Only 1/16 rapes reported end in conviction


2:52 pm - August 5th 2009

by Chris Barnyard    


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Fewer than one in 16 rapes reported to the police results in a conviction in court, research by the Liberal Democrats has revealed.

In a response to a Parliamentary question by Lynne Featherstone Chris Huhne found that conviction rate has fallen from less than one in 13 in 1998.

The Liberal Democrats today called for up to 15 more Rape Crisis Centres to be opened across the country, and for more money to be invested in centres that provide medical care and counselling to the victims of sexual assaults.

Their other proposals to prevent violence against women, unveiled today, include:

  • Investing more in Sexual Assault Referral Centres to provide forensic medical examinations and counselling.
  • Rolling out classes about rights and fair treatment in relationships in schools with organisations like Relate
  • Providing better systems in schools and social services for children and adults to report abuse
  • Ensuring that women living in refuges can continue to work

Liberal Democrat women’s spokesperson Lynne Featherstone said:

The low conviction rates across the country in rape cases are nothing short of a national disgrace. We the worst rape conviction record in Europe.

Victims of sexual violence need the help and support offered by Rape Crisis Centres to help them come to terms with their ordeal and to increase the chances of successfully prosecuting their attackers.

The system for dealing with rape is rotten at every level. It is little wonder that women have so little confidence that their attacker will ever be punished.

The proposals form part of the Liberal Democrat Policy Paper ‘Real Women’.

The paper also recommends that airbrushing in children’s adverts should be banned.

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Chris is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is an aspiring journalist and reports stories for LC.
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Reader comments


To what extent does this reflect the difficulties of establishing a convincing burden of proof in rape cases? Are there figures on how many rape cases fail to go to court due to lack of evidence?

Let’s get a few things out of the way first.

1) Rape is a horrible crime and we should do whatever is possible to prevent it, catch the criminals and help the victims.

2) It is likely that a considerable majority of offences go unreported.

3) In the vast majority of rapes that are reported, the alleged offender is not prosecuted.

4) The vast majority of rapists are never punished for their crime.

But the use of the headline to say that the rate of conviction of reported rates has fallen from 1 in 13 to only 1 in 16 is entirely misleading. In Hampshire, for example, the total number of reported rapes went up from 171 in 1998 to 549 in 2008. It can be fairly assumed that this increase has less to do with an increase in the incidence of the crime and that it reflects an increase in the number of offences being reported. But the indication from these statistics is that the number of Hampshire rapists convicted and punished will have actually risen over the period from around 13 to around 34.

That sounds like a success story to me.

The problem remains that most incidences of rape are of “date rape” (stranger rapes are relatively rare) and proving what happened in a bedroom or on a sofa when only two people were there and they give differing accounts is almost impossible. So to set targets for conviction rates is unhelpful (unless we are proposing to look for witches in Salem).

Undoubtedly, most reports of rape are well founded and I am not happy with the conclusion that most pepetrators will get away with their crime.

But there is no easy solution and Harman’s stance will not help.

In a response to a Parliamentary question by Lynne Featherstone found that conviction rate has fallen from less than one in 13 in 1998.

In fact it was Chris Huhne, and the conviction rate (convictions / prosecutions) is about a third.

4. Shatterface

‘ Investing more in Sexual Assault Referral Centres to provide forensic medical examinations and counselling.
‘ Rolling out classes about rights and fair treatment in relationships in schools with organisations like Relate
‘ Providing better systems in schools and social services for children and adults to report abuse
‘ Ensuring that women living in refuges can continue to work’

All welcome and necessary proposals but only the bit about forensic medical exams will have ANY impact on conviction rates.

Thanks for that ukliberty – amended.

pagar: In Hampshire, for example, the total number of reported rapes went up from 171 in 1998 to 549 in 2008.

I think the figure is an aggregate for all of Britain.

The ‘classes about rights’ and ‘better reporting systems’ will have an impact on total convictions, which is the number that’s actually important.

But agreed completely that looking at *changes in the conviction rate* is meaningless in a context where reporting rates have trebled (but are still way below actual rapes).

It’d be better if reporting rates were to double over the next 10 years and the proportion of convictions to fall 10%, rather than if reporting rates were to stay constant and the proportion of convictions to rise another 50%.

