New figures show that in South Yorkshire, 43 per cent of all rape cases closed over a six month period were dropped because victims did not support further action.
Home Office data shows that of the 737 rape investigations closed by South Yorkshire Police between April and September last year, 75 per cent were down to problems gathering evidence.
A suspect had been identified in 77 per cent of the cases.
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Experts say victims risk being re-traumatised by their experiences of the criminal justice system and many give up on seeking justice because they feel as though they are not believed or that they are the ones under investigation.
Figures for England and Wales – excluding Greater Manchester – show that 42 per cent of rape investigations closed in the year to September 2020 were abandoned after those who reported attacks withdrew their support.
A Rape Crisis spokeswoman said: “It wasn’t uncommon pre-pandemic for survivors to have to wait two years or more between reporting and their case reaching court.
“That is a very long time to effectively have to keep the memory of what might have been the most traumatic experience of a person’s life to date at the forefront of their thoughts.
“As well as this, the criminal justice process itself is too often re-traumatising for victims and survivors, who tell us they don’t always feel believed or even that they feel like they’re the ones under investigation rather than the suspect.”
Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “The murder of Sarah Everard has focused the attention of both the public and the authorities on violence towards women and girls in our society and the failings in the criminal justice system in bringing perpetrators to justice.
“We must not let this moment slip by or we will have failed them again.
“As far as rape is concerned, I am keenly aware that many factors contribute towards so few charges being brought, trials held or convictions secured. Each factor is serious enough but in combination they create a perfect storm.
“I have met regularly with the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the region to urge the need for more lawyers who can specialise in rape trials. The CPS has done this, but they are an overstretched and underfunded service.”
He added: “We know that any delay in bringing cases to trial is likely to see victims lose confidence and be unwilling to proceed. Memories of the assault – which are painful enough to have to recall – begin to be lost and victims start to feel that they are not believed if they have to repeat their evidence over lengthy periods of time to changing personnel.
“The public has become much more aware of the issues around rape convictions in the last few weeks and those of us with any responsibilities in this area must use this moment to take serious decisions to make things better.”
A specialist Sexual Assault Referral Centre operates in South Yorkshire where victims are taken to instead of police stations. Support services are available, examinations take place and statements are made to the police.