Keir Starmer

In sexual assault cases, the idea of the ‘perfect victim’ is pernicious

Among the many reasons that the sexual exploitation cases in places such as Rochdale and Rotherham took so long to be recognised, investigated and eventually prosecuted was that many of the victims felt unable to report to the police what had happened to them or, in a number of cases, first appeared on the police radar because they themselves were committing offences. Some of the victims, mainly very vulnerable and abused girls and women, committed theft, public order offences and sometimes much worse. In some cases, their offending was a cry for help, sometimes it was because they had no support, and sometimes it was because they felt bloody-minded towards authority. The mistake that criminal justice bodies made was not to see through this offending and appreciate that they had a victim standing before them.

The roots of this are deep. Over the years, police, prosecutors and courts had developed crude tests of victim credibility, such as whether a victim promptly reported to the police what had happened to them, was able to give a coherent and chronological account of events and whether they had led a “blameless” life in the sense of not engaging in the abuse of drink, drugs and criminal activity themselves. And guess what? Many victims failed these tests and, as a result, for many years sexual abuse cases were not properly investigated or prosecuted.

The system demanded “model” victims at the expense of real victims.

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