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Home Affairs Committee launches inquiries into rape and violence against women and girls

21 April 2021

The Home Affairs Committee announces the terms of reference into a new inquiry into violence against women and girls. This over-arching inquiry will form the basis for the Committee’s long-term work to investigate policies and strategies to combat violence against women and girls.

Violence Against Women and Girls

Investigations and prosecutions of rape

As part of this, the Committee has also announced the terms of reference for an inquiry into investigations and prosecutions of rape.

Launching the new inquiries, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP said:

“Women across the country have been speaking out about their experiences of violence, abuse, stalking, and feeling unsafe - be it on our streets, in schools or at home. Everyone agrees that violence against women and girls is abhorrent, yet far too little has changed in practice to improve women’s safety and in some areas things have got worse. This inquiry will examine the many forms that violence against women and girls takes in our society, what action is being taken to end the scourge of violence against women and girls, and how it is currently being addressed by Government, the police and the criminal justice system.”

Violence against women and girls

The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. While it has recently featured prominently in the media, this is an issue that can be pervasive and hidden.”

This inquiry will look at how violence against women and girls is being addressed.  The Committee will use information from this call for evidence to inform its future programme of work on this issue.

The Committee invites evidence on the following points, to inform development of its future programme: 

How VAWG affects women and girls. This may include:   

  • Information on different forms and experiences of VAWG – for example rape, sexual harassment and abuse, domestic abuse, coercive control, street and online harassment, stalking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and other forms of violence and abuse – and the differences between addressing VAWG in the public and private spheres; 
  • How VAWG has changed and how issues relating to VAWG are affected by modern technology, for example the use of social media and online dating sites, sexting, revenge porn and the accessibility of explicit pornography; 
  • How VAWG affects young women and girls including in school and education institutions, in public places and online; 
  • How VAWG affects particular groups, such as migrant women, sex workers or women with protected characteristics; 
  • The prevalence and effect of honour-based violence and other practices that may affect minority groups such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage;  
  • How sexual violence is being normalised within relationships, including strangulation, and the influence of extreme or violent pornography;  
  • How organisations that women and girls turn to for support and help engage with issues relating to VAWG and their role in tackling and preventing it.  

How VAWG should be prevented and addressed. This may include:

  • The role information and education for both men and women play in protecting women and girls; 
  • Whether there is sufficient and appropriate support available for victims;  
  • What measures should be in place for perpetrators;  
  • The role of organisations and institutions including the police and criminal justice system, schools, colleges and education institutions, employers and trade unions, social media companies, local community and specialist services;  
  • What lessons should be learnt from the 2016-2020 Ending Violence against Women and Girls strategy when developing the Government’s 2021-2024 strategy;  
  • How current Bills, such as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the Domestic Abuse Bill and other recent legislation that has been introduced can address, or have addressed, the issue of VAWG; and 
  • Steps towards ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

Investigations and prosecutions of rape

Reports of rape and sexual offences are increasing, while the number of prosecutions and convictions are decreasing. CPS data published in October 2020 shows that the number of completed rape prosecutions have more than halved, with 218 prosecutions from April to June 2020, compared to 480 in the previous quarter. There were 174 convictions resulting from those 218 prosecutions.

In 2019-20, police recorded 55,130 rapes, while the most recent CPS data shows that there were 2,102 prosecutions and 1,439 convictions for rape in England and Wales in 2019-20. Since 2014, CPS decisions to prosecute have fallen at almost double the rate of police referrals to the CPS – 51% compared with 27%.

The current situation has been commented on by the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird who has warned that rape is being decriminalised. The Director of Public Prosecutions has also suggested that there should be a ‘frank and full conversation’ about the fall in the number of rape prosecutions and convictions.

The Committee invites written evidence on the following questions:

  • Whether victims have access to justice, whether witnesses are sufficiently supported, and whether there are sufficient safeguards for those who are accused of rape and sexual offences to ensure that they receive a fair trial; 
  • The role of the police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the courts in reporting, prosecuting and convicting in cases of rape and sexual assault, including the advice and guidance that is used to train, educate and support those involved in the disclosure, charging and prosecution of rape; 
  • What the barriers are to reporting, charging, prosecuting and convicting rape and sexual assaults; 
  • Challenges around disclosure and whether the current disclosure arrangements affect the reporting, investigation, prosecution and sentencing of rape cases;  
  • The success of organisational strategies and plans, for example the Joint National Disclosure Improvement Plan and the CPS’ RASSO 2025 strategy.

The Committee is keen to understand from victims and survivors of rape and serious sexual assault what changes they think could help improve the experience of reporting what has happened to the police and going to court to get justice.

If you would like to submit your lived experience to the Committee, you can find questions about going through the criminal justice system following experiences of sexual violence here. You can also share why you might have chosen not to go through the criminal justice system. Responses to these lived experience questions should be received by 11 May 2021.

Before submitting your views, please read the following important information

In line with the general practice of select committees the Home Affairs Committee is not able to take up individual cases. If you would like political support or advice you may wish to contact your local Member of Parliament.

The Committee will decide whether to accept each submission. If your submission is accepted by the Committee, it will usually be published online. It will then be available permanently for anyone to view. It can’t be changed or removed. If you have included your name or any personal information in your submission, that will normally be published too. Please consider how much personal information you want or need to share. If you include personal information about other people in your submission, the Committee may decide not to publish it. Your contact details will never be published.

Decisions about publishing evidence anonymously, or about accepting but not publishing evidence, are made by the Committee. If you would like to ask the Committee to accept your submission anonymously (meaning it will be published but without your name), or confidentially (meaning it won't be published at all), please say at the start of your evidence which of these you want to request, and tell us why. This lets the Committee know what you would like but the final decision will be taken by the Committee. 

If your evidence raises any safeguarding concerns about you, or other people, then the Committee has a duty to raise these with the appropriate safeguarding authority.

Submit evidence online here:

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