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Prosecuting complex rape cases - case studies

Rape and other serious sexual offences are devastating crimes that can have a lasting impact on their victims. They are among the most challenging crimes to prosecute, and every CPS lawyer working on rape prosecutions is a dedicated specialist, highly trained in the complexities of these cases.

The following case studies are real examples which illustrate our commitment to prosecute whenever the legal test is met, no matter how complex the case.

TRIGGER WARNING: INCLUDES DETAILS OF RAPE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE

Consent can be withdrawn at any time during sexual activity and each time activity occurs There is a myth that if you consented to some sexual activity, you consent to all types of sexual activity, or if you have consented to a specific type of sexual activity previously, you will consent again in the future. That is not true.

Case study

In 2019, CPS successfully prosecuted a man of one count of anal rape against a woman he had met on an online dating site. The pair had engaged in consensual sexual activity on two previous occasions and on the day of the rape, the victim texted the offender to suggest they meet for anal sex. Throughout the evening, they again engaged in consensual sex, before the offender forcefully penetrated her anus on three occasions despite her asking him to proceed slowly and then asking him to stop. He refused, and pinned her down so she was unable to move.

Later that night, she messaged the offender apologising that she was not able to engage in anal sex as she had suggested earlier in the evening. When later questioned by police, he claimed all sex between them had been consensual.

How the CPS built the prosecution case

Digital evidence extracted from the victim’s phone was used to help secure the conviction. She had bruising and had sent a photo of her injuries to a friend the following morning on WhatsApp. This conversation was used as evidence to support the victim’s version of events. She also showed her parents and their statements to police were part of the prosecution’s case. The fact she had discussed the rape with the offender’s ex-partner on Facebook messenger at a later date was also an important factor.

In court, it was explained to the jury that initial consent does not mean a person has consented to any type of sexual activity which follows. Consent can be withdrawn any time.

Consent can also be absent or not assumed if a person is asleep, falls asleep or is so incapacitated by drink that they are not capable of consenting. The fact they might have previously consented to a type of sexual activity or even during the same occasion does not mean consent remains in place.

The use of drugs and alcohol can be a common factor in sexual assaults. Offenders may deliberately target vulnerable victims who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Victims can often feel afraid that their account may not be believed or easily discredited if they were under the influence, or even worse, an old rape stereotype prevails that victims were somehow “asking for it” by putting themselves in a vulnerable state. Being vulnerable does not imply consent - if a person is unable to give consent because they are drunk, drugged or unconscious, it is rape.

Case study

In the summer of 2019, a man was prosecuted for one count of sexual assault and one count of assault by penetration after attacking a university student who was asleep or unconscious, following a night out drinking.

The victim had been on a night out with her friends and blacked out early in the evening. The last thing she could remember from the evening was travelling to a nightclub.

Later, she woke up naked next to a man in a room she did not recognise. The offender confirmed they had had sex, saying it had been consensual and they had used protection.

How the CPS built the prosecution case

Evidence taken from the victim’s phone was essential to the prosecution case.

That evening, the victim had contacted her friend in distress outside the club, because she did not have money to get home and was drunk. The friend texted her the details of the victim’s own address to help her get home.

The victim met the offender outside the club and later called her friend who spoke to the man on the phone. He told her the victim was upset and reassured her saying she could stay at his house and would be safe. He gave the friend his number and she later messaged him to thank him for looking after the victim.

These messages demonstrated the level of the victim’s intoxication and her attempts to get home. The fact her friend had sent her details of her own address helped prove she was too intoxicated to be able to consent to sexual activity. As the victim had blacked out, this digital evidence also helped piece together a timeline of the evening.

The offender claimed the sex was consensual but his phone provided two key pieces of digital evidence. Firstly, there were images of the victim naked and being sexually assaulted. The fact her body was in the same position in all the photos suggested that she was asleep or unconscious throughout.

Furthermore, the internet search history from the offender’s phone revealed that he regularly searched for and watched rape pornography in which women were asleep.

The majority of victims know their rapists and often rape occurs within relationships. One of the most common myths is that rape is typically committed by strangers. Consent must be sought in every sexual encounter regardless of how long a relationship has been established.

Many victims feel reluctant to report rape, including if the offence took place between two people in a relationship. Often this can be because of fear they will not be believed or because the trauma of rape can cause feelings of shame and guilt which might inhibit a victim from making a complaint. The case below demonstrates how both these obstacles were overcome.

Case study

In 2019, a man was prosecuted and convicted for four counts of rape which had occurred more than 10 years earlier in a long-term relationship.

When the relationship ended, the couple maintained contact as they have a child together. However, concerns about his sexual behaviour during the course of their relationship led the victim to eventually contact police.

During consensual vaginal sex, the offender had penetrated her anus and she had initially believed this to have been an accident. However, it became clear when it was repeated that this was intentional. When she protested and asked him to stop on subsequent occasions, he would refuse, even holding her down at times.

He also had vaginal sex with the victim without her consent when she was asleep.

How the CPS built the prosecution case

The offender asserted that the allegations the victim made were false.

Witness statements from the victim’s parents and friends were used by the prosecution to demonstrate the abusive nature of her relationship with the victim and to corroborate her descriptions of aggressive and coercive sexual behaviour and assault.

There has been much discussion in recent months about how a rape complainant’s digital data is used in criminal proceedings. The balancing act between privacy and making sure the trial process is fair for all is increasingly complex. As the case study below shows, in some cases, prosecution would not have been possible without compelling evidence taken from the victim’s phone.

Case study

In 2019, a man was convicted of rape after attacking an intoxicated woman who had become separated from her friends after being refused entry to a nightclub.

The woman was in the town centre and joined a group of strangers, one of whom was the attacker who led her away from the group and raped her.

The victim’s intoxication meant she had memory blackouts of sections of the evening, but she remembered the rape. The offender claimed that he had consensual sex with the victim.

How the CPS built the prosecution case

The victim’s phone contained key digital evidence that the CPS used to show that she was essentially abducted by the defendant.

The call and message log helped prosecutors piece together the sequence of events including when she joined the group and when she was isolated by the offender.

A series of text messages the victim had sent to a friend provided vital evidence. The timing of these text messages was fitted into the timeline along with CCTV evidence of the woman taken from the town centre had helped piece together.

The victim sent three texts to a friend pleading for help. The messages were confused and short, due to the victim’s intoxication, but it was clear she was asking for her friend to come to her as someone had ‘got’ her. The prosecution showed the texts proved the victim was in distress when she was with the offender, this contradicted his claim that sexual activity had been consensual.

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