Rape victims could face the threat of arrest if they walk away from the ordeal of a court trial under a new approach by prosecutors, campaigners have warned.
There are now fears that many victims will “falsely retract” their statements to police, with Rape Crisis Scotland warning the move will cause “further harm to survivors”.
The Crown Office in Scotland insists that new guidance for dealing with “reluctant complainers” ensures all the circumstances will be examined before any decision is made on potential arrest warrants.
The justice system in Scotland has come under fire over the low rate of rape convictions and low number of cases coming to court.
Rape Crisis Scotland was made aware of the new guidance in a latter from the Crown Office last week. But Scotland co-ordinator Sandy Brindley has now urged a rethink.
“We consider the approach outlined in your aforementioned letter that will compel rape complainers to give evidence or risk a warrant being issued for her arrest to be a step backwards, and one that could have significant, lasting negative implications,” she says in an open letter. “It seems to us perverse that someone who has been through an extremely traumatic experience and demonstrates the courage and resilience to report this experience to the police is then faced with the prospect of having a warrant issued for her arrest because she has been treated so badly by the very system that is supposed to protect her.”
The organisation is also voicing concerns that the approach could violate the human rights of rape victims. “This policy will mean that more rape complainers will falsely retract their statements,” Ms Brindley added. “We are seriously concerned that this change to policy will lead more people to say that they made up their report.”
A Crown Office spokesman said prosecutors had a responsibility to hold perpetrators to account.
He added: “In sexual offence cases, the attitude of the complainer will always be a very significant factor in making decisions on prosecution and may often justify not proceeding further with the case.
“However, circumstances vary greatly and it would not be appropriate to lay down a rule that proceedings can never be taken if the complainer is reluctant. The new guidance will make sure that if the complainer is reluctant, the reasons for this will be fully explored and all reasonable steps taken to re-engage the complainer before a decision is taken about the case.”