Scotland's prosecutors to be retrained in attempt to address dire rape conviction rate

by Jess McCabe // 29 August 2008, 10:34

Only 27 out of 922 rape cases reported to the Scottish police in 2006-7 ended in conviction, according to the latest data reported in the Scotsman and the Sunday Mail.

And if that seems bad, consider that only 65 cases were actually prosecuted. This gives Scotland a rape conviction rate of 2.9%, even worse than England's, which hovers at around a shocking 5-6%.

And the postcode lottery effect can be seen north of the border, too:

They also show huge regional variations in the proportion of cases that end up in court, from 19 per cent in Dumfries and Galloway to 1.7 per cent in Tayside.

The only bright spot is that some efforts are underway to address the problem - notably, no fiscals (prosecution lawyers) will be allowed to try rape cases until they have been retrained.

The two-day course will offer refresher training on rape law and teach lawyers how to support victims.

It will include discussions with forensic examiners, senior police officers, victim support workers and High Court prosecutors.

Lord Advocate Eilish Angiolini said: "This training is a vital part of ensuring there is a professional, determined approach to gathering evidence and bringing prosecutions before the court."

When the terrible rape-conviction rate is raised in discussions here in the UK, there's often quite a bit of flapping about how rape cases are impossible to prosecute in many cases - so this little bit of info from the Mail's story is really worth taking note of:

The move follows calls from Scotland's chief police officers and victim support groups for the introduction of specialist rape prosecutors. The United States has used specialists since the 1980s with some states achieving conviction rates of more than 80 per cent.

80%!!!

Yes, the legal system is different. However, this is surely evidence that it's possible to design a system which actually puts more than a vanishing fraction of rapists in jail.

(Via womensgrid)

Comments From You

Redheadinred // Posted 29 August 2008 at 13:23

This is good! God, why can't we do that in England, though? What is it about Scotland and England that has such disrespect for women?

Bring on this training! I bet the media will pick up on this in a negative way and rebrand it as 'a blow against fair trials for men'. A girl can dream. It shouldn't have to be like this, it should be a given that when a woman is raped she can have faith in the justice system to help her.

Christina // Posted 29 August 2008 at 14:50

27 out of 922?! I mean I knew that the results for rape convictions were bad, but that really puts it out there in black and white doesn't it? With conviction rates like that rape might as well be legal. Urgh.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 29 August 2008 at 15:38

Unfortunately two days training will not be sufficient to challenge ingrained misogynstic myths concerning male violence against women. The US has used specialist prosecutors but these specialists received more than 2 days training. Notably Alice Vachss worked for 10 years as a specialist prosecutor in the Queen District of New York city. Ms. Vachss did not achieve successful rape prosecutions by training staff for 2 days. There was a long-term programme put into effect since challenging ingrained myths cannot be effected by short-term misplaced strategies.

Commentators responding to Scotsman article continue to claim women rape survivors are lying and make false claims against 'innocent men.' False reporting has remained consistent at between 2-3% and this applies to both Scotland and rest of UK.

Jess McCabe // Posted 29 August 2008 at 16:04

@Jennifer - very true. However, surely it's a start?

Rachel // Posted 29 August 2008 at 16:24

Jennifer - I don't mean this confrontationlly, but what is the stat that only 2-3% of reported rapes are false based on? Surely thats impossible to know?

Shea // Posted 29 August 2008 at 17:29

I think I'm with Jennifer on this one. How is it possible to change ingrained and hardened attitudes to rape in two days? There is an endemic attitude I come across all the time, that women who report rape are lying, that they are malicious and it is a way to "get back" at ex-partners. It seems to be a part of the backlash. The more power and position women achieve, the more medieval attitudes to rape become.

I think we need a serious overall of the justice system regarding rape- period. Make it so that consent can no longer be used as a defence, disclose the defendants previous convictions for rape and sexual assault and keep secret the victims sexual history. How to do that and still keep a trial fair I don't know. But it is clear that the law does not and cannot protect women in its present form.

Rhona // Posted 29 August 2008 at 17:29

Well, it's a start, I suppose.

However, until the institutional misogyny and cynicism that lies within the heart of the police force - and society at large too, let's not forget where juries are drawn from! - is addressed, I fear that two days' 'retraining' will be nothing more than a token sticking plaster over a very large and gangrenous wound.

Anne Onne // Posted 29 August 2008 at 18:10

Hopefully it's a start. I would hope for a lot more than a couple of days training, especially when a couple of days 'sensitivity training' normally does jack all to turn bigots into decent people. At least they are realising that it IS possible to prosecute rape fairly and get a higher success rate than 2%, though. It's a sad state of affairs that I'm happy about that, but I'm so sick of hearing people lament the conviction rate is so low, then shrug and say 'Oh well, women just have to be more careful then!', as if that solves anything at all.

