Nearly 70% of rape survivors dropped out of the justice system in the fourth quarter of last year, according to official government data.
Amid court delays, low police conviction rates and fears over the trauma of reliving the crime in court, 69.2% of those subjected to a serious sexual assault withdrew from investigations.
The figure, which was unearthed by the Labour party, compares with a 55.5% dropout rate in 2016 and 66.9% in 2021.
The number of sexual offences in England and Wales reached a record high of 193,566 in in the year ending March 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Labour has increased pressure on Rishi Sunak over rape conviction rates over recent weeks after a highly critical report on misogyny in the Metropolitan police by Louise Casey.
The shadow justice minister, Ellie Reeves, said: “Rape trials are delayed for years, with a high rate of rapists unpunished, leaving victims powerless and traumatised.”
According to the latest Ministry of Justice figures, the number of outstanding rape cases in crown courts has more than tripled in just four years to a record level. For the first time, the number of adult rape cases left outstanding has passed 2,000.
Labour plans to explore a scheme that offers free legal advice to rape survivors in an attempt to drive down dropout rates.
Trials to support rape victims in Northumbria, under the Labour police and crime commissioner, Kim McGuinness, have reported improved victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system and best practice in police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) responses.
The former victims’ commissioner Dame Vera Baird KC said 94.3% of the professionals, from all sides, involved in the Northumbria pilot scheme favoured its national rollout.
“Independent legal advice moderates police and CPS demands for complainants’ personal information, shortens investigations, supports complainants and cuts withdrawals.
“Tory cuts have left too few courts, too few judges, too few lawyers and too many complainants unable to put their lives on hold to wait for justice,” she said.
Labour is also considering opening specialist rape courts listing rape cases as a priority and fast-tracking them. Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions, has also promised to double the number of staff employed by the government to serve as crown prosecutors.
A Conservative party spokesperson did not address the number of rape survivors who had dropped out of the system but instead claimed that the data showed Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, had failed rape victims in his five years as director of public prosecutions.
“Not only did the handling of rape cases decline under his watch, but Labour in government left us with a court backlog that was thousands higher than the pre-Covid year,” the spokesperson said.
In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support for rape and sexual abuse on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, or 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html