.g. being sexually active, drinking alcohol or abusing substances which may not be known to the parent);
  • victims may feel unable to report abuse, fearing the impact it might have on their lifestyle (e.g.- bullying from peers in the same social group, either in person or through social media);
  • victims may think that reporting abuse might restrict their social activities (e.g. - visiting the same places as the perpetrator, such as shopping malls or clubs, or their own neighbourhood;
  • victims may not want to report a crime as they fear any abuse might continue, or even increase, despite the relationship ending;
  • victims may see their abuser at school or college/university which may prove very difficult for them - they may not want to endure any repercussions from friends of the abuser or others following the reporting of a crime;
  • reporting may make the victim more vulnerable to other types of abuse (e.g. cyber bullying by peers, etc); or,
  • diversity issues such as the victims cultural background may make them reluctant to come forward for fear of embarrassing or shaming their community, or the victim may fear being 'outed' about their sexuality.

For further information on youth matters and consent matters, prosecutors may want to refer to the legal guidance on Youth Offenders and further sections of this guidance.

Minority ethnic communities

Each offence, perpetrator and victim will be very different, and care should be taken to avoid stereotyping the type of abuse that may be suffered by victims from specific ethnic communities.

Perceptions or experiences of racism in the criminal justice system and throughout other aspects of society may make it difficult for victims of sexual abuse in minority ethnic communities to report an offence or support a prosecution. Many victims may worry that they may not be believed or that they may not be treated fairly. Additional considerations, such as pressure from within the immediate and extended family and the wider community, together with cultural traditions, may also prevent or delay victims from reporting offences of sexual abuse.

Prosecutors should be aware of the different forms of abuse that may take place within minority ethnic communities. Some examples are:

  • honour based violence and forced marriage (as distinct from an arranged marriage, where the marriage is based on free consent);
  • dowry-related violence;
  • enforcement of cultural/traditional roles at a young age (eg - female genital mutilation (FGM) [prosecutors should see separate guidance on FGM for further information]; shaving of the head or acid attacks to damage the female's physical appearance; preventing the victim from finishing education or pursuing a career);and,
  • violence and disowning of the victim by the family or community (for 'shameful behaviour').

Such behaviours may be perpetrated by intimate partners and also by family members and/or wider community members. Further advice and information on these issues can be found in the legal guidance on Honour Based Violence and Forced Marriage.

In some minority groups, women may become more vulnerable and fear leaving their abuser because they may be unable to speak or understand English to a confident level and may therefore feel unable to access the support that is needed. This lack of confidence may be exploited by abusers, especially in scenarios between intimate partners where threats may be made to have children taken into care. The same methods of manipulation may be used to suggest that the victim is suffering from mental health issues, where she/he may not be.

Additionally, some women with little understating or confidence of English language may be left in difficult situations where they have participated in religious (but not legally binding) ceremonies to marry British national men. Some victims in these circumstances will experience castigation by their husband where they do not conform to family expectations, and may be as a result left without any family or friends, community support, financial means, and in some extreme cases even made homeless. These are only some examples of the barriers and difficulties faced by women from ethnic minority communities and should not be seen as an exhaustive list.

It is therefore important that prosecutors obtain as much information from the police, and with the assistance of specialist groups where available, to understand the nature of abuse experienced by the victim, and to enable identification of the support needs required by them.

There are specific support organisations available for some ethnic minority groups - victims should be put in contact with these support organisations by the police, wherever possible.

Cultural or religious beliefs may also be a deterrent for victims coming forward; victims may be made to feel ashamed by their community, or may fear isolation by the community. Additionally, community leaders or faith leaders in some cultures or ethnic groups may play the role of a mediator and discourage the victim from reporting. Prosecutors should be sensitive to cultural issues which may take the form of mediation, as well as certain practices which some cultures exercise.  Cultural and religious practices should be respected to a point; however, they should not be seen as an 'excuse' to cover abuse between partners or family members.

