New Consent Forms Will Do Nothing To Encourage More Victims To Come Forward

Putting women through the added trauma of trawling through their phones will see fewer cases reported – we must put efforts into forcing people to rethink their attitudes towards sexual violence

It is hard for most of us to imagine what a victim or survivor must go through in the aftermath of a traumatic incident such as rape or sexual violence. But the new data consent form launched this week by the police and prosecution services means women will be put through added trauma, and could lead to fewer people reporting crimes.

Many already choose not to report for a whole host of reasons. But under this new policy those that do could be asked to hand over their mobile phones and allow their entire contents to be downloaded and trawled through.

Just imagine the shock and stress most people in that situation will be suffering from, and in that vulnerable state being asked to sign a consent form to hand over your most personal, private information.

Obviously all relevant information must legally be considered in any case. But I have serious concerns about how this information could be used to try and undermine the credibility of victims. We have had to constantly fight to reprogramme people’s minds, to force people to rethink their attitudes towards sexual violence and rape, and to where blame lies.

However these new consent forms risk giving the impression that the victim is somehow at fault. Even if this is not the case, and it is just the CPS streamlining a procedure, I fear it will create another barrier that will stop women, and men, from reporting cases of rape and sexual abuse.

In the case that a victim refuses to give permission, they will be told it may not be possible for the investigation or prosecution to continue. So this is the “choice” victims are faced with. This attitude flies in the face of the government’s own Victims Strategy published in September 2018.

Campaigners such as End Violence Against Women Coalition and Rape Crisis England & Wales have been raising their concerns around the practices of disclosure and the wholesale handover of personal and intimate information in rape cases for years. These excessive disclosure requests set an alarming precedent for the criminal justice system and many campaign groups and rape complainants are preparing to take legal action against the police.

It feels like survivors themselves are being investigated. It is violating and invasive. With rape charges falling to their lowest level in a decade, these new forms will do nothing to encourage more victims to come forward. And while there has been a huge increase in women reporting rape to the police, rapists are still much less likely to be charged with any offence.

Waiting lists for support and counselling services are at an all-time high, which is why I am supporting Fern Champion’s petition calling for more funding for specialist support services.

The government has committed to a review of the system’s response to rape which is a first welcome step. But we need more than just a review – we need action.

What is required instead is legislative action and increased government spending to improve detection, conviction rates and support for victims.

Victims and survivors must be given confidence that if they report these very serious crimes they will be taken seriously and with the utmost respect. And as a society we should demand a much better response to rape and sexual offences.

A Labour government will deliver on this by increasing resources for the police, prosecutors and victim support services, so that more rape victims can have the confidence and support they need to come forward.

Dawn Butler is the shadow women and equalities secretary and Labour MP for Brent Central


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