The report alleges that lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service dismiss teen sexual abuse as unimportant.

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A recent official investigation revealed that lawyers working for the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales have downplayed the severity of teenage sexual abuse, focused excessively on doubting the credibility of rape victims, and used language that shifts blame onto the victims.

The study is the initial comprehensive analysis of the CPS’s handling of rape cases since a promised reformation of the legal system. It cautions of a dependence on erroneous beliefs about contemporary sexual behavior and highlights mental health as an obstacle for victims seeking justice.

The expected publication of the report, which will be made available to the public this week, comes nearly three years after government officials issued a sincere apology to victims. This followed a significant decrease in rape prosecution rates in England and Wales starting in 2016.

The government’s investigation into rape in 2021 resulted in significant changes being made to the police and CPS. A new approach, called Operation Soteria, instructed law enforcement and prosecutors to address and eliminate ingrained myths about rape and prioritize targeting predatory behavior over questioning the credibility of victims. Several important objectives, such as restoring the number of police referrals and court cases to levels seen in 2016, have been achieved.

A group of scholars from Warwick University conducted interviews with prosecutors, police, and ISVAs (independent sexual violence advisers) and also examined CPS case files from July 2022 to November 2023 to produce this report. It mentions the advancements made in the CPS, as described by both ISVAs and police who have observed a shift in mindset towards collaborating more closely and pursuing charges in more cases.

However, they also discovered a continuing disconnect between lawyers’ comprehension of the reactions of rape victims to trauma and the risks of relying on misconceptions and stereotypes, and the way cases were perceived and assessed in actuality.

The CPS is reportedly in shock over the revealed results. Employees have been informed that some of the findings may be challenging to digest, highlighting the necessity for better methods in handling rape cases, based on internal communication.

Senior leaders informed employees that the results revealed instances where assumptions and misunderstandings about rape were utilized in certain situations. They want to emphasize that this is not in line with their intended approach to dealing with rape cases.

An individual within the CPS stated that there is a need for a more effective quality control procedure in order to properly address errors in decision-making. They also acknowledged that some prosecutors currently assigned to Rasso (rape and serious sexual offences) units may hold entrenched attitudes and are not suitable for the work, and therefore should be redistributed to other roles.

The CPS announced that it agreed with the initial results of the report, which were incorporated into a revised national approach for handling rape cases, introduced in July of last year. They have also requested a study on the general population’s understanding of rape and consent.

Some academics expressed concerns about how prosecutors handle reports of non-penetrative crimes involving younger complainants. They noticed that in cases where the suspect is also young, prosecutors may not take the allegations seriously enough. This could be due to a habit of dismissing certain actions as harmless teasing or joking among young people, when in reality, they could be seen as predatory behavior among adults.

A CPS prosecutor interviewed by researchers commented that the rise in young girls reporting crimes may be hindering the investigation of more serious cases by drawing attention away from them.

An individual who works with survivors of sexual violence expressed that certain attorneys who specialize in rape cases have made dismissive statements, such as insinuating that many of the survivors are fabricating their experiences due to the nature of their age.

The writers also expressed worries about the potential dependence on recently formed misconceptions about sexual practices, such as the involvement of “casual sex” dating sites. They were informed that prosecutors sometimes viewed these practices as obstacles in pressing charges against a suspect. The writers cautioned against the possible resurgence of long-standing stereotypes about the “respectable” victim, which may appear in new variations.

Despite prosecutors telling authors they were aware and trained on rape myths – other people interviewed for the report said some prosecutors’ still had an “obsession” with victim credibility, used victim-blaming language, misunderstood the impacts of trauma and conflated mental ill-health with a lack of victim credibility.

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In a particular instance, even though mental health concerns were not explicitly mentioned, a lawyer expressed concern that the individual may also have mental health issues in addition to their already existing substance abuse struggles. This could potentially make it challenging to establish the individual’s credibility.

Andrea Simon, the director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, stated that this report confirms that rape myths and stereotypes are highly ingrained in the criminal justice system, something we have been aware of for a while.

The authors stated that prosecutors showed a lack of understanding of coercive control. They mentioned a past incident where the victim stayed in communication with the suspect, and one of the prosecutors asked a police officer, “Why would she still be in contact with him if he raped her?” Another prosecutor commented on a text conversation, saying, “You wouldn’t say that if you had been abused, never.”

Harriet Wistrich, the leader of the Centre for Women’s Justice, stated that these instances showed that despite the CPS making advancements in combating misconceptions and biases, there were still indications of inconsistent decision-making and practices in court that go against their own guidelines. She believes that there needs to be better training and accountability for those who fail to support victims of rape.

According to Baljit Ubhey, the CPS director of strategy and policy, the CPS has requested a study to aid in improving the service and “guarantee transparency and accountability.”

She announced that there is ongoing training for prosecutors to address misunderstandings about rape; however, the report indicates that there is still progress to be made.

She stated, “Our new approach will prioritize this work in England and Wales. We are seeing positive results through our genuine partnership with the police, but we acknowledge there is still much to be done in order to create lasting change.”


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