Exclusive: women more likely to drop out of rape cases than men

Figures have shown women are more likely to drop out of the justice process in rape cases.Figures have shown women are more likely to drop out of the justice process in rape cases.
Figures have shown women are more likely to drop out of the justice process in rape cases. | NWLD composite
From 2017/18 to 2021 to 2022 an average of 57.2% of women dropped out of the justice process for rape cases as compared to 51.9% of males

Women are more likely than men to drop out of rape cases, figures show - with a charity saying that for many it’s not a choice but “necessity”.

A five-year view of rape cases shows an average of 57.2% of females dropped out of the justice process as opposed to 51.9% of males although it has widened in more recent years. Analysis by NationalWorld of Home Office figures for offences involving adult victims, reveals female victims are more likely than male victims to not continue with action, and in such cases the outcome “victim did not support further action” is recorded.

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The gap between male and female victims has widened in recent years – although the proportion of cases ending this way has grown for both groups. In 2021/22, police in England and Wales closed and assigned outcomes to 43,991 rape offences involving adult victims – 40,754 involving female victims and 3,237 involving males. Of these, 3.8% resulted in a charge or summons - 1.4% for male victims and 3.9% for female victims.

However, the majority of cases ended with the police citing the victim not supporting further action. For females, this was the result for 25,131 (61.7%) of offences, for males 1,798 (55.5%). A suspect may or may not have been identified.

In 2017/18, 16,983, women (53.3%) did not support further action out of 31,891 outcomes. For men this was 1,021 out of 2,083 outcomes (49%).

Why are rape cases dropped?

It come as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW), and White Ribbon Day, are marked and Rape Crisis England and Wales pointed to a number of factors why women might not continue with action. Policy lead for the organisation, Amelia Handy, said the process left survivors feeling as if they were being investigated.

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She said: “It is well established that the criminal justice system is failing rape victims and survivors, who often share that they feel re-traumatised after engaging with it. From facing disbelief at the point of reporting, to having vast amounts of their personal data requested, to a lack of communication - the process can leave survivors feeling like they are the ones being investigated.”

Increased waiting times and court backlogs are other reasons, with Handy saying some survivors can wait years for their case to reach court.

She said: “The effect that delays like this can have on victims and survivors cannot be understated, with many experiencing intensified trauma symptoms such as flashbacks, panic attacks, and heightened anxiety and stress as a result. For many women, it is not a choice to drop out of the process, it is a necessity, as they want and need to progress with trying to create a more normal life for themselves.

She added: “On top of this, some survivors are advised not to seek vital specialist counselling whilst undergoing a criminal investigation in case it interferes with the case; others are told if they seek specialist support they should not talk about the assault. It is no surprise that victims and survivors therefore choose not to remain engaged with a system that treats them in this way.

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“Finally, there is data held by police forces to show that cases where victims withdraw is often due to someone else reporting their rape, where the survivor never wanted or felt safe to report.”


‘Crucial’ that survivors can access support

Meanwhile, for sexual assault cases covering victims over the age of 13 years old over the last five-year period from 2017/18 to 2021/22 the average proportion of victims dropping out was similar for males and females – 41.4% and 41.9% respectively. However, the figures for 2021/22 for sexual assault victims show 46.5% of females dropped out compared to 44.3% of men.

Handy said action was needed from the authorities to make sure those affected by rape and sexual assault are supported in the right way so they can get justice. She said: “For survivors to stay engaged in the system it is crucial that they can access specialist sexual violence and abuse counselling and advocacy, that is long-term, confidential, and trauma informed.

“It is also critical that the police, CPS, and also the Crown Courts prioritise and resource rape and other sexual offences appropriately, so that survivors have a better chance of accessing justice.”

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What is being done to help rape victims?

The government says measures to speed up justice for victims and improve their experience in the justice system have been introduced since the start of the pandemic. This includes extending unlimited sitting days for the new financial year, so Crown Courts can operate at maximum capacity. Video technology has been rolled out to over 70% of all courtrooms, with over 3,000 virtual court rooms opened across all jurisdictions.

The government also pointed to funding for victim services which is to be increased to £192 million a year by 2024-25, while funding for victim support services will be upped to £460 million over the next three years. The number of Independent Sexual and Domestic Violence Advisors will increase by 300 to over 1,000 by 2024/25 using extra ringfenced funding.

Other measures include the introduction of the Victims Law bill, work to develop a 24/7 Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Line, and continuing with the roll-out of pre-recorded cross-examination and re-examination for vulnerable witnesses. There are also new pilot schemes at three Crown Courts aimed at helping support rape victims and increasing prosecutions and convictions, including specialist trauma training for staff and new video technology.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are overhauling our entire response to rape - boosting support for victims at every stage of the justice system, rolling out a new suspect-centred approach to police investigations and improving collaboration between police and prosecutors so we can double the number of cases being charged and reaching court.

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“Rape convictions increased by 67% last year as a result, and further rose 54% in the year to June. Funding for victim support will quadruple by 2025 - allowing us to recruit more independent sexual violence advisors so victims feel supported at every stage of the justice system.”

The Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline is available 24/7 and can be contacted on 0808 802 9999