Sisters Alex and Cheyenne had to wait more than ten years, from the first complaint, until their father was convicted earlier this year.
Warning: This report contains reports that may be considered disturbing.
Sisters Alex and Cheyenne were abused repeatedly by their father when they were children.
And after the abuse, did they face a lengthy legal battle to sue him? The case was dismissed three times by the Royal Prosecuting Service (CPS), the British public prosecutor.
More than ten years have passed since the first police complaint was filed until he was convicted early this year? The endless waiting caused more suffering for the girls.
“I didn’t really get the chance to be a kid, I had to mature really fast. I spent a lot of time disgusting myself. I felt like it was my fault, as if I had encouraged it,” Alex says.
The father’s assaults began in 2005, and the abuse lasted for six years, as shown in the documentary. Beyond reasonable doubt: Britain’s rape crisis, From the BBC Panorama programme..
Shiyan, the youngest, was 10 when she first reported being raped by her father in 2011. Did she use the “worry box” at school? Where students can write down worrying thoughts on paper. The contents of the box are regularly checked by teachers.
But Alex, who was a year older, did not confirm the story at the time, when the police questioned her. He said it was all just an invention of his sister.
The father also denied the allegations of rape, and in the absence of forensic evidence, the Public Prosecution Office did not press any charges.
But the family lost custody of the girls.
“The case ended up in family court, where the burden of proof was different. Based on the decision that was more likely to happen, the authorities took the children out of parental care,” explains Detective Ryan Finnegan of Derbyshire Police, England.
Years later, in November 2017, Alex finally decided to report his father’s abuse to the police.
“What prompted me to report was that my mom and dad were separated, and I didn’t know if he’d start dating another woman who had kids,” she says.
“I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I found out that this happened again, and I didn’t say anything.”
Then she explained why her sister was deprived in the beginning? In short, because he thinks his father’s behavior is normal:
“I thought this was how I made my father happy. I didn’t want it to stop, I wanted it to continue, because I thought it was a normal father-daughter relationship,” she told police in February 2019.
“I thought it was something that happened when your father loved you, and I thought it was normal. (…) Nobody told me it wasn’t normal.”
But even with Alex’s explanation, the prosecution again decided not to file a lawsuit.
“You have submitted a report of a sexual offense to Derbyshire Police. (…) This letter is to explain why you have reluctantly decided not to file the case. In 2011, you denied being mistreated and said your sister was lying,” this reads part of the letter sent to Alex.
“While I appreciate that you have provided an explanation for this, my fear is that even with the explanation we will not be able to guarantee the jury’s high standard of securing a conviction.”
The police appealed the decision, but the Public Prosecution Office rejected the case again.
“I got really depressed, had suicidal thoughts, started hurting myself, and things like that,” Alex says.
1% of complaints result in a conviction
Activists say this situation is part of a worrying trend. Only 1.3% of rape cases reported to police in England and Wales lead to the suspect being prosecuted.
“Over the past five years, the Public Prosecution Service has made the decision to prosecute fewer rape cases in order to increase the conviction rate,” warns Vera Bird, Victim Support Commissioner for England and Wales.
Is the conviction rate for rape allegations currently 1%? The lowest rate ever recorded in the region.
“What seems to be happening now is that prosecutors are trying to guess whether the jury will like the case. Things like: Was she drinking, was she flirting? How long did you report the event? Any superstition of this sort means a conviction is less likely” .
“In other words, juries don’t have a chance to decide for themselves, and we’re now trying about a third of the people we’ve tried before,” says Byrd.
A spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Office, in turn, said that there have been no changes in the way the body decides which cases to go to trial.
“An independent judicial review has found that there has been no change in the way the Public Prosecution Office handles rape. No matter how challenging a case may be, the more our legal judgment is satisfied, we always seek prosecution.”
“We are determined to increase the number of rape cases that go to court. Few victims see justice being served and we are working hard to change that,” he added.
While not commenting on individual cases, CPS’s Charlotte Colton Scott admitted that the body doesn’t always get them right:
“I think if any organization sat down and said, ‘We never did anything wrong,’ it would be ridiculous. That’s why we have an appeals process in place.”
The victim’s Right to Review (VRR) program, which you’re referring to, is designed to allow past decisions to be checked and overturned.
And was it exactly through this system that Alex and Sheen decided to make one last attempt? He filed an appeal against the CPS decision.
This time, the complaint against the father was finally accepted.
But it will take two years before the case finally reaches court. The trial was initially scheduled for March 2021, and the trial only took place in January 2022, due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is the delay profound impact on the sisters? Both are experiencing suicidal thoughts, and are having a hard time keeping their job and moving on with their lives.
They have already decided that if the hearing is postponed again, they will not proceed. But it finally happened.
“I am part of the 1%”
Her father’s lawyer questioned Alex for more than two hours during the seven-day trial.
“It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t want him to think that I was afraid or that I still had any power over me. Like, I’m not that little girl still in that situation. I just wanted everyone to see it.”
After deliberating for an hour and a half, the jury unanimously found the girls’ father guilty? He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
“did not expect that.
“I’m part of the 1%,” Alex said.
For Chyann, the epilogue was accompanied by some relief.
“Obviously I’m still struggling,” she says, “but it’s manageable now because there’s no longer a court case. I’ll never get over it. But I can move on now. Sure.”
The two sisters now face the challenge of healing open wounds in their relationship, shaken after Alex rejected his sister to the police when she was a child.
“The main thing we have in common is that it happened,” Alex says. “We’ve spent years and years fighting for it.”
“I feel bad about it, I feel guilty about it, but I need to move on.”
This report is based on the BBC Panorama documentary Beyond Reasonable Doubt: The Rape Crisis in Britain. The full documentary is available here (In English).
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