As a survivor of rape working with and supporting other survivors of rape, I am all too aware that our Justice System is far from ‘just’ when it comes to justice in cases of rape and sexual assault. When we do report what’s happened there’s a small chance of prosecution, and even then there’s only just more than a 50-50 chance of conviction. In the community I support there are instances upon instances of women being told by the police that they have marked their case ‘No Further Action’. The CPS often don’t even get a look-in. The ‘attrition rate’ from report to court demonstrates how the system leaks justice at every opportunity.
And so, yesterday’s news that the serial rapist John Worboys will be released on parole having served only 10 years in prison, some of that on remand before sentencing, when he was given a life sentence comes as a slap in the face. It is so rare that rapists go to prison, and now they’re getting out early? It’s an insult.
We know that rape is a serial offence, and yet the justice system treats each case separately. In John Worboys’ case that justice system had a very stark example of just how serial offenders can be; he was convicted for 19 offences, yet police believe he carried out more than 100 attacks. Have they changed how they investigate rape offences in the intervening years? Do they join the dots? I’ve seen no evidence that they do. And that’s a travesty of justice.
It is coming up to the 10th anniversary of my rape. To my knowledge, the man who raped me is still free as the CPS decided in my case not to prosecute. But I know that if he were in prison, 10 years would not be nearly enough to equal the impact it’s had on my life, a life that on more than one occasion I very nearly wasn’t still living. John Worboys has served maybe not even one month for every rape.
The elusive nature of justice for survivors of rape is what caused me to create the book written by the survivors of the ReConnected Life Community, ‘To Report Or Not To Report: Survivor Testimony of the (In)Justice System’. Survivor voices, the survivor lived experience of justice need to be heard. Because throughout the search for justice, we are silenced. From the beginning we can be told, don’t make a fuss, it didn’t really happen, you were mistaken, you wanted it. We think we will be disbelieved, and often we are. When we report, we’re told, ‘don’t talk about this with anyone’, it might affect the case. One of the women in the book talks of not even being allowed to talk to her big sister about what happened and feeling so isolated as a result. And then, if it does go to court and he is found not guilty, we are silenced because we cannot name a man a rapist who has not been found guilty.
In this case of John Worboys his victims have been silenced again. Reports that some were not even informed by the parole board of what might be happening, reports that some found out from being contacted by press, beggars belief. My heart goes out to those women.
There would have been some comfort knowing he was in prison, and they would have felt more able to move on with their lives and focus on their recovery and healing. To find out now that suddenly he will be out, will be frightening. It might resurface wounds that had long been buried. It will, I am sure at minimum, resurface emotions of grief for the life that was changed, betrayal in a system supposed to protect us, and despair for what justice is supposed to represent. And for many of those 100 and more women, those wounds might not have been buried yet. They might still be living one day at a time, trying to get through with the deep depression, and the panic attacks and flashbacks which are still regular occurrences. This news could be very dangerous for their mental health, and I hope that they will reach out to the organisations that can help them. My heart goes out to all those women, and to all survivors everywhere.
Useful helplines and websites:
- Victim Support - Visit victimsupport.org.uk or call 0808 168 9111 Sexual Abuse Referral Centres - Find a SARC
- Rape Crisis - Visit rapecrisis.org.uk or call 0808 802 9999 The Rape and Abuse Line - Visit rapeandabuseline.co.uk or call 0808 800 0123 (answered by women) or 0808 800 0122 (answered by men).