Women Are Still Being Failed A Year On From Sarah Everard's Murder, Says Labour

The party says it would tackle record low rape prosecutions with specialist courts, legal advocates and a new minister for serious sexual violence.
Sarah Everard's family said she was 'wonderful and we miss her all the time' on the first anniversary of her murder.
Sarah Everard's family said she was 'wonderful and we miss her all the time' on the first anniversary of her murder.
Family Handout/PA

The government is continuing to fail women as the country marks the first anniversary of Sarah Everard’s murder, Labour’s shadow justice minister has said.

Ellie Reeves accused the government of offering “sticking plaster” solutions to the issue of women’s safety as she outlined a raft of measures Labour would introduce to bolster the rights of victims of sexual violence.

Everard, 33, was raped and murdered by serving Met police officer Wayne Couzens after she went missing on March 3 last year.

Couzens abducted her off the street under the guise of a false arrest before burying her in a woodland in Ashford, Kent, where her body was discovered a week later.

Everard’s case sparked a national outcry and a renewed debate around violence against women and girls, which the government says it is tackling through toughening sentences for rape and increasing CCTV and street lighting.

But in an interview with HuffPost UK, Reeves, who leads Labour’s rape taskforce, said the record-low rate of rape prosecutions meant there had been an effective “decriminalisation of rape”.

She said Labour would tackle the “shocking statistic” by setting up specialist rape courts, introducing a legal advocacy scheme to “give victims a voice” and granting them the chance to pre-record their evidence to ease fears that counselling notes may be used disclosed in trial.

The party would also introduce a special minister for rape and serious sexual violence to drive through change.

“There’s so much more that needs to be done,” Reeves said.

“Only 1.3% reports of rape result in a charge — an absolutely shocking statistic.

“We seem to be living in a world where we have the effective decriminalisation of rape, because victims are reporting crimes, and rapists aren’t being charged.

“Even when there is a charge conviction rates are pitifully low, it’s taken years for cases to get to court, victims are pulling out of their cases because the whole process is so traumatic.”

She added: “One survivor I spoke to said she had come to terms with what had happened to her, but what she couldn’t come to terms with was how she had been treated by the criminal justice system.

“She felt so failed, and I don’t want any woman to have to feel like that.”

Under Labour’s plan, at least two court rooms would be dedicated to hearing rape cases, which would be prioritised for listings and would have specialist judges overseeing them.

Alongside this, the party would ensure that victims are given access to a lawyer to advise them when the police demand start demanding mobile phone evidence as part of the disclosure process.

“One of things victims have spoken about is the fact that they don’t feel like they have a voice,” Reeves said.

Labour's Ellie Reeves speaking at the party's conference last year.
Labour's Ellie Reeves speaking at the party's conference last year.
Nicola Tree via Getty Images

“They don’t have a lawyer that is there for them, advocating for them, so one of the things that Labour would do is put in place a legal advocacy scheme so that the moment someone reports a rape to the police station right the way through to trial they have a legal advocate who is there to support them at every step of the way.”

Reeves said she believed this would also drive up standards within the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

“When the CPS write to victims, far too many of the letters lack basic empathy,” she explained.

“Or when the CPS are turning down cases or not taking further action, they won’t necessarily explain it properly or that victims know about their right to review.

“If you’ve got a legal advocate, they’re supporting you.

“If victims know about their right to have their case reviewed, they’re more likely to exercise it.”

Reeves also recounted the “horrific” cases of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry who were stabbed to death in a park in Wembley in June 2020, as well as Sabina Nessa, the teacher who was murdered in Kidbrooke, south-east London on September 17 last year.

Reeves, who represents Lewisham and Penge West, said a “huge amount of work” that needed to go into education and changing attitudes to prevent crimes being committed against women in the first place.

“The justice system is at the end of all of this rather than the beginning of it,” Reeves said, “so we need to be thinking about making sure there’s training in schools and awareness around all of these issues.”

She cited young elected mayors in her constituency of Lewisham who were running a pilot programme in a boys’ secondary school to provide education and training around misogyny, sexism, consent.

“And you think, if the young mayors of Lewisham can come up with this when they’ve obviously got a small budget, then why can’t the government?”

A government spokesperson said justice secretary Dominic Raab was currently taking advice on whether specialist rape courts could be set up following recommendations from Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate.

“Rape is a devastating crime and victims deserve more, which is why we are going above and beyond what is being called for,” the spokesperson said.

“We are sparing more victims the stress of giving evidence during a trial, recruiting more specialist prosecutors and placing greater focus on a suspect’s behaviour rather than complainants’ credibility when allegations are investigated.

“We are also recruiting more Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and boosting funding for support services so no victim is left to suffer alone, while our new Victims’ Law will hold agencies to account for their performance.”


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