Please amend the conviction rate too, as per the third table in the parliamentary answer.

When I last looked at this the biggest factor in the low proportion of cases prosecuted out of cases reported was attrition – alleged victims dropping out or being dropped out.

“For those victims who do come forward, between a half and two-thirds of cases will not proceed beyond the investigation stage; victims declining to complete the initial process or withdrawing at a later stage account for a significant number of these cases. Where cases are referred to prosecutors for a charging decision, a proportion will not proceed.” – Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate joint report, Without Consent (1.44Mb PDF 179 pages)

This issue is unlikely to be helped by Harman or improperly reported statistics.

It’d be better if reporting rates were to double over the next 10 years and the proportion of convictions to fall 10%

Would it?

“It’d be better if reporting rates were to double over the next 10 years and the proportion of convictions to fall 10%

Would it?”

Presumably, because then more rapists would be going to prison.

(twice as many reporting rapes = 100% more rapes reported. If only a 10% decrease in conviction, then logically more rapists go to prison, given the absolute overall increase in reports).

@8 assuming the rising rape reporting rates didn’t represent a rise in real rape numbers, which they haven’t generally done in the UK over the last 30 years, then yes, because the number of rapists who were convicted instead of getting away with it would have almost doubled. Or is there something you’re getting at that I’m missing?

11. Shatterface

What john b and I are getting at (and I hope I’m not misrepresenting him) is that it’s not the ratio reports: convictions that matters so much as actual rapes: convictions.

If the proposals above are put into practice it might well mean that the number of REPORTED rapes will go up as the proposals will offer support and incouragement for victims to come forward; in some cases this will involve reports which will be even LESS able to prove.

That means that the ratio reported rapes: convictions might look worse but there will still be more ACTUAL convictions and it it THAT ratio which really matters.

I don’t think there’s anything in the proposals anyone could object to unless I’m missing something.

The call for more rape crisis centres = very good.

Rape convictions being low doesn’t mean

a) The law doesn’t care about rape
b) Juries don’t care about rape
c) If we raise awareness or change opinion, any more convictions would be made

It just means that rape is a crime you can rarely prove was committed by a specific person beyond a reasonable doubt.
Innocent until proven guilty should stay the rule.

In the meantime, we need to promote awareness of how appallingly widespread sexual attack is, and do all we can to get crisis centres funded.

The scariest number I took from The Times report on this was:

“Britain came bottom of 33 countries in the study, which is based on 1,100 case files and takes account of varying official definitions of rape, as well as the different legal processes. It found that the proportion of false allegations was “extremely low” — ranging from 2 per cent to 9 per cent, with conviction rates varying in different parts of the country. ”

2-9%?

Somehow, somewhere, you’ve got to have a system which decides between those false allegations and those who actually did committ the crime. I don’t claim that we’ve got the right balance at all, but balance I do insist we have to have.

The actual conviction rate is squarely in the middle of that range of false allegations.

14. Mike Killingworth

First, can I protest the photo on the link to this piece from the front page? A half-dresed woman hugging a cushion is still a half-dressed woman…

I’ve said it before and no doubt I will have to say it again, but it’s still true, so here goes…

Either you have a law that catches rapists – that is to say, one that directs juries to believe the woman’s account of “what happened in a bedroom or on a sofa when only two people were there” (to use Pagar’s helpful words) unless there is overwhelming reason not to

or you have a law like the present one, whose overriding objective is to protect men who have consensual casual – or even not-so-casual – sex from blackmail.

I would support a law that says that a woman who is too drunk (or drugged-up) to drive a car is too drunk to consent to sex but last time I did that female Conspirators decided that their right to consensual sex when pissed was more important than protecting their sisters from being raped.

So I will make another suggestion. Where the CPS thinks the evidence isn’t enough to secure a conviction, the name and address of the alleged perpetrator be placed on a public register as “accused of rape but not prosecuted” for a period of years (not sure how many). He should of course have the right to log his side of the story on the register too and people who wish to deal with him in future (whether as sexual partners, employers or whatever) can make up their own minds.

First, can I protest the photo on the link to this piece from the front page? A half-dresed woman hugging a cushion is still a half-dressed woman…

w00t, it’s the Taliban!

