Katie used to believe there was a justice system, but what her son has been through has destroyed her faith.
“To have lived through the last four years and experience what I have experienced, it is damaging. It is unjust. There’s no empathy. And it’s cruel. We have all lost faith in the justice system,” she tells i.
In 2018, her son Ben reported to the police that he had been raped as child. Since then, he has appeared in court twice to give evidence, but the trials have amounted to nothing. Legal reasons mean i cannot report the details of the trials. Pseudonyms have been used for Ben and Katie to protect their identities.
Now 22, Ben faces an 18-month wait for the third trial, unable to move on with his life. At that point, he will have been waiting six years.
He is not in this limbo alone. According to new figures from Rape Crisis England & Wales, which submitted a Freedom of Information request to HM Courts and Tribunal Service, there is a record backlog of 7,859 sexual offence court cases and 1,851 adult rape cases.
Rape Crisis is calling for a priority listing system for rape and serious sexual offence cases so they have a guaranteed fixed trial date. The current system, according to the charity, is catastrophic for those involved.
“The postponing and rescheduling of cases multiple times is devastating the mental well-being of victims and survivors: they are being harmed by the criminal justice system,” says Jayne Butler, chief executive officer at Rape Crisis England & Wales.
The charity also wants specialist sexual offence courts that could offer the right support for victims and survivors, with measures such as allowing them to pre-record evidence.
“I think the most horrific thing in all of it is Ben, as the victim, has had to stand there and talk about the abuse, the rape, the humiliation twice, and he is now expected to do it to a third time,” says Katie. “And yet the man who raped him listens to all that Ben has to say and can go back and tweak his story to suit. It’s just wrong. It’s so, so wrong.”
When Ben opened up to his mother, she was broken: “Knowing that my whole life had been a lie and I hadn’t been able to protect my son from this man that had raped and abused him. We’re slowly rebuilding our relationship now and it’s got a lot better.”
After having the courage to go to the police, Ben and Katie have both at times regretted that decision.
Katie says Ben was in a “terrible state” and feeling suicidal after the first trial. “Ben has said he regrets the day he went to the police – it has been more traumatic and more painful because of the lack of support and help.
“After the second trial, I got to a point where I was like, ‘I just don’t know how you can keep doing this. I really think we need to stop because it’s just too painful. I have no faith left. What is the point?’
“And I think Ben did feel like that probably for a couple of days… [Then he said], ‘No I am not giving up. I am not. I know the truth. I know what this man did to me. And I am not giving up.’
“He is determined and adamant that he will have that time in court again so that people hear the truth. And I will support him all the way with it. Even though there is a big part of me that thinks enough is enough.”
One of the biggest struggles the family faces is that Ben is unable to access counselling to process what happened to him, over fears his therapy notes might be used against him in court.
i has previously revealed how rape victims are having to choose between seeing their attacker jailed or seeking therapy, over concerns their notes could be obtained by the defence to diminish victims’ credibility at trial.
Katie says: “He needs to be able to talk about what happened to him and be able to get professional help. And he can’t, so he’s left to struggle. And he’s left to just get on with it for six years during his prime time in life.”
She is immensely proud of the way her son has conducted himself throughout the legal process. “He can’t not work because he has really bad thoughts and nightmares over everything that’s happened – work is his way of switching off and not thinking.
“He’s a really, really hard worker. He makes me immensely proud… and he will go on to do good things.”
Rape Crisis’ has released a report, Breaking Point: the re-traumatisation of rape and sexual abuse survivors in the Crown Courts backlog.
It found that victims and survivors of rape and other serious sexual offences are waiting an average of 839 days – more than two years – from report of an offence to completion in court.
It is harming their mental health to the point that some are withdrawing from the criminal justice system, the report says.
The report says that the number of delayed rape trials more than doubled from 2019/20 to 2021/22, and the number of trials postponed at least once increased by 133 per cent.
The number of cases with three or more previous trial dates almost doubled; and five times as many trials were rescheduled six or more times.
Ms Butler said: “On top of lengthy police investigations lasting years, and long periods of hearing nothing, victims and survivors are facing their cases being rescheduled in the courts – often multiple times – or find that they have not been informed about key developments, such as changes to trial dates.
“Whether intentional or not, this further marginalises victims and survivors, who already feel deprioritised in an imbalanced system.
“All of this is why we’ve long been calling for the establishment of specialist sexual violence and abuse courts, where court staff and judiciary would have trauma-informed training.
“We are also calling for rape and sexual abuse cases to be given ‘priority listing’, which would see them moved much more quickly through the system and give them a guaranteed court date, reducing the uncertainty that many victims and survivors have told us is causing them extreme stress and anxiety.
“We call for clear and formalised communication agreements between all criminal justice agencies so that survivors are told about key changes to the trial.”
The Government is investing £477m to tackle the Crown Court backlog, including allowing courts to run at full capacity, keeping open extra courtrooms, and recruiting more judges.
The Ministry of Justice said: “The Government is delivering real improvements in the response to rape – in the last year alone the number of rape cases referred by the police to the CPS is up more than 50 per cent, the number of suspects charged has increased by 54 per cent and convictions are up by 65 per cent compared to last year.
“But we know more needs to be done, particularly so that victims have confidence and feel supported, which is why we’ve quadrupled funding for victims’ services, enabled them to pre-record court evidence earlier and away from defendants, and launched a 24/7 helpline with Rape Crisis.”