Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner said: “The murder of Sarah Everard has focused the attention of both the public and the authorities on violence towards women and girls in our society and the failings in the criminal justice system in bringing perpetrators to justice.
“We must not let this moment slip by or we will have failed them again.
“There are many different issues and therefore there will have to be many solutions.
“In the next few days I intend to set out what I believe we need to do in South Yorkshire to address the issues comprehensively, though taking that forward will have to wait until after the PCC and local council elections in early May.
“As far as rape is concerned, I am keenly aware that many factors contribute towards so few charges being brought, trials held or convictions secured. Each factor is serious enough but in combination they create a perfect storm.
“Most of these factors preceded the pandemic, but the backlogs created by the pressures on courts for social distancing have exacerbated them.
“I have met regularly with the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the region to urge the need for more lawyers who can specialise in rape trials. The CPS has done this, but they are an overstretched and underfunded service.
“We know that any delay in bringing cases to trial is likely to see victims lose confidence and be unwilling to proceed. Memories of the assault – which are painful enough to have to recall – begin to be lost and victims start to feel that they are not believed if they have to repeat their evidence over lengthy periods of time to changing personnel.
“Delays in the system have grown worse with the disruption of the courts as a result of the pandemic.
“The Local Criminal Justice Board, which I chair and which brings together the police, the courts, the CPS, probation, my office and others, met more frequently during the lockdowns to give what assistance its members could to get the courts up and running.
“I have sought to help rape victims by setting up a carefully designed Sexual Assault Referral Centre to which victims can go or be taken. In the past, they would have gone to a police station to have statements taken and a busy public hospital for forensic examinations, before finally appearing in court. Each of these places potentially added to the trauma. Now, in South Yorkshire, victims of rape go the one centre where support services are available, examinations can take place and statements made to the police. There is also a video link to the court should the case go to trial and the victim feel unable to appear in court in person.
“The public has become much more aware of the issues around rape convictions in the last few weeks and those of us with any responsibilities in this area must use this moment to take serious decisions to make things better.”