Where the CPS thinks the evidence isn’t enough to secure a conviction, the name and address of the alleged perpetrator be placed on a public register as “accused of rape but not prosecuted” for a period of years (not sure how many). He should of course have the right to log his side of the story on the register too and people who wish to deal with him in future (whether as sexual partners, employers or whatever) can make up their own minds.

Perhaps we could also do this for everyone who’s ever suspected of any sort of crime.

“So I will make another suggestion. Where the CPS thinks the evidence isn’t enough to secure a conviction, the name and address of the alleged perpetrator be placed on a public register as “accused of rape but not prosecuted” for a period of years (not sure how many).”

Isn’t that simply going to encourage vigilantism? If there isn’t enough evidence to secure a conviction, then – sadly – there’s not much people can do. This would simply be punishment by innuendo. Surely that’s not healthy for society?

17. Shatterface

‘or you have a law like the present one, whose overriding objective is to protect men who have consensual casual – or even not-so-casual – sex from blackmail.’

Actually, it’s based on the assumption of innocence unless proved otherwise. It’s the principle we (the Left, that is) stand up for when the government attempts to prosecute suspected ‘terrorists’ on rumour and innuendo.

‘So I will make another suggestion. Where the CPS thinks the evidence isn’t enough to secure a conviction, the name and address of the alleged perpetrator be placed on a public register as “accused of rape but not prosecuted” for a period of years (not sure how many)’

Or you could just wear a hood and string them up yourself.

The number of allegations is increasing.

The number of convictions is increasing but not at the same rate as the number of allegations. That is why the ratio of convictions to allegations is decreasing.

However, the ratio of convictions to prosecutions is increasing. It is now over 1 in 3 (see the answers to Chris Huhne’s questions linked to in the OP).

The larger factor in convictions:allegations is not the courts, it is attrition – alleged victims dropping out or being dropped out (see above).

So there have been improvements to training and increasing numbers of officers specialising in sexual offences. Questions may remain relating to police and CPS targets. We should continue to consider how to make the whole process, from reporting to trial, less traumatic for the alleged victim without harming the rights of the accused, thereby reducing the rate of drop outs. (I don’t believe victims or the accused should be publicly named until the end of the trial.)

Mike’s idea of the accusation register is disgusting but there is one in place (perhaps not as public as he would like) ostensibly protecting children and vulnerable adults – the ISA’s database. But there is a point to make about alcohol related incidents – the Met claim 1 in 3 female victims consumed alcohol immediately prior to their rape or sexual assault (I don’t have any figures on drugs). That is by no means an excuse or justification for any offence; just that we as a society accept that people can consent to sexual activity when drunk, and a jury will not convict in the absence of evidence beyond reasonable doubt (it is absurd to claim that juries don’t care about rape).

Of course no sensible Parliamentary candidate will make it a primary proposal of his campaign that if you are too drunk to drive you are too drunk to consent. But perhaps they should, if we want to improve the convictions:allegations ratio.

19. Mike Killingworth

[15-18] I don’t know why there’s such shock horror at the idea of the database. This is information which the State already has, collected at public expense. Why do our liberties depend on the State’s not collating and publishing it?

The State’s right to a monopoly of violence – if indeed publishing details of allegations counts as violence – is conditional upon its effective exercise. If there was another crime against the person where the incidence to conviction ratio was as low as it is for rape I would support a register for that one too. So far as I know there isn’t.

And yes, I do know about the presumption of innocence, Shatterface. My point is that if you set out to write a law to protect men from extortion you’d write the law we’ve got.

The news in [18] about conviction rates is good: others have argued that admin changes can do the business – I’m still a sceptic on that but of course I’d like to proven wrong.

Why do our liberties depend on the State’s not collating and publishing it?

The allegations are unproven and may even be false. Why should the accused be harmed in such a way?

Mike Killingworth “I don’t know why there’s such shock horror at the idea of the database.”

Now these are just a couple of the more obvious issues with your policy proposal. Well then, there’s no hope for you.

It’s absolutely the stupidest idea I have ever heard which has been proposed seriously. It’s so stupid that noone has explained the extent of it’s stupidity because they don’t want to be thought of as a bit dim themselves for stating the screamingly, bleedin obvious.

