Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Closing the Justice Gap in Rape Cases

Closing the Justice Gap in Rape Cases

For decades, there has been a disconnect between increasing numbers of survivors reporting sexual violence and the rate at which those complaints have been proceeded against or prosecuted through the criminal justice process. Innovations in how evidence can be provided by complainants, improvements in victim support, and changes to substantive legal tests in relation to consent have all been important, but have not been sufficient to address this significant, and widening, ‘justice gap’.

Having sat on the Ministry of Justice’s End to End Rape Review as an Academic Member, Professor Vanessa Munro is now working with the Crown Prosecution Service to review initiatives to improve responses to rape complaints and complainants in England and Wales. Working with stakeholders, this work under ‘Operation Soteria’, provides an ambitious programme for criminal justice policy and practice reform. Vanessa will be supported on the project by Alice King and Lotte Andrade Young.

The Challenge

Though sexual violence remains notoriously under-reported, recent decades have seen increased levels of complaints being made to police by victim-survivors. Despite this, rates of prosecution and conviction have failed to keep pace. A number of explanations have been provided for this, including inadequate victim support to ensure that complainants are appropriately engaged and respected throughout the justice process; a lack of specialism amongst personnel in responding to and investigating sexual offence complaints, which has led to inconsistent and unacceptable treatment; poor decision-making by criminal justice agencies regarding case progression, with a focus too often on identifying potential weaknesses rather than on building strong cases; and the role and impact of misconceptions about sexual violence amongst lay jurors.

Our Approach

Under Operation Soteria, pathfinder police forces and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) areas across England and Wales have been tasked with bringing transformative change. The CPS specifically has identified a number of priority change areas, designed to improve partnership working with police forces, build stronger cases, increase rates of prosecution and conviction, ensure better victim support, and promote the wellbeing and development of CPS colleagues. Professor Vanessa Munro is working with the Crown Prosecution Service to help them in identifying measures of success in relation to these initiatives, to evaluate progress, overcome barriers to improvement, and locate areas for further development in the future. That work will involve critical appraisal of CPS initiatives, as well as learning from key stakeholders including police, the criminal bar, Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and complainants.

Our Impact

Professor Vanessa Munro has worked across a number of projects to influence policy and practice in relation to responding to rape complaints and complainants. The findings of her studies, conducted with colleagues at the Universities of Leeds and Glasgow, into jury decision-making in rape cases have already informed the introduction and content of judicial directions in both England & Wales and Scotland, and have been drawn upon to support the extension of the availability of special measures in Scotland that allow complainers to give testimony in courtrooms remotely or via video-evidence. Her work was also drawn upon extensively in consultations that preceded the Scottish Governments’ recent announcement of its intention to abolish Scotland’s unique ‘not proven’ verdict as part of its 2023 Programme of Activity.

Professor Vanessa Munro’s current and ongoing work with the Crown Prosecution Service is set to continue this impact trajectory. Her findings will inform a new Rape and Serious Sexual Offences National Operating Model to be rolled out across the Crown Prosecution Service. In tandem with parallel initiatives in policing, this work has the potential to significantly improve both the justice journeys and justice outcomes experienced by victim-survivors of rape.