Prosecutors should be aware of community courts/arbitration forums in some Jewish and Muslim communities by victims and perpetrators. Prosecutors will be aware that they should not be used as an alternative to criminal proceedings. Some perpetrators may use these mechanisms to make a case for staying with their partner, thereby enabling the abuse to be continued.  Prosecutors should refer to specialist support services and organisations where required to ensure that a proper understanding of such practices is obtained, and that any risks to victims are properly identified.

Prosecutors should ensure that family members do not act as interpreters for those who do not have a competent or confident understanding of English. Prosecutors should refer to the legal guidance on Interpreters and ensure that through the police or support agencies, checks are made with the victim that the interpreter does not have any connection with them or their family. Victims may request an interpreter of the same sex - this should be arranged so far as is possible. Prosecutors should also bear in mind that written communication may also be difficult for a victim to understand, and translators may be required in these circumstances.

Interpreters from within the victim's or perpetrator's community group should also be avoided as this may place victims at further risk of violence. Community members may discover the victim's recourse through the criminal justice system and may put the victim at further risk in an attempt not to bring shame on the family or community. The element of shame may also result in increased pressure for the victim to withdraw from a prosecution.

See Domestic Abuse legal guidance for further information about domestic abuse within minority ethnic communities.

Immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers

There will be a number of victims with insecure immigration status, and they may as a result have 'no recourse to public funds' despite having valid leave to stay in the country.  This restriction has made it difficult for victims to leave abusive situations, often leaving them with no option but to stay in the abusive relationship or leave with little support thereafter. 

Immigrants will experience many barriers to reporting sexual abuse; in fact, an individual's immigration status may be used as a vulnerability to perpetrate abuse by the defendant through fear that insecure immigration status of the victim may be 'outed'. The perpetrator's immigration status may also be used as a way to commit offences and exploit a victim - for example, the perpetrator may use the insecure status to prevent the victim from reporting the offending behaviour to the police, by telling the victim they may be penalised by the authorities in some way. Some victims may have entered the country through forced marriage and be kept isolated from other people or services or social freedom, and may find themselves being unable to leave their situation for fear of lack of support or knowledge of services available. Prosecutors may find it helpful to also refer to the legal guidance on Human Trafficking to support case handling which exemplify such issues.

When reviewing a case in which the victim is a member of the refugee community or an asylum seeker, prosecutors should take into account the combination of social and cultural factors, communication difficulties, lack of information in their own language and lack of access to informal and formal support, which may make it difficult for the victim to support or take part in a prosecution. Some asylum seekers and refugees may have been victims of abuse in the countries they have escaped from; they also be suffering from experiences related to that abuse, such as mental health problems. Also, some victims may not present with behaviours which may not be seen as 'normal' for victims of abuse - again, prosecutors should be mindful to avoid assumption and have make no presumptions about being a 'perfect victim'.

For more information please see Domestic Abuse legal guidance.

Disability issues

Many disabled people face problems of negative attitudes towards either their mental or physical impairment and may often feel or be made to feel isolated. In fact, some victims may be specifically targeted as a result of their mental health condition or physical impairment by the abuser, to exert control and dominance, whether through sexual violence, physical violence, or through less obvious controlling and coercive behaviours.

Care should be taken not to make assumptions about or overstate the effect of a person’s disabilities. It is important to recognise the disability-related abuse experienced and also how the disability is used to further exploit, manipulate and control the victim.

It is well documented that disabled women are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than male disabled victims.  Other issues such as immigration status and ethnic background may also may a victim more vulnerable to abusers.

Prosecutors should note disabled victims will experience some of the same physical violence and coercive control that non-disabled victims experience; however, disabled victims may experience other types of abuse as a result of their specific disability.

Prosecutors should be aware that some victims may be unwilling to report abuse due to limited access to services, a lack of confidence with managing everyday tasks, low self-esteem, or an enforced dependence on others to carry out those tasks. This social and physical dependence can lead to an increase in a victim's vulnerability to domestic abuse, leaving them with few or no alternatives to escape the violence. These circumstances may be exacerbated further by the possibility that the abuser may also be the victim's carer.

Some victims may feel they cannot leave, because, for example, they have limited economic or financial means; they may lack transport; they feel they are responsible for financial and social tensions within the relationship/family; they fear loneliness and think no-one else would want them; they fear losing their independence and having to move into residential care; or, they fear losing their children.

