First we were raped…then we were betrayed by the system
First we were raped…then we were betrayed by the system: As new reports claim as few as one in 62 rape cases results in a charge, three victims bravely waive their anonymity to expose their own soul-destroying stories
- Just one in 62 rape cases recorded by police in England and Wales led to charges
- Aimee Bromfield, who lives in Essex, was raped by a man who walked her home
- The 24-year-old was mortified when her case was dropped eight months later
- Hayley Crocker and Emma Taylor were both attacked after going on a date
- CPS has updated guidelines for prosecutors to improve poor conviction rates
Perhaps there is no better illustration of the confusion and fear that faced Aimee Bromfield after she’d just reported her rapist to police, than the burning shame she felt.
There she was, lying on a bed in a police forensics department, with nothing but a paper cloth covering her bottom half, as two specially-trained female officers took photos of her bruised and blood-spattered thighs.
Yet it was not fury or a clamouring for revenge on the man that had put her in this situation that consumed her, but guilt. She even felt compelled to apologise. ‘I said how sorry I was that they had to do this,’ says Aimee, 24. ‘I was mortified.’
Less than 24 hours earlier, she had reported being raped by a man who’d walked her home after a night out. Her Essex flat had already been cordoned off and her belongings seized for evidence. Later that week she would relive every minute of her ordeal for a police video interview. When the man she accused was arrested, she became the subject of vicious local gossip, called an attention seeker and became so traumatised she developed post traumatic stress disorder.
Victims of rape reveal the injustice and trauma they’ve experienced, including Aimee Bromfield, 24, (pictured) from Essex, who was raped by a man who offered to walk her home after a night out
And for what? In May 2018, eight months after Aimee reported the rape, a police officer told her that her case was being dropped.
She can’t prove it, but Aimee feels the fact that she’d been drinking that night and willingly walked home with her assailant are what helped convince prosecutors Aimee’s attacker would never face conviction.
‘I felt I was being accused of lying — but why would I have put myself through all this if it weren’t true?’ asks Aimee.
‘I’m broken now. The way I feel about my body is ruined and I feel betrayed by the justice system. Women are told to report rapes, but we’re not taken seriously.’
It was reported this week that just one in 62 rape cases recorded by police in England and Wales last year led to charges. The news comes ahead of the release of a government review into the low prosecution rates, which is set to be published next month.
Women’s rights campaigners claim covert changes to rape charging policy have led to a ‘complete collapse in prosecutions’. They say falsehoods surrounding rape allegations, including the assumption sex is consensual if a victim has been drinking, or gone back to someone’s house after a night out, make the CPS less likely to bring an assailant to court. But at the Court of Appeal in March, after a judicial review into CPS rape charging policy, their claims were rejected.
Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), which won the right to the landmark hearing, described the decision as ‘another establishment betrayal of victims of violence against women and girls.’ She added that ‘in the midst of a national conversation’ about violence against women ‘thousands of rape victims continue to be let down by a broken criminal justice system’.
EVAW had argued that the CPS had become more ‘risk averse’ when deciding whether to prosecute, claiming prosecutors have been encouraged to weed out ‘weaker’ cases to improve their conviction rate, partly because they are over-stretched but also because the collapse of several high-profile rape cases has made the CPS nervous.
Hayley Crocker, 26, (pictured) from Hatfield, Herts, was attacked by a man she met on a dating app after being invited to his house
They said that is why many credible cases haven’t made it to court. ‘All of those myths and stereotypes about how a classic victim will behave —such as whether a complainant is drunk, the suspect is known to her or if she has a history of sleeping with different people — can tend to dissuade jurors from convicting,’ says Kate Ellis, a solicitor at the Centre for Women’s Justice, representing EVAW. Although EVAW lost its appeal, there seems no doubt the justice system for rape victims is broken. Judge Blackett, Judge Advocate General of the Armed Forces until last year, said he believed most female complainants in rape trials he had sat in on, but ‘under the law that is not enough’.
In March, Boris Johnson chaired a meeting of the Government’s Crime and Justice Taskforce to discuss why rape prosecutions are so low, even after the CPS published updated guidelines for rape prosecutors last November in a bid to improve poor conviction rates. They included a list of 39 myths and stereotypes surrounding rape that prosecutors should be prepared to challenge.
