Inside Avon and Somerset Police’s new ‘whole story approach’ to catching rapists 

“Some of the failings have absolutely been the police’s,” says Yaxley, “But that’s not the whole story. It’s always been bigger than that. It’s also about societies understanding of violence and sexual violence against women and girls, including rape myths.”

An issue I hear time and time again is the existence of rape myths. Gleave told me how under Bluestone, judge’s will now give directions on rape myths and stereotypes to the jury. 

Rape myths include things like victim blaming – if a woman drank too much, dressed or acted in a certain way she’s “asking” to be raped. The notion that women falsely accuse men of rape for attention, or for revenge. 

In Katie’s case, the Judge gave detailed directions on this. He dispelled the notion that a woman would fight back or report immediately if she was raped – this is not true. 

Doyle had emphasised the importance of challenging these myths. “Ensuring that juries understand that victims may not respond in ways expected due to trauma is crucial,” she says. “Societal misconceptions and stereotypes remain the biggest hurdles in obtaining convictions in rape cases.” 

Similarly, Yaxley says: “What I’ve seen is not so much the investigators themselves necessarily hold the rape myths, but what they’ve internalised is a sense that they expect juries to hold those myths. So what they’ve ended up doing is writing these case files that spend a lot of time trying to justify why a victim had drunk X amount on the night or explain away why somebody had dressed in a certain kind of way.”

Something Katie had said to me felt particularly poignant: “About nine out of 10 women I’ve spoken to about my case will tell me, ‘Oh yeah, something like that happened to me too. But none of the guys I speak to say, ‘yeah I did that’ or ‘one of my mates did that.’” 

The scale of the problem is huge, the term ‘rape culture’ describes the fact that we live in a society where sexual violence is normalised. 

In a report by Rape Crisis and other women’s charities looking at the progress made two years after the government’s Rape Review, they praised the reforms of Operation Bluestone, but conclude: “The plans to return to 2016 volumes of rape cases lacked ambition, and we raised concerns about a lack of commitment to the prevention of rape.”   

Yaxley tells me that year they’d received a staggering 1,500 reports rape, not to mention a similar number of other serious sexual offences. “And research would have us believe that that’s probably only 10% of the rapes that are actually going on.”

It’s a terrifying statistic. All the key players involved in Operation Bluestone encourage people to come forward and they’re taking earnest steps to improve – but if criminal justice is struggling already – how will it cope to account for the scale of the problem? 

And yes, we can prosecute more rapists – but how can we tackle the problem at its source? 

*Names have been changed to protect identities

You can read the other part of this investigation: the story of on survivor’s journey through the criminal justice system

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