Rape charges: thousands of victims in England and Wales left waiting since 2020 for police charging decision

After news that police had taken two years to arrest a Tory MP on suspicion of rape after receiving the complaint, we reveal how thousands of other alleged victims from 2020 are still waiting for a charging decision in their case.

When news broke earlier this month that an MP had been arrested on suspicion of rape, it was not just the grim prospect that an elected representative may be a sex offender that surprised and disturbed people – but the length of time officers had been probing the report.

The alleged assault was first reported to London’s Metropolitan Police in January 2020, the force said at the time of the arrest – somewhere between 836 and 866 days prior, or about two years and 15 to 19 weeks ago.

“I understand that investigating can take time, but the person who accused this MP of rape did so in January 2020,” Tweeted one health comms worker. “That’s almost 2.5 years with their lives on hold waiting for a police decision. That must be mental torture.”

“Bleak detail about the MP rape arrest is that allegations reportedly first made in January 2020,” read another Tweet from author and columnist Gaby Hinsliff. “Nearly two and a half years just to get to this (still quite early) stage in the process, and that’s not even unusual.”

An analysis by NationalWorld of Home Office crime outcome figures reveals that it is indeed far from unusual for alleged rape victims to have to contend with such long waits – it is even commonplace.

If you reported a rape in England and Wales in 2020, there is a one in eight chance you were still waiting at the end of January 2022 for either the police or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to make a decision on whether to bring charges.

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The database shows there were 6,816 rape offences first recorded in 2020 that still had no outcome assigned to them by that point.

That was 12.5% of all rapes recorded in 2020.

‘No outcome assigned’ means the police, in conjunction with the CPS, had neither decided to bring charges, nor to close the case with an unsuccessful outcome – leaving victims stuck in limbo.

Of the outstanding 2020 cases, 1,476 were recorded between January and March, meaning victims had been waiting at least 22 months by the time the last snapshot of outcomes was taken by the Home Office sometime after January 2022 – and possibly even longer.

Which forces are taking the longest to make decisions?

The Met was responsible for 1,035 of the outstanding rape cases, the highest number of any police force in England and Wales and 15% of the national total.

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But when it comes to the proportion of crimes recorded, the worst performance came from Staffordshire Police where an astounding 41% of cases (389 out of 942) remained open and still pending a result

It was followed by Wiltshire Police (180 out of 554, or 33%), and Northumbria Police (363 out of 1,441, or 25%).

Essex Police, at the other end of the scale, had closed 98% of cases, with only 2% still outstanding – although it had a poor record on bringing charges for those closed cases.

You can look up your police force in the chart below. Can’t see the chart? Click here to open it in a new window.

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Staffordshire also had the worst charge rate of any force (excluding the small City of London Police) with just 0.8% of 2020’s rape reports (eight out of 942 case, including those still open) leading to a charge as of the latest update, compared to a national average of 3%.

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Data is different, and less detailed, in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Metropolitan Police told us that sexual offences are some of the most complex crimes officers deal with, but that it is “absoutely determined to increase the number of rape perpetrators brought to justice by improving our processes, investigations and victim care”.

Problems driving up rape charge rates are “not unique to the Met”, the force said, adding if it is to start to really change the outcomes for victims “we must also change our approach”.

The Met is investing £11 million in digital forensics and holding multi-agency panels to scrutinise rape investigations, the spokesperson said.

A Staffordshire Police spokesperson refuted the accuracy of the figures – which are provided to the Home Office each month by police forces themselves, go through quality assurance, and are designated ‘official statistics’.

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They added that a dedicated rape and serious offences team had been launched in October 2020, which cared “passionately” about supporting victims and bringing perpetrators before the courts.

“We hope that victims will have the confidence to come forward, report cases and to know they are going to be supported, taken seriously and the allegations will be investigated thoroughly,” they said.

What is the average wait for police to bring charges?

Long waits have been one focus of the drive to improve the criminal justice system response to rape and sexual assault in recent months.

According to a rape ‘scorecard’ the Government publishes every three months, the median  time taken in July to September last year between police recording an adult rape offence and charging an offender was 316 days (10.3 months).

That was an improvement on the previous three months (415 days) but still far longer than 2019 levels (281 days).

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Separate data from the CPS – who decide whether to press charges once investigating police officers refer a case to them – shows they took 159 days on average to charge a suspect after police submitted the case to them in the first nine months of 2021/22, four times longer than for crime as a whole (39 days).

That figure has worsened steadily over the last three years. In the first nine months of 2019/20, the wait was 140 days.

Victims will then also face long delays for cases to make it to court, in the tiny minority of rapes that do.

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Why do long waits matter?

Campaigners often argue that “justice delayed is justice denied” due to problems with evidence or people’s memories degrading over time.

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The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) and Rape Crisis England and Wales both agree that long delays are retraumatising for victims.

Jayne Butler, chief executive officer of Rape Crisis, said the impact “cannot be understated”, with some victims known to experience flashbacks, panic attacks, nervous breakdowns, and heightened anxiety and stress.

“Many will inevitably drop out of the criminal justice process entirely,” she added.

Deniz Uğur, deputy director of EVAW, said long delays are, for many survivors, “worse than their experience of sexual violence”.

“The criminal justice system is not delivering justice to survivors but worse still, it is harming women who come forward to report rape and sexual assault,” she said.

What do the authorities say?

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NationalWorld contacted the National Police Chiefs’ Council for comment. It did not respond.

A CPS spokesperson recognised the criminal justice system “can be an extremely difficult time for victims”.

“That is why we are working hard with our criminal justice partners to speed things up at every stage of these cases – without compromising on standards – so we can provide justice and fairness for victims and suspects alike,” they continued.

“We want to build the strongest cases possible and it is vital these are thoroughly investigated which can take time.

“A key part of streamlining how we handle complex cases is focusing on excellent file quality to cut delays and we are seeing encouraging progress in areas where this has been prioritised.

“We are also driving up use of our early advice to police which will assist with proportionate investigations and setting reasonable lines of enquiry from the outset.”

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A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: “In the last three months there has been a 15% increase in the number of people convicted for rape offences and the number of outstanding cases in the Crown Court is beginning to fall, but we know there is a lot further to go to restore the swift access to justice victims deserve.

“That’s why we are recruiting 1,000 more independent sexual and domestic violence advisers, launching a new 24/7 helpline for victims, trialling a new approach to police investigations, and rolling out pre-recorded cross-examination across the country so rape victims get the justice and support they need at every stage of the justice system.”

You can contact the Rape Crisis helpline on 0808 802 9999 .

Have you been affected by long waits in the criminal justice system after reporting sexual violence? Contact [email protected] (anonymity guarenteed)