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Sisters Uncut
courtesy of Sisters Uncut

Sisters Uncut protest how sexual assault survivors’ private data is used

The activist group delivered 30,000 sheets of paper to the door of London’s Crown Prosecution Service

Hundreds of people gathered outside the Crown Prosecution Service headquarters in London yesterday (November 1) to call for an end to an invasive policy that demands access to sexual assault survivors’ phones and personal information in investigations.

Sisters Uncut, the feminist activist group known for their BAFTAs red carpet demonstration against domestic violence services cuts, led yesterday’s protest. The group dropped 30,000 pieces of paper at the doors of the CPS offices on QC Max Hill’s first day on the job, highlighting how an average phone download equates to 30,000 pages of personal data. 

“Our message to Max Hill is that survivor’s need support and not suspicion – no other claimant of a crime is treated in this way,” a spokesperson for Sisters Uncut told Dazed. The group assert that the policy makes coming forward for survivors much more difficult. 

The demonstration follows recent controversy over 47 rape and sexual offence cases, which were halted because evidence hadn’t been properly shared with the defence teams. In response, the CPS has increased demand on access to the text messages, calls, social media and personal data of survivor’s pursuing cases against their alleged abusers. According to Sisters Uncut, people have been told they risk their cases being dropped if they don’t provide their personal information. The group also highlights recent examples of personal data used to undermine survivors and discredit them as “not traumatised enough” in court.

Ellen (not their real name), a 28-year-old survivor of sexual violence, said: “It took me almost two years to get to court, then my mental health diagnosis was shared with the defence. I was labelled ‘unreliable’, ‘attention seeking’, ‘promiscuous’, ‘unstable’ and ‘prone to delusions’. Despite CCTV and DNA evidence, he was found not guilty.”

“It’s incredible traumatic,” Sisters Uncut say. “Survivors have shared their experience of first having gone through the trauma of rape and sexual assault, to then have their life trawled through at such an extensive level, with that information then handed over to a defendant and lawyers.” 

“Your perpetrator can have access to really private details of your life that can have nothing whatsoever to do with the case. Lots of people aren’t coming forward, or having their cases dropped when they get so far. Those that do keep going face a long and traumatic process.”

The group marched from Parliament Square to the CPS building, with banners that read ‘Surveillance Silences Survivors’ and green and purple flares. “Whatever we text, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!” chants rang out.

Family members of Gaia Pope were also in attendance. Pope, 19, died in unclear circumstances Dorset last year – her family had been concerned about the release of the man who sexually assaulted her from prison prior to her disappearance. The Justice for Gaia campaign asserts that Pope was failed by the justice system when she first reported her abuse. Pope was left with PTSD.

Aysha (not their real name), a 22-year-old survivor who took part in the part in the protest, said: “As a survivor of rape, I already felt like the perpetrator had taken so much from me. For the CPS to also take my counseling notes and phone records and share them with him as evidence felt like a whole new violation. To have them laid out in full in front of a courtroom full of strangers judging you, is beyond explanation.

“A system that puts survivors through that in order to secure a conviction should not be allowed to call itself a justice system.”

Protesters are demanding an end to the policy that sees survivors pressured into handing over their phones when reporting violence. Sisters Uncut demand that the money saved from ending this policy should be used to fund programmes that help women and non-binary people tackle their abuse and hold perpetrators to account, as well as preventative measures such as bystander intervention programmes.

The CPS building was evacuated because of the protest, and no arrests were made. The CPS and QC Max Hill have yet to comment.