Prosecutions and convictions for rape have been deteriorating since 2016 and are now at an all-time low and with court backlogs victims are waiting years for their case to be heard. Labour have been calling on the government for action to reverse this and in response we were told to wait for the publication of their End to End Rape Review.
After more than two years this was finally published last month. But sadly, its recommendations do not go nearly far enough. We needed urgent action and root and branch reform. Instead all we got were more pilots & consultations which won’t deliver the change that victims need now.
I have been leading on Labour’s response to this review and back in March we published our Survivors’ Support Plan which outlined the action needed. This included fast-tracking rape cases through the courts across the country, giving rape victims a legal advocate from the moment they report the crime at a police station right through to trial and appointing a Minister for Survivors to give this issue the accountability it needs.
It is unacceptable that the review contains none of these measures and goes to show the government do not take this issue seriously enough. This is also evidenced in their recent Police, Crime, Court and Sentencing Bill which could have been used to introduce measures to tackle violence against women and girls. Instead the Bill doesn’t even mention women and does more to protect statues.
Our laws must send a strong signal that violence against women and girls will not be tolerated but under this government we have yet to see tough action on this. Labour believes that it is time for judges to be able to hand out enhanced sentences for those who commit crimes on the basis of their prejudice against women and our recently published Ending Violence Against Women & Girls Green paper outlines these measures.
This includes toughening sentences for rape, stalking and domestic murder, reviewing sentencing for all domestic abuse and introducing whole life tariffs for those who rape, abduct and murder a stranger.
Throughout the Bill’s passage in Parliament we have been tabling amendments to include these measures. However, amendments to introduce a minimum sentence of 7 years for rape, to fast track rape cases through the courts and make it easier for victims to give evidence were all rejected by the government.
The violence that women and girls face is endemic, and no matter how much the government want to paint a picture of it being a rare crime, the figures tell a different story. The Conservatives are letting us down, but Labour has put tackling gender-based violence at the very top of our agenda and will continue to push for the change that is needed.