For some reason, they never seem to spot the correlation between everyone blaming victims, low conviction rates, and a high incidence of rape, even though depressingly rape seems to be practically legal, the way it's treated by the law and other people.

The true mark of how equal a society is: How that society treats those with less power. If a society takes crimes against those groups seriously, it shows a respect for the people. What the current state of how rape is dealt with says about our society is really not great. Low conviction rate, not taken seriously by the police, blaming the victims and a relatively high occurrence. Yeah, I think that's pretty good evidence we don't yet have equality, should we need to bring it out.

Part of the problem, a huge part is the jury. If the jury decide to give weight to 'evidence' that does not in any way prove consent as meaning consent (she was wearing a skirt, she talked to the man, she agreed to be alone with him), then any real evidence that a rape occurred is negated in the jury's heads by the idea that the above are evidence of consent, when they cannot reasonably be taken as so.

The only way they could ever be taken to guarantee consent occurred would be if 100% of women have consensual sex every time they wear revealing clothing, flirt with the man, are alone with a man, have drinks with a man etc, which clearly doesn't happen.

I think it's also worth noting that the defence (correct me if I'm wrong) gets to choose 12 jurors out of a possible 10 men and 10 women. It's therefore perfectly possible that a jury with only 2 women and 10 men gets selected to sit for a rape case, which is incredibly unfair. Granted, I can see why the defence would want more men on the jury; it's more people likely to empathise with the accused rapist, make excuses for them and assume the victim must be lying, but it's incredibly unfair that there should be this advantage, particularly with such few rape convictions.

I can see the excuse that 'women might be more emotional and likely to side with the victim even if there's a lack of evidence (which is misogynistic and untrue, since women are very good at victim-blaming, too), but the same could apply to men. Surely being in the position to empathise much more with the accused, it would be unfair of them to make up a majority when they are far probably more worried about potentially wrecking a man's life than looking at the evidence and guaging whether a rape has been commited. The fact that men are seen as perfectly rational and any empathy they may have played down, where women would be seen to be irrational and man-hating and therefore unsuitable is very problematic.

It's amazing that although the 'people' are supposed to decide, and we make up 50%, as women we are unlikely to sit in on a rape trial. It would be far better if aLL juries had to be 50/50. There's no reason why a jury should not reflect the population accurately, particularly when women are not a small minority.

CMK // Posted 30 August 2008 at 18:02

@ Shea: “Make it so that consent can no longer be used as a defence…”
Where there is genuine consent then surely there is no rape, regret maybe, but not rape. Or am I misunderstanding you?

@ Anne Onne: Jury selection for trials in Scotland is random (see here). Individuals can be challenged on their suitability by either party where there is a reason. I would guess that the rationale for not selecting a balance of individuals is that all people are expected to be ‘fair’ unless it can be shown otherwise. 50/50 splits are a dangerous path as you end up with every 'group' having to be represented (and it is a bit offensive to group people I think).

Does anyone have any ideas on how to increase the conviction rate of guilty people? Proper investigation, supportive facilities on complaint and in court are musts, but beyond that it appears to me to be a really tough conviction to achieve as it is invariably one word against another’s.

