Why are rape victims being denied therapy in the UK?

Morgan Barbour

Morgan Barbour

I first visited the United Kingdom in 2013. I was 20 years old with a sparsely stamped passport, intending to spend the summer in London studying acting.

I arrived five months after Frances Andrade, a 48-year-old professional violinist, committed suicide after being accused of lying on the stand during what would become an infamous rape case against conductor Michael C Brewer.

Andrade’s death led to a national conversation about how rape victims are treated by the criminal justice system and launched a brief dialogue about why police had advised against Andrade seeking therapy until after her trial was complete.

Brewer was eventually handed a six-year sentence and stripped of his OBE. Andrade was laid to rest.

The media reported on Andrade’s death as if she had been one of the unlucky ones lost through the cracks of the justice system. In May 2019, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, acting Shadow Attorney General for England and Wales, wrote an article for Vice addressing the legal hurdles a victim must navigate in order to receive aid in the UK. Once again, national dialogue was started. Once again, the outrage was fierce but fleeting. Public outcry alone is not efficacious.

Access to therapy by qualified professionals is stretched thin in the UK. It is estimated that the average wait time to access a therapist through a rape crisis centre in the UK is nine months, with a 20 percent increase in demand since 2018, despite funding remaining the same since 2013. Once therapy is secured, the services that can be offered to victims of rape who are going through court cases are limited.

In 2001, the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) updated its guidelines under the Provision of Therapy for Vulnerable or Intimidated Adult Witnesses Prior to a Criminal Trial. These are as follows: “Any detailed recounting or re-enactment of the offending behaviour may be perceived as coaching and the criminal case is almost certain to fail as a consequence of this type of therapeutic work.”

These guidelines, according to rape crisis centres throughout the UK, must be adhered to. It is increasingly common for rape victims to be told that having therapy will adversely affect the chances of their rapists being successfully prosecuted.

Even when the police do not advise victims of rape against therapy, reporting a rape to police is an effective gag order on the victim.

Enter “Pre-Trial Therapy” (PTT), a limited therapy that forbids the victim to speak of anything she may have mentioned in her victim statement.

A victim of assault can talk about how they feel but cannot talk about the root cause of why, for fear that any mention of the actual assault may hamper the success of the case.

In rare instances the prosecution can even subpoena the notes from the victim’s counselling, even if they adhere to these guidelines.

This has become a law that pigeonholes a victim and their therapist, encouraging a formal dance around ‘The Crime That Must Not Be Named’ in counselling sessions that should be free of restriction or judgement.

In January 2019, a petition advocating for a change in therapy laws in the UK was closed after failing to reach 10,000 signatures, the required minimum to receive a government response.

In September 2019, a second petition was closed after receiving 13,380 signatures calling for a review of the CPS Guidelines, spearheaded by a rape victim whose case had been dropped by the CPS.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) responded to the petition stating: “With the assistance of the police, government departments and voluntary sector providers, the CPS is currently updating its guidance on this subject. A consultation has taken place and the guidance is due to be published later this year after the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) reports.”

As it stands, limited PTT is still all that can be offered to victims of rape. While the AGO insists that counselling notes will only be requested if it is believed there is information pertinent to the case, victims – fearing privacy violations – are still being faced with the dilemma of dropping their investigations rather than consenting to their counselling notes or personal digital data being turned over to the police.

Meanwhile, the UK is in the throes of a rape epidemic. In 2019 it was reported that half of all reported cases are dropped, even after the suspect has been positively identified. Between 2014 and 2018 the UK saw a 173 percent increase in reported rapes, but there was a 19 percent decline in police referring cases on and a 44 precent drop in cases being prosecuted by CPS.

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