A woman exchanging naked pictures is not the same as consent, for example, nor is meeting a man through a dating app.
A survey by Victim’s Commissioner Dame Vera Baird revealed only one in seven rape victims believe they will get justice by going to the police, with nine in ten fearful they wouldn’t be believed. These figures, Dame Vera said, ‘reveal the extent of the crisis within our justice system’.
Prosecutions have been hindered further by the introduction of so-called Digital Processing Notices, which were rolled out across police forces in England and Wales in 2019.
Emma Taylor, now 46, (pictured) was raped by a man she met for a first date at a barbecue in 2000 and is still haunted by it
These are used to notify victims of crime, most commonly sexual offences, that police will download large amounts of data from their phones. When victims refuse, it normally results in the case being dropped by the prosecution which has, in turn, led to the disturbing possibility that there remain an awful lot of rapists free on Britain’s streets. Aimee, who like most of the women I spoke to for this investigation, has bravely waived her right to anonymity — met her rapist outside a nightclub early one Sunday morning in October 2017, having left her friends inside and lost her taxi fare home.
‘He said he lived nearby and would walk me halfway home. He seemed friendly and when he asked if anyone was at home, I told him it was just me,’ she recalls.
After they parted, Aimee let herself into her block of flats in Colchester — the security door of which wasn’t working — before hearing a knock on her front door. ‘It was him. He said I had his cigarette lighter. I went to get it before it dawned on me that I never took the lighter.’
By this time, he had let himself in. Alarmed, Aimee went to her bedroom to get her phone to call for help. But he followed, pulled her to the bed, and forced himself on her. ‘I said, “No, I don’t want this.” I tried to scream but nothing came out. He had one arm holding my hip, the other grabbing my thigh so hard I got bruises. I felt paralysed — physically and verbally.’ After he left, Aimee called police, who were on the scene in minutes. In hospital, Aimee was tested for pregnancy, STIs and the alcohol level in her blood.
That evening, Aimee had drunk six double vodkas and admits she was tipsy. But, as she says, ‘whether you’re drunk shouldn’t matter’.
Police located pictures from CCTV footage of the man Aimee said attacked her, and these were published in the local newspaper. Two days later he was arrested, but Aimee’s relief quickly turned to anger after he was released on bail, claiming the sex was consensual.
Olivia Taylor*, in her forties, from Yorkshire, was violently punched by her husband who would also force himself on her without her consent (file image)
Within days her character was being assassinated. ‘Under the local online newspaper report someone commented that I was lying for attention,’ says Aimee.
In May 2018 an apologetic officer told her the case was being dropped because of ‘insufficient evidence’. Aimee adds: ‘She said the CPS had said it wouldn’t hold up in court.’
Essex Police said there is ‘a very high threshold for the amount and strength of evidence we must have’ and ‘a decision was made that we did not have enough evidence to submit the case to the CPS.’
Aimee isn’t the only alleged victim I spoke to who feels let down by the system. After reporting her ex-husband for rape in 2011, Olivia Taylor*, in her forties, was told by police that the CPS had decided not to take her case further.
She later found out at a CICA (Criminal Injuries Compensation Awards) tribunal, that the decision was actually made by police.
To the outside world, her husband was charming. Behind closed doors he was violent, punching Olivia, a graduate and former nurse from Yorkshire, if she so forgot to make the beds or buy milk.
Always sexually aggressive, the first time he forced himself on Olivia without her consent was after she asked him not to kick up a fuss about the noise their neighbours were making. ‘He pulled off my underwear, put it in my mouth and forced himself onto me on the living room carpet. I froze. Afterwards he simply stood up and walked off,’ says Olivia.
Olivia’s ex was accused of rape before and after they were married, however the CPS didn’t believe there was enough evidence (file image)
Shocked, she asked if they could discuss what happened. ‘He said, “What? We had sex” like it was normal. It sounds so stupid now, but I was naïve. After that it happened at least once a week.’ As years passed, Olivia admitted to herself she was being raped. ‘Telling him to stop didn’t make any difference. He never apologised — he thought it was his right.’
