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Early partnership work on rape and serious sexual assault cases finds improvement in key areas

|News, Sexual offences

Today the Government has published its action plan to increase the number of rape cases reaching court, following an end-to-end review into how the criminal justice system handles rape. The CPS took a central role in the development of this review.

In addition to this, the CPS has published a report, introduced by the Director of Public Prosecutions, which sets out the innovative work we have been doing across the country to improve our performance on Rape and Serious Sexual Offences and our commitment to continuing this collaborative work to achieve real and lasting change.

CPS Wessex has been working in partnership with Dorset Police, Hampshire Constabulary and Wiltshire Police to improve outcomes for victims in rape and serious sexual assault (RASSO) cases. This long-term partnership project, known as the Tri-Force Wessex RASSO Action Plan, launched in February 2021 and there have already been improvements in key areas.

Across the board, there has been an improvement in the time taken between the referral of a case by the police and a charging decision from the CPS. This reduction in time, by 68% in some cases, has been achieved through early partnership working focussed on building strong cases from the outset.  
All three police forces have reported an increase in the number of individuals having the confidence to report rape and serious sexual offences. In turn, CPS Wessex is starting to see an increase in referrals from the police which means that more cases are coming through the system and are being reviewed in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

Sophie Stevens, Head of CPS Wessex RASSO Unit, said: “Our team of dedicated and specialist prosecutors are committed to delivering justice for victims of rape and serious sexual assaults.

“This is a serious and complex area of law, and each case requires careful and sensitive legal review.

“I am very pleased that our partnership with the police has started to see real improvements in the volume of cases we receive and in the length of time it takes to reach a charging decision but we know there is more work to be done.

“We want victims to be better supported and to receive swifter justice, and we will continue to work closely with our police partners to achieve better outcomes in these cases.”

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Cooper, from Wiltshire Police, said: "Wiltshire Police is committed to tackling all sexual violence.

"The increase in reporting is a positive thing and links to a wider understanding of all sexual assaults, the easing of lockdown and people having more confidence to speak out.

“I am pleased to see that the average number of days between someone reporting a sexual assault (not including rape) and our force referring it to the CPS has reduced by 37% to below the monthly average. 

“It is also heartening to see the reduction in the number of days it takes from the referral of a sex attack to a charging decision by the CPS.

“In relation to rape, we have seen a large reduction in the number of days from when we receive a report to when it is referred to the CPS - a drop of 54%.

“The average number of days to receive a charging decision for rape has decreased too by 68%.

“Although the figures show an improvement, we are never complacent and recognise that more work needs to be done to improve on our service to victims in Wiltshire.

"It is important we continue to listen to and understand victims' and survivors' experiences, as well as appreciating the role we need to play. There are times when we will not be the best placed agency to help and it is therefore vital that we work with other partners to build a rapport.

“We want to do all we can to make sure everyone in our county feels confident in reporting crimes and supporting investigations, and it is vital we work together with the CPS and other agencies to achieve this.”

Detective Chief Inspector Roger Wood, Head of Operation Amberstone (the team that investigates rape and serious sexual offences in Hampshire and the IOW), says: “Rape is one of the most complex crimes police investigate.

“We are working closely with prosecutors in the Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) unit at CPS Wessex to improve the case-building process and the service we provide victims. We know there is more to do, but the steady increase in referrals and charge rate is an indication these changes are already making a positive difference.

“We are also working to ensure victims understand why digital evidence and third party material is relevant to an investigation and how we collect it and why. In addition, we are looking to improve our first contact with victims, and ensure there are effective processes in place for early engagement and lawyer allocation for effective pre-charge case progression.

“We know there is more to do to increase the number of cases brought before a court, however we have seen a steady increase in charge and conviction rates since March 2020 and this work is continuing.

“Everyone with a role in investigating and prosecuting these crimes chooses to work in this area and are passionate about getting justice for victims.”

Detective Superintendent Joan Carmichael, from Dorset Police said: “We understand that there is a long road ahead to incorporate all the planned improvements which will significantly improve our level of service. However significant steps have been taken in the last four months to support staff to support victims of these traumatising offences and to deliver other improvements.

“Training has been delivered to all Force Command Centre Staff including call handlers who are often the first point of contact for victims, to front line responders within Territorial Policing and to Detectives in the CID. The Force aims to ensure that victims are listened to in the first instance and that staff do the right thing the first time. The Force is investing in recruitment to appoint additional specially trained staff to interview and support victims, in conjunction with the specially trained staff within the ISVA service.

“The proactive measures described, plus others including training events for front line Territorial police officers and introducing and extending scrutiny panels, are having a positive effect on one of the main issues experienced by rape and sexual assault victims, specifically the time it takes to progress a complaint into the process towards a legal resolution. The average amount of days it takes to refer a case for a charging decision has dropped by 18% since the programme of improvements began a year ago, and the average days to a charge decision by the CPS has fallen by 70%. The figures for sexual assault cases are also encouraging at 22% and 15% reductions respectively.”

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