Most rape victims in London drop complaints after speaking to police

Photograph: Heather Martin/Alamy

Most of those do so within a month of going to police, as report warns victims are being deterred from pursuing justice

Nearly two-thirds of London rape victims who drop their complaint do so within a month of going to police, with the proportion tripling in two years, according to a report.

Claire Waxman, London’s independent victims’ commissioner, revealed research warning that victims, predominately women, are being belittled and deterred from pursuing justice.

Among those who allege rape or sexual assault to police, 65% dropped out, up 7% compared with the last survey covering the capital two years ago. Of those, there has been a huge rise in complainants dropping out quickly: 64% withdrew their support for an investigation within 30 days, up from 18% two years ago.

Waxman said reasons could include their treatment by police and fears about “digital strip searching”, which required victims to divulge all their mobile phone data but has since been scrapped.

The report says: “These early withdrawal numbers should prompt us to consider how police are handling victim/survivor interactions, as the victim/survivor may have only really dealt with police officers during this time.”

Some victims were given the impression their phones were likely to have to be handed over and scoured while that was not the case, it was suggested.

Waxman said officers outlining to victims what it took to pursue a rape conviction was putting them off. “They are painting such a bleak picture to the victims, they are deterring them, whether they meant to or not,” she said.

One victim said their phone was taken and “is still waiting to be downloaded, after 14 months in the lab. My rapist is on [a diving] holiday.” Another said their phone was requested when they reported a historical child sexual abuse allegation from 33 years ago.

Another female victim quoted in the study said: “Reporting to the police was the biggest mistake I have ever made. They didn’t believe me, they belittled me, questioned my lifestyle and minimised my experiences.”

Waxman said myths about victims were causing the crisis and that rape had “effectively been decriminalised”.

A 2019 previous report by Waxman found just 3% of rape cases in London reached trial. That fell further to just 1% in 2021.

She said victims were having their character pulled apart, with their sexual history, social services records and mental health records examined, while suspects were becoming emboldened.

Another big issue was police and prosecutors seeing any small inconsistency in a victim’s account as reason to stop an investigation and wrongly thinking victims were lying, Waxman said. This is despite academic research showing trauma can lead to inconsistencies.

She said: “I have spoken to victims/survivors who have had police officers directly suggest that they probably did consent and now regretted it, hence their report of rape. If the underlying assumption of the system is that rape victims/survivors are likely lying, then we are not giving the victim/survivor a fair chance at justice and are setting them up to fail.”

Commander Melanie Dales, the Metropolitan police lead on public protection, said the force was investing millions more in digital forensics. “We understand that rape and serious sexual assault are incredibly distressing and impact victims deeply and we also fully recognise that there is much more we must do to drive the improvements to the criminal justice outcomes they deserve to see,” she said.

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