Calls Grow For Digital Strip Search In Rape Cases To Be Scrapped

illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
Less than a week after it was introduced, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is being urged to withdraw "truly awful" new forms which effectively force women who report rape or sexual assault to hand their phones to police.
The digital consent forms warn victims of crime – including rape survivors – that their case may be dropped if they don't give police access to their text messages, photos, call data, social media account and emails.
The forms were introduced in all 43 police forces in England and Wales on Monday, April 29th, the BBC reports.
The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), which is tasked with holding the police to account, said today (May 5th) that they fear the forms are already being used to discredit rape survivors.
"Rape and sex offence complainants are telling us that, unless they grant unfettered access to their mobile devices, they are told that their case will not be proceeded with,” the APCC’s victims lead, Dame Vera Baird, told The Observer.
"There are also a large number of examples where material unconnected to the facts of the case and sometimes on entirely different topics has been handed by the CPS to the defence and used at court to try to discredit the complainant. These examples are all from sexual assault and rape cases."
The APCC's Julia Mulligan, who is a rape survivor, added: "As someone with lived experience, I can tell you that it is hard enough having to live through a sexual attack or rape without having to expose oneself to this ‘in return’ for an investigation. And to be told you have no chance of justice without doing so is truly awful."
Rape charities, survivors and organisations campaigning on behalf of survivors have already expressed grave concerns that the forms perpetuate a victim blaming narrative and could re-traumatise victims and discourage others from coming forward.
Winnie M Li, an author, activist and researcher from London, who was sexually assaulted while hiking on her own during a trip to Belfast in 2008, told Refinery29 earlier this week that she believes the new policy is "disrespectful and damaging" to survivors.
"Requiring a rape victim to give up [their] phone is incredibly invasive and disruptive. It really does not take into consideration what a victim is going through at the time," she said.
"After my trauma, I was very emotionally fragile, isolated, and needed the support of friends and family. To take away a victim's means of communication and her link to the outside world is disrespectful and damaging."
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.
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