The government is failing in its fundamental duty to protect women and girls and uphold the law
“Traumatised, forgotten, abandoned.” These are words spoken by victims of domestic abuse, rape and serious sexual assault who are being let down by the criminal justice system - suffering in isolation, scared and often completely unaware of their rights as victims.
Our criminal justice system under the Tories is failing too many. Chronic underfunding and broken promises mean that criminals are let off the hook and women and girls are denied justice.
The statistics speak for themselves: record Crown Court backlogs of over 60,000 cases, 98 per cent of rape cases never ending in a charge, whilst in the last five years convictions have fallen by a third as recorded crime has risen.
According to the Victims’ Commissioner, the majority of victims wouldn’t put their faith in the system again. The lack of communication and unexplained court cancellations mean they are re-living trauma and unable to heal – 43 per cent of rape victims drop out altogether.
One of the first conversations I had after becoming shadow minister for victims and youth justice was with Helen Bowen who lives in Cardiff North. A victim of domestic and financial abuse - her experience shocked me to the core. The CPS took it to trial three times, but failed and Helen lost everything including her home, job, friends and sadly her father who died after getting ill from stress.
How can it be that perpetrators have more enforceable rights than those of their victims?
Helen likened her court experience to reliving the abuse all over again, telling me the hardest thing she had to do after seeing her abuser walk free was leave the court room and simply catch a bus back home as though nothing had happened – with no one on her side. It has taken her years to rebuild her life, but she is determined to speak out. “Things have to change for victims. To go through what I went through is not ok and makes everything 10 times worse,” she added.
Take the case of Emily (not her real name), a victim of sexual assault when she was just 10 years old. Her court case was cancelled on the morning of trial after waiting years. Her father told me he “can see why women and girls give up on sexual abuse cases, the process is flawed.”
It is clear that under the Tories, the system isn’t working for the people it was set to up to protect. How can it be that perpetrators have more enforceable rights than those of their victims? And six in 10 victims don’t receive their rights under the Victims’ Code because no one is accountable? Something must change.
It is Helen’s determination to keep fighting for justice and Emily’s bravery that spurs me on to stand up against this government’s serial failure to take violence against women and girls seriously. The government’s appalling record on rape prosecutions and convictions, as well as its rejection of Labour’s proposal to make misogyny a hate crime illustrate its shambolic approach.
This is not a government doing everything in its power to protect victims, but one that is failing in its fundamental duty to protect women and girls and uphold the law.
Labour’s Victims’ Bill is ready to go, and our plans to tackle violence against women and girls would strengthen rights and protections and see measures like the further roll-out of nightingale courts to tackle backlogs. Our Victims’ Bill would make agencies accountable to the Victims’ Commissioner, ensure victims are informed of their rights, improve communication and recognise victims of anti-social behaviour in the Victims’ Code.
Six Justice Secretaries over six years have so far failed to deliver for victims. The Conservatives must stop putting them through hell and work with us to sort out the crisis they have created. Labour will keep going until victims are seen, heard, protected and supported. We owe it to victims and to women and girls everywhere.
Anna McMorrin is the Labour MP for Cardiff North and shadow minister for victims and youth justice.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.