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Rape "effectively a consequence-free crime" for the perpetrator - Deputy

Rape

Monday 29 March 2021

Rape "effectively a consequence-free crime" for the perpetrator - Deputy


Sexual assault and rape often goes unreported because the cards are stacked against the victims, the States heard, with national data suggesting that just 1 in 400 sexual crimes is successfully prosecuted.

Those were the words of Deputy Yvonne Burford, a former director of domestic abuse charity Safer, who was making the case for the States to commission a Sexual Assault Referral Centre [SARC].

Her amendment to Stage 1 of the Government Work Plan sought to specify that a SARC will form part of the updated Domestic Abuse Strategy. Home Affairs members voted in favour, however President Rob Prow said his committee had already made clear its commitment to doing so, expressing concerns about Deputy Burford's "trust" in Home to live up to its word.

Deputy Burford responded by saying that despite good intentions, previous assemblies had not made much-needed progress in this area.

A report accompanying the amendment identified some gaping holes in the current system, suggesting that the full extent of sexual abuse in Guernsey goes under-reported in the absence of specialist support, which could be provided by a SARC. 

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Pictured: Running a Sexual Assault Referral Centre is estimated to cost just shy of £200,000 a year. 

"Rape is effectively a consequence-free crime for the perpetrator," she told the Assembly, highlighting major studies in the UK which found that only 1.4% reports of rape lead to a conviction.

Couple that with surveys that concluded that only one in five victims actually report a sex crime, and Deputy Burford said that, nationally, the actual conviction rate is around one in 400. 

"It must be the case that near-virtual immunity from consequences is a contributing factor to the prevalence of sexual violence," she said. "But rape and sexual assault are not consequence-free for the victim.

"Is it any wonder that victims do not want to put themselves through the stresses of a police investigation when the cards are so stacked against them?"

Deputy Burford, who stood down as a Director of Safer upon re-election to the States in 2020, cited national statistics that 92% of rape victims and 80% sexual assault victims are female. 

"The after effects can persist for many years, or even for a lifetime." That is where a SARC comes in. 

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Pictured: Jersey set up a SARC in May 2017 and published this infographic last May.

"SARCs offer a high standard of victim care, high levels of victim satisfaction and an improved provision of forensic evidence," said Deputy Burford. 

"SARCs offer the potential to bring more offenders to justice on the basis of better evidence, fewer case withdrawals because of better victim care, and increase reporting and access to intelligence through self-referrals."

These comments were not refuted by Home Affairs, which itself listed a SARC as one of the options in its Domestic Abuse Strategy - one of the committee's priorities in the GWP. 

Committee President Rob Prow suggested it was " a matter of trust, or rather, mistrust" that Deputy Burford was laying an amendment directing Home to do something it already had the intention of doing. 

"The Committee for Home Affairs fully supports the domestic abuse strategy, which I don’t think we could have made any clearer," he said. 

"I am genuinely baffled as to why this amendment was being laid and what the underpinning motive for it is."

Deputy Rob Prow

Pictured: Deputy Prow was "baffled" and disappointed that his committee had not been trusted to deliver a SARC.

"On 15 January, the committee circulated supplementary documents and additional information about an updated domestic abuse strategy."

This contained multiple recommendations for investment into initiatives that would support vulnerable groups in the community, he said. 

Despite the success of Deputy Burford's amendment, seconded by Deputy Sasha Kazantseva-Miller, it does not mean that a SARC will definitely be commissioned, as resourcing decisions on the GWP will be made later in the year.

However, she called on States members only to support the amendment if they intended to fund it when that decision comes to the States. 35 members voted in favour, with four absentees from the vote and Deputy Carl Meerveld abstaining. 

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Guernsey crime data from 2019 shows that there were 34 reports of sexual assault against adult women; 24 sexual assaults against girls; 1 sexual assault against an adult male; 6 sexual assaults against boys; and 51 reported acts of rape, 10 of which were historic.  

In the Justice Review report produced last year, UK consultancy service Do-it-Justice said "there is some evidence to suggest that these offences are more prevalent in the Bailiwick than shown by police-recorded crime figures."

21 of the 51 reports were dropped by the complainant, who chose not to pursue a prosecution, while qualitative research also indicates that only a fraction of assaults ever get logged with police. 

Safer said that during the 24 months between 1/11/2017 and 31/10/2019, 80 clients reported experiencing sexual abuse. "Very few" of these had reported the abuse to BLE. 

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Pictured: Deputy Burford told the States that national data indicates only 1 in 400 sexual assaults are ever prosecuted. 

Meanwhile, the 2018 Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated that 700,000 people aged between 16-59 were victims of sexual assault in the previous 12 months.

Less than one in five victims of rape or assault by penetration reported their experience to the police and of that one in five, only 1.4% reached court and received a conviction. 

Using assault rates in the South East of England as a comparator and applying the same methodology to Guernsey would equate to around 400 adults in that age range, mostly women, being assaulted or raped every year. 

Last week's peaceful protest following the death of Sarah Everard in South London saw many Guernsey-women share their stories of sexual assault and express concerns over public safety when walking home.  

In response to a question in the States, Deputy Burford made it clear that her amendment was "not a knee-jerk reaction" to the Sarah Everard tragedy - it had been in the works for a long time, as evidenced by the detailed report that was produced alongside of it. 

Pictured top: More information about what a SARC would do and how it would work can be found HERE

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