AMs support call for better support for rape and sexual assault victims

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The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes increased reports of rape in EnglandandWales and expresses sympathy and solidarity with survivors of rape and sexual abuse.
  • Regrets the continued failure of many criminal justice systems to support survivors, and regrets it remains the case that survivors are not believed and are forced to relive horrific experiences through insensitive court processes, and cultures within police forces that don’t believe victims.
  • Notes that prosecutions for rape and convictions in EnglandandWales are at their lowest levels in a decade and that improving conviction rates is a crucial part of a rape prevention strategy.
  • Notes that the Thomas Commission has argued that full devolution of criminal justice will overcome obstacles within the current devolution settlement when addressing the lack of justice and accountability of the status quo; devolution of justice can address low conviction rates through adopting best international practices.
  • Calls for sexual assault support and services to be available and well-funded, and for courts to be adapted so victims feel protected, not intimidated, when giving evidence.

A poisonous culture remains

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) cited the pretty grim statistics on rapes and rape convictions – and whilst still not knowing the full extent of child sexual abuse. A “poisonous culture” remained where victims are blamed – noting the experiences of the victim in the trial Ross England collapsed. She called for a public information campaign to make it clear where boundaries are on consent and said devolution of criminal justice could lead to improvements such as perpetrator programmes to reduce re-offending and changes to police practices.

“….when I was 18 years old, I gave a lift to a young man from a party. I’d never met him before, I knew nothing about him, but he just happened to live close to where I did. And, when I dropped him off at his house, and I refused to go in, he started beating me around the head, from nowhere….I never reported it to anybody; I never spoke to my parents about it and I never spoke to my friends about it. How deeply disturbed was this individual….that he thought that he had a right to beat me over the head simply because I refused to go along with his advances?”
– Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central)

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) said the odds were stacked against victims from the start – despite some positive work by Police & Crime Commissioners. Victims are often subject to detailed questioning of what may be the worst event of their lives, while they’ll have to undergo invasive medical exams. Rape survivors are likely to come into contact with services which are devolved and the only missing piece in developing a properly integrated service for rape victims was arguably the most important one – criminal justice.

Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) spoke out against digital processing notices which ask survivors to grant permission for the police to “rifle through their mobile phones and other electronic devices”.

Devolution of criminal justice won’t fix things by itself

“I’ve said this before, but it’s true: Wales has an east-west axis of crime and justice, and calls for the devolution of criminal justice to Wales fail to recognise that criminal activity does not recognise national or regional boundaries and that 48% people in Wales live within 25 miles of the border with England and 90% within 15 miles of the border.”
– Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales)

Mandy Jones AM (BXP, North Wales) said devolution of criminal justice wouldn’t necessarily lead to the desired outcomes – every week there are debates on failings within areas under the Welsh Government’s control. She had no confidence the Welsh Government could do any better than the UK Government.

Whilst accepting the general premise that rape victims are being let down, Michelle Brown AM (Ind, North Wales) accused Plaid Cymru of using this fact to further ambitions for independence.

Victims need confidence crimes will be properly recorded

Deputy Minister without portfolio, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) called for the police to properly record rapes and sexual assaults;

The Deputy Minister promised to raise the issues raised in the debate with the Welsh police forces at their next joint meeting.

She added that the Thomas Commission was right to conclude that Wales was being let down by the justice system and while justice remains non-devolved, the Welsh Government will continue to do what they can to support victims and also to prevent crimes – such as public information campaigns against controlling behaviours in relationships and teaching about healthy relationships in schools.

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