However, you are clearly struggling, so here goes:

1. People are sometimes accused of, and even prosecuted for, crimes they did not commit.
2. People whose names are on public access lists as having been accused of, or prosecuted for, a crime for which no conviction was obtained could just conceivably (and I know that in enlightened, liberal Britain this may seem unlikely but do your best to stay with me on this) experience some negative consequences eg people not wanting to employ them just in case they did it, perhaps the odd relationship difficulty, pitchfork wielding vigilante mobs etc. I’m sure you can imagine the kind of thing I’m talking about. Or maybe not.
3. Maybe, just maybe, some of the family members of the accused, and I know this is a long shot Mike but you never know, might just conceivably be slightly irked at having their names publicly linked to accused rapists.

What the hell is wrong with you?

22. the a&e charge nurse

[18] the Met claim 1 in 3 female victims consumed alcohol immediately prior to their rape or sexual assault (I don’t have any figures on drugs). That is by no means an excuse or justification for any offence; just that we as a society accept that people can consent to sexual activity when drunk.

The issue (fundamentally) is not alcohol but one of CAPACITY – in other words a piss-head might happily cane a few bottles wine yet still retain enough cognitive function to either agree or disagree to certain activities (perhaps because they had attained a certain tolerance associated with frequent drinking).

How about this – a written contract confirming that all parties are able to retain the relevant information, believe it to be a true and can weigh up the pros & cons associated with potential outcomes (risk of substandard or premature orgasm, etc).

The contract could be witnessed and co-signed by two independent witnesses.

In such circumstances sex could then proceed free of any potential accusations no matter much booze or how many drugs had been ingested?

23. Mike Killingworth

[22] Yes, that’s the kind of price you have to pay for a zero rape rate. So whenever you hear anyone say that any number of rapes, however small, is unacceptable you know that either they support that kind of measure or else they’re full of bullshit.

[21] Let’s deal with those points in order:-

(i) that’s why it would be a list of people accused but not brought to trial or convicted. The implication that they may not in fact be rapists would be there for all to see.

(ii) that’s the whole point, congratulations. To enable shop stewards, for example, to negotiate a commitment from employers that they will not hire men accused of any sexual misconduct and will re-write employment contracts to allow for the lawful dismissal of any man so accused. I assume all the feminist shop stewards who read this stuff are progressing this policy. It would be interesting to hear their excuses if they aren’t – deliberately promoting unsafe workplaces for women…

and yes, I do believe that the State should have a monopoly of violence (much as I admire Captain Swing) so that deals with your pitchforks.

(iii) Indeed. I am currently reading a book about the Bin Laden family, a plane load of whose members – all more or less pro-American – had to leave the USA (and their lifestyle) behind in a hurry in the autumn of 2001. I think they were irked. I agree this will happen. It also irks victims’ families when perps aren’t brought to book.

Mike

Look at what you have said.

1) All those accused of rape should be convicted and jailed without the requirement for any evidence to exist to corroborate the allegation. We should accept the woman’s word that she did not consent.

2) All those accused of rape, but cleared by the courts, should be punished whether they were innocent or guilty.

3) The objective of the current rape law is to protect men from being blackmailed.

Mike, based on these statements, I have to conclude that you have a problem with this area of debate. I don’t know what the problem is and I don’t want to know but I would recommend that, for your own good, you desist from further comment.

25. the a&e charge nurse

[23] wouldn’t it be easier if relevant parties simply avoided certain situations – e.g. going back to a strangers house while pissed (to cite just one potentially risky activity).

26. Mike Killingworth

[24] Pagar, I have never said proposition [1] or [2] – there is a difference between publishing a list and jailing people. An analogy might be the Scots verdict of “not proven”. As to [3] I am guilty of rhetoric no doubt, but it is at least arguable that the effect of the current law is to provide men with greater protection against blackmail than it offers women protection against rape, and that this priority is wrong.

Mike

In your words this time

1) you have a law that catches rapists – that is to say, one that directs juries to believe the woman’s account of “what happened in a bedroom or on a sofa when only two people were there” (to use Pagar’s helpful words) unless there is overwhelming reason not to.

