Victims Not Suspects


At a time when more women and men than ever are pursuing justice against sex offenders, the justice system is letting them down.

  • Victims’ consent to access their personal records should be freely given, specific and limited to the information relevant to the crime – not blanket. Victims of crime should never have to sign away their privacy rights in the pursuit of justice.

  • The police’s digital evidence technology should be brought up to date so police can collect targeted pieces of evidence from smart phones, rather than entire digital copies.

  • Police should not be using artificial intelligence to conduct fishing expeditions through victims’ phones.

The following organisations and individuals have joined this call:

Big Brother Watch

Centre for Women’s Justice

End Violence Against Women Coalition

Amnesty International


Privacy International

Rape Crisis England and Wales

Fawcett Society

Southall Black Sisters

The Survivors Trust


Victims Commissioner for England and Wales, Vera Baird QC

Jess Phillips MP

Caroline Lucas MP

Leader of the Women’s Equality Party, Mandu Reid



Our call for change

The issue

Our action

Our report

FAQ + Myths



The issue: Victims under investigation

The information available on people’s smart phones is often deeply personal and sensitive – containing messages, emails, photos, videos, location data, contacts, documents, apps, web browsing data and more. When police take a victim’s phone, they often take a copy of all of this personal information, and can store it for up to 100 years. The phone will not be returned until after the case is closed – months or even years later.  Police frequently also request logins and passwords to victims’ social media accounts and personal ‘cloud’ storage services.

Police also seek highly sensitive records such as the victim’s health records, including mental health records and even counselling notes, as well as information about their time in education and access to public services. This personal information can even be disclosed to the alleged offender for use against a victim in court.

These practices have arisen from the police’s outdated digital evidence technologies, outdated laws and pressure from the Crown Prosecution Service.

Police are worried that this treatment of victims will deter people from coming forward – and so are we. For our justice system to cast suspicion over victims of sexual offences and put their private lives on trial is antiquated and wrong. We believe this needs to change.

A burden on police, delaying trials

The average person’s smart phone contains the equivalent of 30,000 A4 pages of documents. Some phones contain over 200,000 messages and over 100,000 photos.

The police’s current practices are causing them serious problems, as they are swamped by vast amounts of irrelevant information in individual cases. This is leading to huge delays of a year or more in rape investigations.

This is what 30,000 pages of your personal information looks like. (Credit: Sisters Uncut)

The Metropolitan Police and a dozen other forces have also begun using artificial intelligence software to examine victims’ devices and “analyse links (…) to reveal hidden connections (…) and communications patterns.” The experimental use of commercial software for such sensitive investigations lacks fairness and transparency, and is unlikely to inspire the trust of victims.

‘Consent’ or ‘Stafford’ statements

Victims are being pressured into consenting to the access to and disclosure of their personal information by signing away their privacy rights under blanket ‘consent’ statements, also known as ‘Stafford’ statements.

Police present ‘Stafford’ statements to victims as a ‘consent form’ – but people are unlikely to understand the full extent of what they are consenting to and the rights they are losing.

Victims are told that if they don’t consent to their phones being investigated and their personal records collected, their case is unlikely to continue to trial.

This leaves victims in an impossible situation: if they consent, their private lives could be investigated, their data stored for decades, and their personal information used in attempt to discredit them in court. If they do not consent, they could be denied justice and a rapist may walk free.

No one should have to choose between their rights and justice.

We’re calling for urgent reform to demands for rape victims’ mobile phones and personal records. Other victims of crime are not treated this way. People who have suffered sexual violence are victims – not suspects.



We’re calling for urgent reform to demands for rape victims’ mobile phones and personal records. Other victims of crime are not treated this way. People who have suffered sexual violence are victims – not suspects.


We have joined forces with other groups working in this area to change this unacceptable situation for victims. See our call for change above.


We have written to the Information Commissioner calling for an urgent investigation (9 November 2018). 

Our letter (click to read):

In response, the Information Commissioner’s Office announced that they will undertake a high priority investigation into this urgent issue (4 December 2018).

Their letter (click to read):


We have launched a petition calling on the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to stop forcing sexual violence victims to hand over their phones in police investigations – and over 35,000 people have shown their support. Join them.



On 29th April 2019, following the widespread news coverage and significant public outcry, MPs held an urgent debate in Parliament.

WATCH the debate below or READ the transcript:


On Tuesday 23rd July we published a report,Digital Strip Searches: The police’s data investigations of victims‘, on the demands for victims of sexual offences’ mobile phones and the need for urgent reform.



One of the main problems in this area are the pervasive and harmful myths and misinformation around rape trials and victims of sexual offences.

Read some of the most frequently asked questions HERE (and below):


The Independent: Information Commissioner called to investigate ‘antiquated and wrong’ demands for rape victims’ records

The Guardian: Police demands for potential rape victims’ data spark privacy fears

The Times: We shouldn’t be trawling rape victims’ phones, says law chief

The Guardian: Police trawls of rape victims’ private data to be investigated

The Times: Police ‘putting rape victims’ privacy at risk’

BBC – Rape victims among those to be asked to hand phones to police

BBC – Anger at rape victims being asked to hand phones to police

The Observer – Don’t seize rape complainants’ mobiles, say police bosses

The Guardian – Police consult rape victims’ groups over digital evidence consent forms

BBC – ‘Rape cases dropped’ over police phone search demands

The Independent – Rape cases dropped over ‘unlawful’ police demands for access to victims’ phones

The Guardian – Police demands for access to rape victims’ phones ‘unlawful’

The Times – Rape victims face ‘digital strip searches’

The Times – Victims should not be subjected to digital strip searches