Why rape and sexual assault victims in North Yorkshire have to choose between justice or support

Rape is one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed as victims get left with unimaginable trauma for the rest of the lives.

But only 1% of reported rapes will get a conviction in a recent finding by the Crown Prosecution Service, despite police forces across England and Wales recording 170,973 sexual offences from the year ending September 2021 – the highest number ever recorded.

And North Yorkshire isn’t excluded from this statistic.

Between April and September 2021, North Yorkshire Police recorded 513 cases of rape and sexual assault with adult women being the victims, and 46% of these crimes did not progress any further due to evidential difficulties.

Bar chart to show how many cases of rape and sexual assault of women in North Yorkshire don’t progress due to evidential difficulties. Credit: Lucy Roberts

Of the 238 cases which didn’t have enough evidence, 78% fell through because the victims no longer supported the action and just wanted the case to be dropped.

This shouldn’t be shocking however as this trend has been seen over five years across North Yorkshire.

This number is the highest it’s ever been, and it’s slowly creeping up.

The previous year, in 2020, 69% of the cases in which there were evidential difficulties the victim stopped further action but in 2017 this figure was only at 46%, according to ONS data.

But going back even further to pre 2017 this trend is completely reversed as more cases which were dropped due to a lack of evidence was because of exactly that – there wasn’t enough evidence to take it to court, not because of a lack of support from the victim.

Survive North Yorkshire is a specialist sexual violence charity based in York which offers counselling and trauma counselling services.

CEO of the organisation Mags Godderidge believes more victims don’t want their case to progress because they don’t want to relive their harrowing memories to then not be believed.

“The vast majority of survivors who access our service would not necessarily report to the Police and those that do report to the Police tell us that reporting it to them, going through the criminal justice system can be retraumatising and sometimes even more traumatising than the incident that they’ve previously experienced,” she revealed.

“There’s the fear of not being believed, the fear of being blamed which would deter people from initially reaching out to the Police.

“But then also it’s how long these cases take to come through the courts. At the moment it would not be unusual for quick cases to take up to 1000 days, sometimes even up to more than that.”

Godderidge also explained that if sexual assault survivors want to find justice, they can’t also get the right help and support they need as they are forced to choose between the two.

“There are very comprehensive rules around pre-trial therapy, so for example if someone was raped and then they decided to report it and go through court proceedings and they wanted to access some counselling the sort of counselling that they are allowed to access would only allow them to look at things around their feelings and emotions and stabilisation techniques and coping strategies,” she said.

“It wouldn’t allow them to access trauma therapy, they wouldn’t be allowed to talk about the actual incident and what happened.

“So, what you’ve got is a situation where survivors are having to make decisions of a slim chance of justice through the court or getting the counselling they need to recover and rebuild from what happened.”

North Yorkshire Police couldn’t explain why victims don’t wish to take their case any further in these circumstances, but they did reveal that although conviction rates are low across the country, their prosecution rate is better than most.

A table to show which police forces have the highest conviction rates for a rape or sexual assault case in adult women. Credit: Lucy Roberts.

This is despite the fact that they are only joint 13th for having the highest prosecution rate as only 1.4% of rape and sexual assault cases have culminated in prosecution between April and September 2021, while South Wales Police have the best rate in the country with 3.8% cases finding justice.

A spokesperson for the North Yorkshire Police force said: “Rape remains one of the most complex crimes to investigate, and although the prosecution figures may appear low, North Yorkshire Police’s prosecution rate is above average.”

“We appreciate that telling the police what has happened takes courage. It is not easy reliving such distressing situations.

“We understand this and have specially trained officers who will guide and support victims through the investigation as well as signposting you to other agencies who can help you further.”

This issue is becoming more and more concerning, so much so that the Home Affairs Select Committee published a report on the investigation and prosecution of rape last month to figure out why the prosecution rate is so low.

They concluded that the “exceptionally low volumes of rape charges and prosecutions” are “unacceptable” and that survivors are being “failed” by the criminal justice system.