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Bid to stop rape victims being quizzed on sexual history

Just over 7% of rape complaints resulted in a conviction in 2015/16 Credit: PA Images

An MP is introducing a private member's bill to limit the cross examination of rape victims about their sexual history, previous behaviour or appearance.

Plaid Cymru MP, Liz Saville Roberts, will introduce the bill on Wednesday.

It comes after the retrial jury in the case of footballer Ched Evans was allowed to hear evidence about the complainant's sexual history.

Ched Evans was cleared of rape last October.

Ched Evans was cleared of rape last October. Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

The Bill will replicate the so-called 'Rape Shield Law', which exists in the USA, Canada and Australia.

It will prevent a complainant's sexual history, appearance or behaviour from being used in a trial as an indicator of the victim's character.

Latest statistics show that in 2015/16, there were more than 35,000 rape complaints made to the police, but just over 2,500 resulted in convictions.

Liz Saville Roberts hopes the bill, which has cross party support, will encourage more women to come forward.

It is neither right nor just that a victim of rape can be questioned in Court on matters not relevant to the case in hand. Yet in the recent past victims have been humiliated by lawyers asking questions about their sexual partners, their clothing and appearance.

Such practices will undoubtedly make victims reluctant to come forward and more likely to drop complaints and there is already anecdotal evidence that high profile cases involving such evidence being used has led to a drop in the number of women who are coming forward.

– Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru MP
Liz Saville Roberts MP says the bill will prevent a complainant's sexual history from being used in a trial as an indicator of the victim's character.

Victims charity, Voice4Victims, have worked closely with Ms Saville Roberts on the bill, and their analysis of numerous case studies, which highlighted major loopholes in current law and procedure, contributed to the establishment of the bill.

They looked at cases where rape or attempted rape victims were cross examined about their number of previous sexual partners, affairs they may have been involved in, any history of alcohol abuse or mental health, and their appearance at the time of the alleged offence.

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.

– Claire Waxman, Voice4Victims

Dame Vera Baird QC undertook an 18 month study which, in 2015, concluded that in over a third of all rape cases heard at Newcastle Crown Court, questions were asked about the prior sexual conduct of the complainant.

In a small number of cases, court rules about cross examination were disregarded, allowing applications for sexual history to be introduced as evidence.

The private members bill will restrict the cross examination in cases such as these, and also, in certain circumstances, prevents the police telling an alleged attacker who the victim is.

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.

– Harry Fletcher, Voices4Victims