A new private member’s Bill will be introduced today, to coincide with Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness week, to prevent the cross examination of rape victims about either their sexual history, previous behaviour or appearance. The Bill has been drafted by Harry Fletcher and Claire Waxman of Voice4Victims following their analysis of numerous case studies which illustrate major loopholes in current law and procedure. Voice4Victims has received cases where rape or attempt rape victims have been cross examined about their number of previous sexual partners, affairs they may have been involved in, any previous history of alcohol abuse or mental health and the clothes they were wearing at the time of the offence.
The Bill is being introduced by Liz Saville Roberts (Plaid Cyrmu) and has all party support (see full list below).
The new Bill means that British legislation would replicate the Rape Shield Law which exists in USA, Canada and Australia. This law seeks to avoid putting the victim on trial for her clothing, attitude, behaviour or sexual past. In essence it prevents a defendant introducing evidence about the complainants past sexual behaviour.
In 2015/2016, there was estimated 85,000 rapes against women. Official statistics show that there 35,798 reports of rape to the Police in England and Wales and of these, just 2,689 resulted in a conviction. These figures reflect that the majority of women do not have the confidence to come forward and report and fear that if they did, they would either not be believed, inappropriately cross examined or blamed for the offence.
Ivy, a rape victim was told at a Ground rules hearing that her sexual history would not be used. However, in Court she was asked by the defence how many sexual partners she had experienced and alluded to the fact that she was promiscuous.
Jenny, a teenager made a complaint against an adult male. She had a history of abuse within the family including a rape conviction against her uncle. She ran away from home in order to escape from adult males. She later did have sex with a male at a homeless shelter. At the trial the defence implied that as she had consented to sex with an adult male, she must have also consented with the alleged rapist.
In a further case a victim of an alleged attempted rape, M, was asked why she had chosen to wear a red dress on the day of the attack which occurred on a hot summer day.
A year long study undertaken in Newcastle by Dame Vera Baird QC concluded that in 1/3 of 30 cases observed, there was question about prior sexual conduct of the complainant. In a further 4 cases, the court rules about cross examination were disregarded as applications were made on the morning of the trial or after trial commencement to introduce sexual history.
This private members Bill would severely restrict the cross examination that occurred in the cases above and numerous other cases which greatly affect victims’ confidence in coming forward to report rape.
The Bill also prohibits in certain circumstances the disclosure by the Police of a victim’s identity to a stranger attacker. It also extends the range of serious offences which may be referred to the Court of Appeal on the grounds of undue leniency. It amends the requirements for Ground rules hearing to make it clear that cross examination on the grounds of sexual history is unacceptable. It also makes provisions for the guidance on safeguarding in schools following cases referred to Voice4Victims which showed that underage female victims were further traumatised by being placed in the same class as their alleged abuser.
Harry Fletcher, Co-Director, Voice4Victims says ‘there is clear and overwhelming evidence that rape victims are questioned about their previous sexual history, behaviour and appearance. This would not happen to victims involved in other types of trials. Changes to legislation are needed urgently. The government needs to act now’.
Claire Waxman, Founder Voice4Victims said ‘this brutal cross examination of rape victims re-traumatises the victim and causes them irreparable harm. It’s this victim blaming attitude of rape victims that needs to be stamped out from the justice process to ensure victims have the faith and confidence to come forward and report these serious crimes’.