A piece in today’s Times:
Sending nude pictures of yourself and using “hook-up” mobile apps should not be taken as consent for sex, new guidance for prosecutors says.
Misconceptions about “sexting” and the spread of casual dating websites have prompted the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to overhaul its approach to rape cases.
This morning it issued updated legal guidance that it said aimed “to tackle rape myths and stereotypes against the changing picture of modern life”.
Modern attitudes to sex and a better understanding of the behaviour of alleged victims must be considered in the assessment of whether crimes have been committed, senior prosecutors said.
The CPS guidance specifically targets “the growing exchange of naked selfies”, misconceptions about the use of “hook-up dating sites” and understanding of why sexual assault victims may remain in contact with their attackers.
Officials said that they aimed to debunk 39 “myths” about rape and sexual assualt with the updated guidance to prosecutors.
“There have been massive changes to the way people live their lives in the last ten years and this has undoubtedly transformed the way people interact, date and communicate with sexual partners,” said Siobhan Blake, the CPS’s lead lawyer for rape cases, this morning.
Ms Blake added that “many teenagers believe that sending explicit photos or videos is a part of everyday life. Our prosecutors must understand this and challenge any implication that sexual images or messages equate to consent in cases of rape or serious sexual violence.”
The move comes amid rising concern over the falling rate of rape prosecutions in England and Wales.
At the end of July it emerged that cases going to court fell by more than 30 per cent over the preceding 12 months, resulting in the lowest number of convictions for at least five years.
The figures triggered anger among women’s rights campaigners, who accused Max Hill, QC, the director of public prosecutions, of overseeing the effective “decriminalisation of rape”.
Also in summer, the Court of Appeal gave campaigners the go-ahead to challenge what they say is a change of CPS policy that raised the evidence bar required to bring cases to court.
This morning’s announcement from the CPS is part of what officials describe as “a wide-ranging revision of legal guidance for prosecutors on rape and serious sexual offences”, which is being launched for public consultation.
It is the most comprehensive overhaul of prosecutors’ approach to rape cases in the last eight years. Included in the guidance are updates on how prosecutors should deal with the significantly rising amount of digital evidence in rape cases — as well as what constitutes “reasonable lines of enquiry”.
Specifically, the guidance highlights the importance of “striking the appropriate balance between privacy and a thorough investigation”.
According to officials, there must be a focus on “obtaining early advice and the need for investigators and prosecutors to work together from the earliest stage in order to build strong cases and escalation processes”.
Also included in the fresh guidance is advice on how trauma can affect the memory of rape complainants.
Changes have also been made to the guidance over the handling of cases involving same-sex sexual violence and cases involving alleged victims with psychological and mental health issues.
Responding to the release of the updated guidance, Fay Maxted, chief executive of the Survivors Trust, a charity, said that “negative stereotypes and myths about rape victims are pervasive in society, creating a toxic environment where victims and survivors fear they will be judged or disbelieved, and where many survivors have experienced victim blame as a result”.
Ms Maxted added that “for this reason many survivors never report or delay reporting”.
Harriet Wistrich, the lawyer who founded the Centre for Women’s Justice, one of the groups bringing the Court of Appeal challenge, said she hoped that this morning’s updated guidance “signals a new determination to reverse the drastic decline in the volume of rape case prosecutions brought about by the CPS and their removal of merits based approach guidance to prosecution decision making”.
Ms Wistrich added: “We have seen scores of cases over the last few years where prosecutorial decisions have been infected by rape myths and we know as a consequence many victims have been denied justice while perpetrators walked free. Good guidance is not enough unless it is adhered to.” [J4MB: Ms Wistrich is the odious partner of the equally odious Julie Bindel. The irony of radical feminists talking of rape myths, when they’ve created so many. You can be sure that anything a feminist calls a rape myth has a basis in fact.]
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