The early identification of specific support needs is critical.  Certain disabilities such as deafness, will require specialist care and attention to ensure that the victim has been properly understood when providing their account of the offending behaviour, and that they are comfortably supported with special measures and other support requirements if attending court. In such cases, it will be important to appoint appropriate an independent sign language supporter who can assist the victim, and facilitate communications with criminal justice agencies. The nominated person should have no connections to the perpetrator, as the deaf community are seen as a very close-knit, small community. In addition, the signer may also need to attend court - it is known that in some cases, perpetrators are able to intimidate or harass the victim in court through signing where others may not understand what they are communicating; the presence of an independent signer may alert the court and others to such further offences if they do take place.

Prosecutors should also be wary of the distinction between crimes committed against disabled people, and disability hate crime - for further information prosecutors should refer to the legal guidance on Hate Crime.

Prosecutors should also consider the use of intermediaries for some victims.  Further advice can be found in the legal guidance on Special Measures.

Assisting disabled and vulnerable victims through prosecutions will need to be conducted as a multi-agency approach, to ensure a holistic approach handling such cases of abuse. MASH, Local Safeguarding Children Boards and Safeguarding Adult Boards will all have a role to play. Prosecutors should consult with the police to assess what information may be available and can be shared to inform prosecution proceedings.

Pre-existing mental ill health and potential psychological reactions to sexual abuse

Victims with mental health conditions should also be given special care and attention by prosecutors.  Victims will require more tailored approaches depending on the level of their mental capacity and/or learning difficulty; this should not be taken to undermine competency as victim or as a witness in court.

Mental health conditions may make individuals more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and less likely to report these offences to the police. People with learning difficulties or mental health problems may feel that they will not be believed if they report being raped. It is vital that prosecutors avoid making charging decisions which draw erroneous conclusions with respect to the impact of pre-existing psychological conditions on the reliability of evidence and are aware of the specific support that individuals will require during their journey through the criminal justice process.

Rape and serious sexual assault can affect many areas of an individual’s life for many months and sometimes years following the attack. In addition to experiencing psychological difficulties, the complainant may suffer ongoing physical problems, resort to alcohol or drug abuse, experience alterations to their day-to-day behaviour and find that their thought processes are very different, as a direct consequence of the attack.

Psychological and physiological reactions occurring at the time of the trauma can have an impact upon the individual’s ability to give a coherent, consistent account of their experiences. Subsequent changes to the victim’s account of events may be viewed as evidence that they cannot be believed. Post-traumatic symptoms will also potentially affect recall and consistency - indeed an inability to recall aspects of the event is one characteristic symptom of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Victims experience feelings of shame and self-blame and this may result in an incomplete or inaccurate account of the circumstances surrounding the assault. Cultural issues may have a significant impact, as may the stage of development, if the victim is a child.

To assist prosecutors with this complex area a psychological evidence toolkit for prosecutors has been developed with the assistance of Professor Fiona Mason, a Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist and specialist in women’s mental health and the impact of trauma and Dr Enys Delmage, a Consultant in Adolescent Forensic Psychiatry and Honorary Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham. The toolkit has a number of specific objectives including: 

  1. Providing guidance on a range of pre-existing psychological conditions applicable to adults which will assist prosecutors with the task of assessing evidence provided by a witness suffering from a particular condition and highlight where expert comment may be required to facilitate a fair assessment of evidence;
  2. Providing guidance on a range of pre-existing psychological conditions applicable to children and adolescents which will assist prosecutors with the task of assessing evidence provided by a witness suffering from a particular condition and highlight where expert comment may be required to facilitate a fair assessment of evidence;
  3. Highlighting the specific support that an individual suffering from a particular condition is likely to require during their journey through the criminal justice process from ABE to giving evidence at trial;
  4. Providing guidance on how the approach taken to the treatment of a pre-existing condition can impact upon the reliability of memory and the potential for the creation of ‘false memories’;
  5. Providing guidance on the psychological effects of rape and sexual assault in order to increase understanding of the typical behaviour patterns of traumatised complainants thus protecting against the undue influence of myths and stereotypes in decision-making.
  6. Providing guidance on post-traumatic stress disorder to enable prosecutors to recognise when expert instruction on psychological injury should be sought in accordance with R v Adam Eden R.

