Rape survivors turn to new 24-7 helpline for support as justice system struggles with delays

The helpline hopes to help tackle the shockingly low rape conviction statistics - ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports

A publicly funded, 24-hour helpline for victims of rape and sexual violence is being launched today and has been welcomed by campaign groups.

But rape survivors warned the government that urgent action was needed in another part of the system - to tackle huge delays in securing justice.

One victim, who was drugged and kidnapped before being raped, told ITV news that the police had warned her it would take “years” for her case to even get to court, despite forensic evidence.

Rachel (not her real name) said a new helpline was a good thing, but would ultimately have made little difference to her experience, in which she faced “traumatic” delays.

Like many victims, she also felt like the system blamed her, describing how officers asked her early on how often she had sex with strangers.

Raab said the helpline will help support victims while giving them the confidence to remain in the justice system. Credit: PA

The justice secretary, Dominic Raab, said the new helpline - being operated by the charity Rape Crisis - would help this situation by supporting victims, but also signposting them to advisers who would help give them confidence to remain within the criminal justice system.

When asked by ITV News why the helpline had taken so long to set up, after it was first announced in July 2021, he said it was important to ensure the right training and capacity to deal with such a vulnerable group.

“I want to change the whole experience for victims of rape - the 24/7 support line is the first step.” He said Operation Soteria, which focuses on how police and prosecutors deal with victims, was the next step. “And I’ve quadrupled funding for victims since 2010.”

The Ministry of Justice points to a rise in the overall number (volume) of convictions by 1,100 to 6,400 in the year up to June 2022.

But when I asked Mr Raab about the “charge rate” - the shockingly low percentage of victims going to the police who see their perpetrators charged - he said: “This isn’t a metric we use at the CPS, it isn’t one that tells the full picture. We have an increase in police referrals.”

But critics say the speed of the process is far too slow. Rachel told me how she received a letter two years ago saying that forensic evidence had identified a suspect, but she was told it would still take years. Two years on, the CPS has still made no decision.

She described how she became suicidal when the initial investigation threw up no leads. She said that other victims she knew simply dropped out of the system, because they felt it treated them like a suspect.

Emily Hunt, independent adviser to the Rape Review, said she knew how hard the system could be.

“I agree there are not enough rapists going to jail.

“I myself am a victim who did not get to see justice, my attacker was not charged with rape. I unfortunately know exactly what it feels like to get that letter from the CPS - we are not taking your case forward - and it is gutting. There is nothing that has felt worse to me than that moment of knowing I wasn’t getting justice but it is getting better.”

She pointed to the overall number of convictions rising and also said the helpline was important.

Jayne Butler, chief executive of Rape Crisis, agreed that the 1.5% was hugely disappointing and means the criminal process for convicting rape “is not there”.

But she said it was hugely important to now have a 24-hour line. “People who have experienced sexual violence, it is traumatic, and finding a space to talk about that is difficult - you can’t just pop out of the office and speak in the street to a line like this.”

Shadow justice secretary Steve Reed. Credit: PA

Labour’s shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said: “It’s embarrassing that after 12 years, a belated helpline is all the Tories can come up with to address their abysmal record on violence against women and girls.

“In the 18 months it’s taken ministers to act since the hotline was announced, more than 70,000 victims have reported they have been raped. These delays do nothing to prevent sexual violence or ensure that victims get justice.”

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