2) Where the CPS thinks the evidence isn’t enough to secure a conviction, the name and address of the alleged perpetrator be placed on a public register as “accused of rape but not prosecuted” for a period of years- To enable shop stewards, for example, to negotiate a commitment from employers that they will not hire men accused of any sexual misconduct and will re-write employment contracts to allow for the lawful dismissal of any man so accused.

Like you I want to see the rapist caught and punished but what you are proposing is a witch hunt.

I accuse you of rape. There is no evidence apart from my allegation and testimony but in the absence of any evidence to the contrary I must be believed.

You go to jail.

If the rules were framed thus virtually every report of rape would be prosecuted but if, somehow, you escape conviction, the allegation is recorded and publicised and your life is ruined.

Not really very fair, is it?

28. Mike Killingworth

[27] No it isn’t. Neither is the present situation where who knows how many raped women just have to get on with their lives as best they can because the law isn’t there for them.

I would love to believe that mere administrative changes in police and court practice would miraculously cause all rapes to be reported and all rapists jailed.

But that’s not going to happen. Which leaves us with the grisly choice of who we’re going to be unfair to.

“Which leaves us with the grisly choice of who we’re going to be unfair to.”

OK. Our legal system works on the basis of better one hundred guilty walk free rather than one innocent be gaoled.

Can’t say I’m all that sure that we’re not obeying this already.

30. Mike Killingworth

[29] Which is precisely why our legal system is seen as failing the victims of crime generally.

There is of course an argument that is exactly what a liberal legal system ought to do… for example, by refusing to adjust sentences according to how well the victim has adjusted to the situation.

And where the victims are sexually assaulted women, these liberal principles have given rise to solidaristic outrage from feminists who have, among other responses, described heterosexuality as “sleeping with the enemy” or, in Swiftian mood, proposed a Society for Cutting Up Men.

Actually, I’m perfectly happy with the law as is. Why wouldn’t I be? I’m a man. But that doesn’t mean that I have to think that the law as is is fair to women (it patently isn’t) or, for that matter, that a woman can claim to be a heterosexual feminist and still expect me to take her seriously.

No it isn’t. Neither is the present situation where who knows how many raped women just have to get on with their lives as best they can because the law isn’t there for them.

Agreed.

But you cannot solve one injustice by imposing another.

I would love to believe that mere administrative changes in police and court practice would miraculously cause all rapes to be reported and all rapists jailed.

We can do better than the current situation by making changes to police, prosecution and court practice, and we have seen improvements over time from such changes. That’s all I am claiming. It’s silly to think we can achieve perfection, and at odds with freedom and justice to have a public register of people who have had allegations made against them.

Actually, I’m perfectly happy with the law as is. Why wouldn’t I be? I’m a man. But that doesn’t mean that I have to think that the law as is is fair to women (it patently isn’t) or, for that matter, that a woman can claim to be a heterosexual feminist and still expect me to take her seriously.

…Feminism is incompatible with innocent until proven guilty?

34. Mike Killingworth

[33] Why not? Anti-racism is, according to the MacPherson report…

Well if you want to trash innocent until proven guilty devise a superior alternative.

Mike Killingworth – I honestly can’t work out whether you are as dim as you appear or you’re taking the piss.

I’ve been on holiday for a couple of weeks so I haven’t been able to respond to your posts, but read what you’ve written and (assuming you haven’t written it with in a spirit of irony) at least try to think about what you’re saying.

Anyway, I can’t be bothered continuing this discussion, at least not with you. You seem to be an idiot.

37. Mike Killingworth

[37] What I am saying is that anyone who applies “innocent until proven guilty” to the crime of rape is placing the interests of men above the interests of women. Of course I approve of this, I am a man myself. What I do not do is pretend that I am some kind of feminist. Unlike you and some others on this thread, I have no desire to be a hypocrite.

I didn’t accuse you of hypocrisy.

I accused you of something quite different and I would like to apologise. I shouldn’t have descended to the use of insults. I still think that it’s absolutely clear that your views completely lack any sense whatsoever, though.

I never claimed to be “some kind of feminist.”

Anyway, ta ta.

What I am saying is that anyone who applies “innocent until proven guilty” to the crime of rape is placing the interests of men above the interests of women.

No, they are applying the same standard that the rest of our justice system uses to rape. That is all.


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