John Worboys changed my life. What started as an ordinary evening has had consequences for me ever since. The appalling police failures around investigating him and bringing him to justice have been well reported. For me, the experience of not being believed and then going on to discover how many more women he hurt, has been extremely traumatising. It was for that reason that I, together with another woman, brought a human rights challenge against the police to hold them to account for their abject failures in the original investigation. Now, it seems we are forced to resort to a legal challenge again, this time to challenge the shocking decision to release him when we remain convinced that he will attack again.
Finding out through media reports two weeks ago that the Parole Board had decided to release him was horrific. We had been assured by the police and CPS that Worboys would remain in prison for a very long time. The system failed me from beginning to end. And now here, unbelievably, was news that the system was going to grant him the ability to potentially hurt more women.
Last week we heard that the Government have announced that they are not going to pursue a legal challenge to stop his release. Myself and one other victim are left with only one route – we will launch a judicial review of the Parole Board decision next week. Unbelievably we cannot access public funding to do this, and so we have also launched a crowdfunding appeal to help cover our legal costs. I am angry of course that the responsibility for doing this, after everything I have been through, is on my shoulders again.
Victims are supposed to have rights during the prosecution process and after conviction and imprisonment. In serious sexual offending, where offenders are known to be recidivist and to be extremely skilled in deception and portraying themselves as trustworthy, our inclusion in Parole Board decision making, through a victim impact statement for example, is not simply about demonstrating sympathy or respect towards us. A report of our actual experience with the offender is material evidence; it should help the Parole Board members understand exactly how the offender operated when he last had the opportunity, his skill in deception, his particular inclinations towards women and how much risk he himself was willing to take. It is concrete evidence towards any prediction of what he may be capable of in the future if at liberty. The Parole Board did not seek our input, and the public has still not been told exactly what evidence and arguments were considered in the actual decision to release him.
I want to say as explicitly as I can that I do not seek simple retribution on this man because of what he did to me. Rather, it is exactly my experience that tells me he is deeply predatory and likely to reoffend. The field of research and practice in understanding sex offenders is a controversial one. They are under researched and their motivation, and ability to take responsibility for what they have done and its impact on victims is not well understood. There isn’t good evidence that serious sexual offenders can reform. Sex offender treatment programmes have been found to make little or even no difference, leading the Ministry of Justice to abandon its key programme last year. There should be more public discussion of this. But right now, the little understanding there is, is being used to inform decisions like this, and we need to inspect that. The Parole Board is tasked with public safety. We must have access to the information and reasoning they have used to assess that he poses a risk which can be managed in the community (by a probation system has really serious resource problems).
Our society talks more about rape and sexual violence than it ever did before. There is understanding that the police and the courts often fail, and that this is related to attitudes to rape. There is some drive to improve this. But the criminal justice system will never provide the whole answer here. Beyond reasonable doubt is, rightly, a very high bar, and the deterrent effect of possible prison if caught is not known to work on the men who seek to commit this offence.
What victims do need, then, is broader social justice – to be believed and supported and protected after this offence, to be held by the community and to have it demonstrated that this crime is regarded as categorically inexcusable and never our fault. The last two weeks have felt to me as though I live in a society that simply refuses to deal with rape. It won’t grant me protection and it won’t grant me social justice. It is refusing to indicate it understands the seriousness of what this man has done and could do again. It is insulting. And it is deeply frightening. Myself and one other victim are reduced then to our last chance to try and stop his release from prison – fundraising to pay for a legal challenge which we need to file next week. Please contribute @crowdjustice and please help show that many people to believe survivors should be heard when a decision like this is made.