The Psychological Evidence Toolkit for Prosecutors can be accessed here:

Further guidance for prosecutors can be found in the legal guidance on Victims with mental health conditions and/or learning difficulties.

Same Sex Sexual Violence

Distinct issues arise in relation to cases involving allegations of sexual violence involving adults where both the complainant and suspect/defendant are the same sex or where the Complainant or Suspect/Defendant is trans and so it is not appropriate in these situations to approach the case using the same assumptions as you might apply if the parties were heterosexual. The additional factors will be different depending on the whether the case involves allegations of sexual violence between men, sexual violence between women, or allegations of sexual violence by a trans person. Prosecutors should refer to the Same Sex Sexual Violence Toolkit for more information.

Gang Associated Sexual Exploitation and Violence

Prosecutors should be alert to the possibility of gang offending in a wide range of cases, including those involving rape. Rape may take place in the confines of gangs and be part of members’ initiation or part of a particular gang’s behaviour. Prosecutors should recognise that gang environments are largely male-dominated, and abuse taking place is largely against female victims; but females in gangs may also be perpetrators and males may be victims. It is particularly important that lawyers are alert to the dynamics of gang offending when giving charging advice.

Types of sexual violence may involve:

  • The victim pressured into having sex with more than one person sometimes under threat of a weapon;
  • Sex in return for status or protection;
  • Rape by an individual or group;
  • Sex to pay for drugs or alcohol;
  • Being used to set up other young men in a rival gang (to find out what they are saying);
  • Initiation – having sex with more than one member to become part of a gang, or
  • Sexting – being photographed or filmed.

The reporting of sexual violence against gang members is thought to be low due to the vulnerability of the complainant to further abuse, threats or violence and therefore special measures and support for the victim will be crucial in ensuring the victim remains engaged throughout the prosecution process.

Older victims

Some older people may be vulnerable to sexual abuse as a result of their mental or physical frailty, and/or mental capacity or physical disabilities; however, these are not the only factors which could lead to an older person being abused. Other factors prosecutors may want to consider include:

  • events occurring in later life such as the development of health problems or the retirement of their abuser from work may lead to a victim experiencing abuse or violence, or an increase in such behaviour;
  • changes in life circumstances leading to a shift in the balance of power between intimate partners, or family members - where one individual may wish to retaliate against another, or 'get their own back' after suffering from abuse previously;
  • where the victim is physically impaired or experiencing ill health, abuse may begin as a result of 'care-giver' stress or anxiety;
  • the victim's mental health may also lead to them being more vulnerable and at increased risk of abuse; or,
  • older age can lead to societal or geographical exclusion or isolation which may make a victim more vulnerable to abuse.

This is not an exhaustive list, and prosecutors should be mindful that some of these factors may also relate to inter-familial or age-related abuse, and not just abuse between intimate partners.

Abuse may be perpetrated on older victims for a number of reasons, and does not necessarily cease or reduce as the victim or abuser gets older. In fact, an older victim may experience more frequent or increased intensity of abuse as they feel they are less able to 'escape' the abuse; additionally, some older people may only start to experience abuse at this stage in their life. Older victims may:

  • have grown up in a generation where sexual abuse was acceptable and not 'talked about', or expected to be tolerated as a part of a 'normal' relationship;
  • find themselves in a mutually dependent relationship with their abuser, and as a result may fear that by reporting the abuse and supporting a prosecution, they will be left without a carer or companion, or without any financial support;
  • feel unable to cope leaving their family home and everything they had built up with their partner over the years;
  • have less knowledge of support services available to them, as some may not know how to access the information to find out more, or may be unaware of the services and the support that may be available to them. Some victims may also believe that services are not available to them because of their age;
  • have no financial independence (such as not owning their own bank account or not having their name appear on the mortgage deed to their family home). This financial issue may also escalate to a wider issue, where the victim may not easily be able to prove they have a separate identity to their abuser and fear that they may not be able to support themselves as a result;
  • fear negative reactions they may receive from their family or children and the thought that they may be 'making a fuss at their age'. Victims may also fear reactions from their wider community or ethnic group;
  • want to protect the 'sanctity of marriage' and the privacy of their home life, and not wanting to involve 'outside' parties in their domestic life;
  • have concerns over additional health needs as a result of a disability or impairment, the onset of mental health conditions, or deteriorating ill health; and,
  • sometimes simply fear the unknown.

