University of Bath

Court responses to rape and sexual assault in the UK

An IPR Policy Brief examining whether measures introduced to protect victims of sexual assault are having their intended effect.

Criminal justice responses to rape and sexual assault in the UK have long been criticised for treating victims with suspicion and subjecting them to aggressive questioning. Research has shown that stereotypes about rape, for example, that those who delay reporting an incident to the police are more likely to be lying, have affected court responses. Victims have stated feeling as if they were the one on trial, because of the focus placed on evaluating their character and actions rather than the defendant’s. In response to these criticisms, legal professionals now receive training to counter stereotypes, new guidelines highlight the importance of considering victims’ vulnerability during trial and ‘special measures’ have been introduced in an attempt to make giving evidence less traumatic.

Nevertheless, research conducted by Dr Olivia Smith has found that these measures are not having their intended effect. This brief outlines the research findings and makes recommendations for change.