Shelley // Posted 20 February 2009 at 22:44

The laws concerning rape at present are a smack in the mouth to women! It largely sways at ' No Consent ' for rape, but when a woman says, i didn't consent to sex with this man and it's rape, she is automatically disbelieved. What a silly thing to dismiss, a woman is hardly going to cry rape because he didn't perform well enough for her, is she now, a type of dobbing and complaining that he was a crap screw, women don't do this.....Yet when the man says i didn't rape her this is taken to be the greatest weight, his word is taken over hers, in a law that says the weight is found in ' No Consent ' this no consent is hardly going to be in a circus with all eyes from an audience actually hearing the woman say ' No i do not want to have sex with you, if you force me to it will be rape ' and if those witnessess are out of hearing distance if she just says ' No ' are hardly going to match it to a reference to sex and they wouldn't have heard it in any case being too far away. Also what of the woman who is alone with the offender?
If this law of no consent is not taken at the word of a woman, then it would only apply if the woman is constantly chaperoned by another person, is always close to this witness so that the words ' No i don't want to have sex, if you force me it will be rape ' only then can this law of no consent be applied.
The law is sexist and is in favor of the male, male dominance & male superiority. Also how many women know of how to speak/shout out this sentence ' No, i do not want to have sex with you, if you force me it will be rape '? Is a woman not allowed any alone time not even for 15 minutes, with the way british law does not protect it's women.
Also i have never heard of a woman who has accussed a man of rape, for him to be subjected to a possible alcohol or drug taking test and therefore he is a rapist, that never happens, it's always the woman who makes a complaint of rape is then subjected to she's lying and she's of not sound character because she has been drinking, or smoked a spliff etc. I have never heard of a man who has been accussed of rape that has been drinking or taking drugs and that's evident been questioned and subjected to ' not sound of character can't be reliant on his claim of she consented etc ' then he is a rapist....It never happens, all weight is in favour of the male, not the female even though she cannot defend herself against an intrusion of a male who is likely to be stronger than her and win over any protests she may have, and he's not so dumb as to do it in front of witnessess, that's as bad as going to the police station and dobbing yourself in then admitting to drinking & drug taking and say's arrest me ' i've raped a girl , i'm not sound of character ', how many men do that, NONE! They usually rape and say it's her fault and she consented.
Where is the justice for women in a place like ' reality ' and what does truly happen?
It should be what the law says, ' No consent ' it should be her word taken along with, semen in her vagina, or anus, mouth, or two or all three of those as evidence of penetration along with no consent.
It is Simple, the law has been designed to protect men, not protect women.
If a woman does end up in a court of law, she is classed not as a human being and it's an offense on her particularly, it's an offense against the state with her being property, it is her character that comes on trial, it also weighs on whether she is a virgin, or if she is divorced, if she is not a virgin and has had some sex in a marriage then that marriage has failed, she's a little less favourable for another guy in terms of sex, and as she has had some experience in sex, theorectically she is classed as damaged goods, it doesn't matter if she has been subjected to marital violence and divorce has occurred as a result, it's her, she's at fault and now damaged goods, because she has engaged in sex already, how can we trust her word of ' No Consent ' if she has been out to a pub or club and has alcohol to drink, how can we trust her character, she sounds like a floosie willing to engage in sex, this is the age old Medieval view of a woman, she has no rights of freedom as an individual, she has to live up to being there for in the service of men and men only, either for men to get away with rape on, or she is to be a virgin at marriage and remain married, not a drinker of alcohol or an drug taking shape or form ( including if someone has deliberatley and underhanded slipped it inside of a drink for her to ingest), or else she gets knocked down a peg or two, all blame is then left at the womans door, not the men. When a case of rape on a female is tried, it's not for her personally, it's which man has lost because of the rape, her father in the first instance if she's single, then it's the husband, he has lost...It is never considered that the woman herself has lost, lost as towards mental health and the damage it has caused her for quality of life, that never comes into play. However if a man is raped by another man, he has lost himself, he is not regarded as property, as women are. Laws on rape are to protect men from rape of other men, not women.
And is it any wonder that the laws are like this towards women, when we have police officers who rape themselves, prison officers who rape female inmates and also further afield in the justice system.
Purely a male dominated area and male superiority in the area of this law of rape.

Campbell Thomas // Posted 21 December 2010 at 20:03

Hi there,

I'm a guy married to a feminist for 16 years and I'm on side. I just wanted to comment as I am also an independent journalist working as a court reporter. In addition I am trained to Masters level in gender-media issues. I have covered many rape trials for the national and regional media and have heard all the evidence given in court after the public have been cleared out.

My main observations on this subject, based on 20 years experience, are these. I have long wondered at the stupidity of some juries and how they reach their verdicts, given that I listened to all the facts that they did. I have no doubt the majority of jurors will have been affected by societal stereotyping and ingrained prejudice.

But it seems the most effective tool to get a rape accused acquitted is a good lawyer who can manipulate the jurors - especially those who are not independent thinkers - with all the spin and red herrings necessary. And what has struck me most is how often the defence counsel turns out to be a woman and the prosecutor a man. Why is this? What effect can it have? I have to be neutral and unbiased in my reporting but I think this issue is well worthy of debate.

With best wishes,

Campbell

Dannielle // Posted 17 April 2012 at 23:44

i completely agree with use i was a victim myself i had waited over 700 days for my trial at the high court which has just not long been it was my friends boyfriend who only lives ten minutes from my house and my friend stays directly behind my house with his wee boy for nearly 3 year i have been called a liar a slut i have lost soo many friends over it & its caused soo much grief i had got a guilty he was convicted to four year but he will only serve three quaters there is not justice in scotland i know i should be grateful because i got a guilty and very very few rape victims do but what people dont think about it what they get in jail the jails are more like a holiday camp its outrageous! and there rights to appeal why should scum like that be intitiled to any rights they took our rights off us sooo when does it ever end for the victim? many things need to be changed with the justice system and im defiantly not sitting back and taking anymore il do what it takes to help other rape victims! may i also add its not just women it happens to its also men

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