Rape Victims: Disclosure of Evidence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 29th April 2019.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee) 4:33 pm, 29th April 2019

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I agree with the way this was put by Anna Soubry and I agree about just how serious the problem is. Let me tell the House about an email I received this morning from a young woman I know. I did not know she had been sexually assaulted. She said, “Six months ago, I was seriously sexually assaulted by a complete stranger. Two months after the assault, the police demanded full access to my phone, including my Facebook and Instagram passwords, my photos, stretching back to 2011, notes, texts, emails and the full history of 128 WhatsApp groups and individuals’ conversations stretching back over five years. I had no prior or subsequent contact with my attacker. I lie awake at night worrying about the details of private conversations with friends, boyfriends, business contacts, family that are now in the hands of the police. It is a gross intrusion into my privacy and theirs. I feel completely as if I am the one on trial.”

We all know, as the Minister has said, that disclosure is a problem, but we also know that there is massive under-reporting of rape cases. We also know that one of the problems in rape cases is that the victim is attacked in court and put on trial herself. The “Digital device extraction” document that has been issued today says quite simply, “Give us all your devices. We will download and review all the material, including deleted material, so that we can give it to the suspect and use it in the trial”. I know the Minister is committed to justice for victims as well as for defendants—I totally accept his good faith in this matter—so I implore him not to dig in and say that this is a good thing. There is a real problem out there that has been exposed, and he really needs to take action on it.