Prosecutors should be alert to the range of issues within this section which may assist with understanding the dynamics of the abuse being experienced by an older victim. For example, older victims with mental health difficulties may experience very different abuse and require very distinct support needs to older victims with full mental and physical capacity, who are a member of particular ethnic community and being abused by a family member. Each case will need to be examined on its own facts and merits to ensure the most appropriate support requirements are identified.

Prosecutors and police officers should ensure there are no perceptions or assumptions made about a complainant. More often, older victims fear they will not be believed or fear that criminal justice agencies might think they have fabricated an allegation for attention. Complaints should be investigated thoroughly to ensure that all aspects of a victim's circumstances are taken into consideration before a charging decision is made.

Prosecutors may also wish to refer to the legal guidance on Prosecuting Crimes Against Older People for further information.

Individuals involved in prostitution

Individuals involved in prostitution may be more vulnerable as a result of their immigration status, age, mental health vulnerabilities, ethnic background or addiction/substance misuse. Victims may be at risk of sexual and domestic abuse, particularly if, as in many instances, their partner is also their 'pimp'. Additionally, victims may be forced or coerced to become involved in prostitution by their spouse or partner, which is also seen as a way of perpetrating abuse.

When dealing with cases where the victim is involved in prostitution, it is essential that prosecutors work proactively with the police to ensure as far as possible, that the victim is fully supported during any proceedings. It should be recognised that some victims may fear coming forward as a result of their circumstances and the possibility of already being known to the police. Continuing with a prosecution may place a victim at further risk from their 'pimp' or partner. As a result, victims may be more likely to support a prosecution if there are arrangements made to ensure their safety.

Regardless of safety measures put in place, victims involved in prostitution may decide to withdraw their support for a prosecution; it is essential that if a prosecution continues that these safety considerations remain in place - the safety of the victim is paramount. Prosecutors should request that police colleagues conduct risk assessments around the risks to the victim and what further risks may be revealed if for example, the victim is compelled to give evidence by witness summons.

Further information and considerations specific to their circumstances can be found in the legal guidance on Prostitution and Exploitation of Prostitution.

Victims who have potentially committed drugs offences

Victims of rape or sexual assault who have used illegal drugs prior to an attack may be reluctant to report criminality for fear of prosecution for drugs offences. Those who do report may be reluctant to provide the police with an entirely accurate account of events which may in turn serve to significantly reduce the prospects of conviction.

Police forces and victim support agencies report a significant increase in cases where victims are sexually assaulted within a ‘chemsex’ setting including cases where offences are ‘live-streamed’ online. Chemsex is the term used to describe sexual activity which occurs when participants are under the influence of drugs taken immediately preceding and/or during sexual activity. Chemsex often takes place within party settings organised via social media applications. Chemsex is believed to be particularly prevalent within the gay community but also occurs within transsexual, bisexual, lesbian and heterosexual communities. The drugs most commonly associated with chemsex are crystal methamphetamine (Class A), GHB/GBL (Class C) mephedrone (Class B), cocaine (Class A) and ketamine (Class C). All of these drugs with the exception of ketamine are stimulant drugs in that they typically increase heart rate and blood pressure and trigger feelings of euphoria, but crystal methamphetamine, GHB/GBL and mephedone also have a common effect of facilitating feelings of sexual arousal. These drugs are often taken in combination and are commonly associated with sexual sessions occurring over extended periods of time, sometimes involving significant numbers of sexual partners.

Where the police seek advice from the CPS on drugs offences committed by an alleged victim of rape and/or sexual assault a charging decision should be provided by a RASSO prosecutor. The public interest issue in such cases should be carefully considered.

Further reading

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