The majority of rape survivors say police response damaged their mental health

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Rape survivors criticise police response Ekaterina Goncharova - Getty Images

A new survey has laid bare the levels of trauma rape survivors experience when interacting with the police.

The survey, which has been funded by the Home Office, gathered 1,968 responses from victims in England and Wales with police experience, over the course of five and a half months.

Three-quarters of those surveyed claimed their mental health was damaged as a direct result of 'what police did, or failed to do in their case'.

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xijian - Getty Images

A shocking 39% of respondents said they felt 'less safe' as a result of what the police did. One woman wrote: "I am more afraid of the police than being raped again."

Other significant failings by the police were also reflected in how survivors felt about law enforcers after reporting their crimes.

Half of respondents felt they had lost trust in the police, while 56% added they would be unlikely to report any future rapes.

The survey, which has been issued as part of Operation Soteria, which aims to formulate a new approach towards sex attackers, is continuing until June 2024.

In its first year report, published in December, the police’s persistent failings were highlighted, including a failure to track repeat suspects, "explicit victim-blaming" and botched investigations.

The survey also spoke to 190 survivors who chose not to report their rape to the police. Predominant responses included shame, fear, and feeling like they won’t be believed.

"Sadly, the experiences being described by the victim-survivors in this survey are shocking but not surprising to us,” Lisa Durston, Communications Manager at rape and sexual assault charity SARSAS told Cosmopolitan UK. "The fear of not being believed is one of the most common barriers that prevents people reporting an assault to the police and coming forward for support and one that is, often, grounded in reality for many people who report sexual violence crimes.

"The first response someone receives when they take the brave step of reporting rape or sexual assault impacts both the trauma from the abuse and whether they choose to continue down the criminal justice path.

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Andrii Nekrasov - Getty Images

"Alongside reports that have been released over the last year detailing misogyny and racism in the police, it is not surprising that the majority of victim-survivors choose not to report and that 70% of those who do report drop out of the process before completion.

"We welcome the reforms that Operation Soteria will bring in improving police responses for victim-survivors but it needs to come with end-to-end improvements in the whole criminal justice process for sexual offences and sustainable funding for specialist services who support those affected by sexual violence."

Minister for Safeguarding, Sarah Dines said of the survey: "Rape is an abhorrent crime and I have been clear that we need radical improvement in the way the police handle and investigate rape and sexual violence to ensure all victims have the best support possible throughout the entire process.

"I am committed to supporting officers to strengthen their response to these crimes, which is why I am continuing to fund the ambitious programme, Operation Soteria, to transform the way that rape investigations and prosecutions are handled and progressed, with a focus on investigating the suspect rather than the victim.

"This approach is now being implemented by all 43 forces across England and Wales, and the Home Secretary has commissioned His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to carry out a thematic inspection of forces’ implementation and feedback shortly on progress.

"I thank Professor Hohl and her team for their work and I will be encouraging Chief Constables to reflect on their forces’ findings and take them on board as they implement the National Operating Model."

For more information and support on sexual assault, visit the Rape Crisis website or call 0808 802 9999.

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