London, Rape victims in Britain are to be asked to handover their mobile phones and social media accounts to police or risk seeing their cases collapse, under new guidelines that have come under fire from women’s rights groups and senior police figures.
New standardised forms being rolled out by police in England and Wales ask people alleging a variety of crimes, including rape and sexual assault, for permission to access their messages, emails, photographs and social media accounts, in order to improve the chances of a successful prosecution, CNN reported on Sunday.
The forms tells rape claimants that “mobile phones and other digital devices such as laptop computers, tablets and smart watches can provide important relevant information and help us investigate what happened”.
But the move has been condemned for “treating rape victims like suspects” and women’s rights groups fear it will deter victims from coming forward to report crimes.
A group that provides legal support for victims of sexual assault has also warned the police they will launch a challenge in the courts to halt the strategy.
“Most complainants fully understand why disclosure of communications with the defendant is fair and reasonable, but what is not clear is why their past history (including any past sexual history) should be up for grabs,” Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, said in a statement.
The UK is one of just eight European countries surveyed by Amnesty International that has laws defining sex without consent as rape. The vast majority only recognise rape when physical violence, threat or coercion is involved.
In the UK, an estimated one in seven women has reported experiencing some form of sexual violence, placing it in the joint top five countries for the most amount of sexual assaults recorded, according to Amnesty.
But despite this, the number of rape convictions dropped to 23 per cent in 2017-18, compared with the previous year, according to data from the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service.