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New legal guidance from CPS tackles rape myths and stereotypes

Draft launched for public consultation

The growing exchange of naked selfies, misconceptions about the use of 'hook up' dating sites and discussion of why sexual assault victims may remain in contact with their attacker all form part of new draft guidance for prosecutors on rape myths and stereotypes published by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The material is part of a wide-ranging revision of legal guidance for prosecutors on rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) which is being launched for public consultation (ending on 18 January 2021). It is the first full 'refresh' since 2012 and includes updated guidance on dealing with digital material, as well as reasonable lines of enquiry. The suggested changes aim to reflect the changing world, especially the growth of the digital technology and its impact on sexual behaviours and encounters.

Siobhan Blake, CPS rape lead said:

"There have been massive changes to the way people live their lives in the last ten years and this has undoubtedly transformed the way people interact, date and communicate with sexual partners. Rape remains one of the most complex criminal offences and that is why this updated legal guidance addresses 39 common myths and stereotypes.

"As dramatic technological advances have changed the way people meet and connect, it's vital those in the criminal justice system understand the wider, social, context of these changes. For example, many teenagers believe that sending explicit photos or videos is a part of everyday life. Our prosecutors must understand this and challenge any implication that sexual images or messages equate to consent in cases of rape of serious sexual violence."

The CPS has worked hand in hand with victim support groups to update the myths and stereotypes guidance. A project focused on reasons for lower conviction rates in cases involving the 18-24 age group and sought expert views on what might be driving the trend. This work found that while established myths and stereotypes – such as belief that wearing a short skirt is proof of implied consent – are still common, changing use of technology has led to the emergence of new myths, linked for example to sharing of explicit selfies, use of dating apps, and casual sex.

The refreshed guidance aims to support CPS lawyers as they build the strongest possible cases to put before the court. Key changes include updates on:

Changes have also been made to guidance when considering cases involving same sex sexual violence, and when there are victim vulnerabilities, with a focus on psychological and mental health issues.

For the draft guidance, click here.