Rape and Sexual Abuse Victims

Justice – in the House of Commons on 5th July 2022.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

What steps his Department is taking to support victims of rape and sexual abuse.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The Government are committed to supporting victims of rape and sexual violence. We have seen rape convictions increase by two thirds since 2020, but we are committed to doing much more and going further. Last year the Government announced our ambitious end-to-end rape review action plan, which includes quadrupling the funding for victim support from £41 million in 2009-10 to £192 million by 2024-25. More than half of all Crown courts are equipped to use pre-recorded cross-examination and re-examination for vulnerable witnesses, to make the experience of giving evidence to the courts less daunting. There is much more happening, and I know the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in these matters.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister, who clearly has a very clear strategy to move forward. However, recent statistics from the charity Rape Crisis state that in 2021 only one in 100 victims of rape felt they could report it to the police, with some feeling completely unable to do so due to intense fear and angst about reprisals from the perpetrator. What steps will she take to ensure that victims feel that they can come forward and place their trust in the authorities, to find the closure they so very much want?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the concerns that victims have from the very first moment of reaching out for support from the police in reporting these offences. As I say, we have conducted a forensic end-to-end review of the criminal justice system. Part of that includes ensuring that the police conduct so-called suspect-focused investigations whereby, rather than looking at the witness’s credibility, they focus on the suspect’s behaviour. We will be rolling this out nationally over the coming year, and I very much hope and expect that we will begin to see some real results from that.

Photo of Ellie Reeves Ellie Reeves Shadow Minister (Justice)

Three years on from the Government’s end-to-end rape review, little has changed, with victims waiting three years for their case to get to court, section 28 rolled out in 37 out of 77 Crown courts, and specialist rape courts to be piloted in just three. When I raised the Conservatives’ appalling record in Parliament last week, the Minister accused me of

“false, damaging and intemperate language”,

but I make no apology for standing up for victims. Does she accept that it is her Government’s actions and not my words that are letting rape survivors down?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am extremely grateful to the shadow Minister for raising that matter. You know, Mr Speaker, that I wrote to you privately concerning conduct in this Chamber, because how we conduct ourselves in this Chamber matters: it has implications far beyond these walls for victims of crime. I raised this privately in a letter to you, Mr Speaker. I copied in the hon. Lady, as a professional courtesy, and it has mysteriously found its way into The Guardian newspaper; I know not how that could have happened. Just on a matter of House business, it is a very great shame that when colleagues express discreetly concerns about conduct in this Chamber, it becomes a matter for the national newspapers.

Turning to the hon. Lady’s allegations, we have more victims reporting their crimes to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service charging more perpetrators. We have timeliness in the Crown court improving by five weeks on last year. What is more, we have seen the conviction rate increase since last year, by two thirds. These are steps towards the targets that we want to meet. I do not for a moment claim that our work is done, but we must, for the sake of victims, ensure that we give them the reassurance and the support they need to bring these allegations to light.