The Director of Public Prosecutions has been criticised for suggesting people who believe they have been raped but stay silent during their ordeal may give the impression they have consented to sex.
Alison Saunders said prosecutors considering rape cases must look at whether the suspect had a reasonable belief in consent.
But critics said it is common for rape victims to “freeze”, finding themselves unable to move during an attack, and said the justice system is continuing to fail victims of sexual violence.
Saunders told the Evening Standard: “So in some of the cases you can see why even though the complainant may think they were raped, there was a reasonable belief that they had consented, either through silence or through other actions or whatever.
“We are there not just to be able to prosecute cases where there has been an offence, but also not to prosecute cases where there isn’t sufficient evidence.”
Responding to the comments, Rape Crisis England and Wales said the “law is clear that someone consents to sexual activity when they agree by choice and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice”.
“If someone has been threatened, coerced or scared into submitting to sexual activity, they have not freely consented,” the charity added.
We all have a moral and legal responsibility to actively seek any sexual partner’s consent and be confident it’s been fully and freely given before doing anything sexual. And consent is an ongoing process; if we feel it’s been lost or withdrawn at any point, we must stop.” Rape Crisis England and Wales
The charity added: “Through more than 40 years’ experience of providing frontline, specialist support to people whose lives have been impacted by sexual violence, we know it’s common for victims and survivors to freeze or flop, finding themselves unable to speak, fight back or even move, and that knowledge is backed up by a large body of independent evidence, of which the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is aware.
“In recent years, Rape Crisis Centres have seen unprecedented need and demand for our specialist services, and this continues to grow.”
End Violence Against Women Co-Director Rachel Krys said she thought Sanders comments had been misconstrued and the story, “sensationalised”.
Krys said Saunders had been trying to “carefully explain” the complexities of the crime and decisions around prosecutions, and that reporting of the matter was not helpful to victims.
Rape Crisis further lamented the rise of “this kind of media coverage of sexual violence” and said as a result, “victims and survivors are telling us their confidence in the criminal justice system is being eroded and undermined each time they read or hear or watch this sort of story”.
“We must not forget that the vast majority of those who experience sexual violence still choose never to report to the police, and last year only 16% of cases that were reported reached court. This does not represent justice,” it said.
The charities criticism was echoed by others on social media who called Saunders comments “incredibly disappointing”.
Saunders also described as “disappointing and irritating” the collapse of cases due to evidence not being disclosed as early as possible.
In recent weeks several rape defendants, including Londoners Liam Allan, Isaac Itiary and Samson Makele, were acquitted after evidence cleared them before they were due to stand trial, when the cases could have been resolved months earlier.
Surrey Police and Scotland Yard have announced reviews of their rape cases following the high-profile collapses, due to suspected flaws in investigations or concerns related to the disclosure of evidence.