Anna Sheffer
Updated Apr 29, 2019 @ 4:30 pm

It’s still a terrible reality that the majority of rapists go unpunished—often because victims fear being shamed or doubted should they come forward. Now, according to BBC News, police in England and Wales have introduced a new consent form that asks plaintiffs (aka those reporting the rape) to surrender their phones for review.

The BBC notes that the form technically allows accusers to refuse to let police use their data for evidence, with space to explain their reasons. However, the form also states that if they refuse, “it may not be possible for the investigation or prosecution to continue”—arguing that evidence is required for defendants to have a fair trial.

The Guardian notes that if accusers have communicated with the accused, their messages are considered a “reasonable line of enquiry”—meaning that police have reason to read these messages. However, some advocates for survivors take issue with the new practice. In a statement to The Guardian, Rachel Krys, the co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, pointed out that most rapists in the U.K. are never prosecuted and that “investigations too often focus on women’s character, honesty, and sexual history.”

Vera Baird, the lead on victims for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, told The Telegraph that the new policy could make rape survivors reluctant to report, leading to more perpetrators going unpunished.

The Telegraph reports that the U.K.’s Centre for Women’s Justice is already planning to challenge the policy along with two survivors who claim that it is a violation of privacy.

It’s beyond frustrating to think that a measure designed to help solve rape cases could prevent rape survivors from coming forward. We hope that English and Welsh police listen to advocates’ concerns about this problematic policy.