Rape Narratives and Credibility Assessment at the AIT

This study explored the ways in which women’s claims of rape emerge and evolve throughout the asylum process, with a particular focus on the assessment of both the narratives of rape and the credibility of claimants at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT).

Although exact figures are elusive, it is widely accepted that a significant proportion of those women who seek asylum in the UK will claim to have experienced rape in their country of origin. For many, this will form a key part of the narrative as to why they fled, and may prove relevant to a host of asylum-related considerations, including the seriousness of the harm suffered and the prospects for safe return ‘home’. Despite this, the treatment by asylum decision-makers of female claimants’ disclosures of rape has received little attention.

More than 100 individuals involved in processing asylum cases from England, Wales, and Scotland – including judges, border agency personnel, lawyers and interpreters - were interviewed to gauge how claims of sexual violence made by asylum-seeking women were handled.

Tribunal hearings were also observed in which asylum seeking women, many of whom had disclosed an allegation of sexual assault, appealed to immigration judges against UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) initial refusals to grant them leave to remain.

  • Women whose claims for asylum includes allegations that they have been raped need greater assurance their cases are being taken seriously, according to new research funded by the Foundation.
  • Several of the problems that can hamper the fair treatment of women’s rape allegations within the criminal justice system may also be present, and sometimes amplified, when made as part of women’s asylum claims
  • The researchers call upon the UK asylum system to continue to work towards securing a more appropriate environment within which women applicants will not only be able to disclose incidents of rape but also be confident that such claims will receive a fair and full hearing.
  • While examples of good practice were evident, the study found that hasty decision-making timescales and rigid processes may cause some applicants to delay reporting alleged experiences of rape in their country of origin. This may result in the Border Agency officials or immigration judges being less likely to believe them.
  • Despite special UKBA guidelines on the issue, in some cases the environment within which asylum interviews were conducted was often inappropriate with limited opportunity for the women to disclose incidents of rape. The study found a “patchy” awareness of guidelines among UKBA officials and an inconsistent approach towards their application.
  • Some officials involved in the evaluation of asylum applications displayed an inclination to treat women’s rape claims with suspicion. Some staff avoided questioning women on rape altogether and a notable number of professionals interviewed in the study also said that claims of rape made by male applicants may be more likely to be believed than those made by female applicants.
  • Researchers also found evidence of professionals becoming detached and ‘case hardened’.
Project details



Professor Vanessa Munro, University of Nottingham

Dr Sharon Cowan, University of Edinburgh

Ms Helen Baillot, Scottish Refugee Council

Funding programme

Law in Society

Grant amount and duration


July 2009 - March 2012



Helen Baillot, Sharon Cowan and Vanessa Munro. 'Second-hand Emotion? Exploring the Contagion and Impact of Trauma and Distress in the Asylum Law Context', Journal of Law and Society, Volume 40, No.4, November 2013 (PDF)

Helen Baillot, Sharon Cowan and Vanessa Munro. 'Reason to Disbelieve: Evaluating the Rape Claims of Women Seeking Asylum in the UK', IJLC, submitted October 2013 (Word)

Helen Baillot, Sharon Cowan and Vanessa Munro. Research Briefing: Rape narratives and credibility assessment (of female claimants) at the AIT. April 2012.  Download briefing paper (PDF)

“Just a story?”: rape narratives and credibility assessments of women seeking asylum - Women's Asylum News, Asylum Aid newsletter, June 2012. Download article (PDF)

Helen Baillot, Sharon Cowan and Vanessa Munro (2012) "Hearing the right Gaps": Enabling and responding to disclosures of sexual violence within the UK asylum process. Social and Legal Studies (Link to journal - subscription required