It took until 2010 for Olivia to summon the courage to leave him. In spring 2011, supported by her new partner, she reported her ex to her local police station. She was quizzed for three hours.
It emerged other women had accused her ex of rape before and after he was married to Olivia, and he was arrested. A year later, however, the police called Olivia to say one of the other complainants no longer wanted to be involved, and the CPS didn’t believe there was enough evidence to proceed.
Diagnosed with PTSD and unable to work, in 2014 she launched a claim for compensation through CICA. It took until October 2017 for her case to be heard, where magistrates accepted Olivia had been raped and that the assaults had ruined her health. ‘Police admitted they’d never handed my case to the CPS because they hadn’t been “100 per cent sure” I was telling the truth,’ says Olivia.
‘I don’t see why anyone would put themselves through this unless they were actually raped.’
Detective Chief Inspector Benn Kemp said: ‘West Yorkshire Police with the assistance of other forces undertook an investigation into a number of offences disclosed by the victim. These reports were thoroughly investigated but couldn’t be progressed to prosecution due to evidential difficulties.’
Hayley (pictured) said her rapist slapped her and spat in her face, while he forced himself on her and left her too scared to fight
A spokesman for the CPS pointed out there had been a reverse in the fall in prosecutions by March 2019 but added: ‘More needs to be done to encourage victims to come forward with confidence and to ensure they are supported through the justice process so the gap between reports of rape and cases that reach the courts can be closed.’
Knowing the odds they face, and how they might be viewed by a jury, makes many women — like Hayley Crocker, who was attacked by a man she met on a dating app— give up before they’ve started. ‘I knew it was pointless,’ says Hayley, 26, from Hatfield, Herts.
She met her date in May 2016. After drinks in a pub he invited her to his house. ‘He said his parents would be there and he had pizza. We’d been getting on well. I didn’t see any harm,’ says Hayley, a mental health charity worker. After being introduced to his family, they went to his room with their pizza to watch a film.
Then his attitude changed. ‘I said no several times but he slapped me and spat in my face, choked me and held my nose so I couldn’t breathe while he forced himself on me. I was too scared to scream or fight. I did as he told.’
Afterwards, he tried to pretend nothing untoward had happened. ‘I was shaking all over as I put my clothes on. He asked if I wanted a cuddle. I said I was going home.’
The next day, the man sent text messages to say he’d had a wonderful time. ‘I’ve since realised it was tactical — he was insinuating we’d had fun in case I complained. I ignored them. I just wanted him out of my life,’ says Hayley, who was tested at a sexual health clinic for infections. ‘But then my conscience kicked in. What if he did this to someone else?’
So she called police and — on the pretence of ‘asking for a friend’ — recounted what had happened. ‘They said my friend could come to the station but these cases were based on evidence, she had none and it would be her word against his. When is there ever going to be a witness to rape? There isn’t.’
Emma Taylor said she woke to find her rapist on top of her, after letting him sleep in her spare room because he was too drunk to drive home. Pictured: Emma in her 20s
It was a similar case for Emma Taylor. Twenty years have passed since she was raped on a first date, but she is still haunted by it: the injustice, and the trauma of the night. Now 46 and married with two children, she recalls meeting the man at a barbecue in 2000.
By 1.30am he was too drunk to drive home. ‘I told him I didn’t want to sleep with him, but that he could stay in my spare room.’
She awoke to find him on top of her. ‘I remember crying and saying no over and over,’ says Emma, still crying at the memory.
‘But he just carried on. I always thought I’d fight if a man did that to me, but instead I froze. I wanted to get out of it alive.’
After he left the next morning —as if nothing had happened —Emma knew he’d never face justice. ‘I’d been drinking, I’d kissed him, I had let him come back to my house.
‘I’d seen coverage of rape trials. Everyone would pick me apart. It wouldn’t matter that I said no. There was no point in reporting it. It felt easier to bury it.’
Except she couldn’t. ‘I found it hard to trust anyone. When I had my daughter in 2009 the internal examinations triggered so much panic the midwife had to stop.’
The legacy lingers, even now. ‘If my husband touches me when I’m not expecting it, I’ll be taken back,’ says Emma.
‘Rape is seen by too many people as an inconsequential crime. But it stays with you for ever.’
*Name changed to protect victim’s identity
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