Will targets drive up rape conviction rate?

// 15 April 2009

The police has been… well… embarassed into doing something about their abysmal record on dealing with rape cases, in response to two high profile cases – John Worboys, who managed to attack an estimated 100 women, and Kirk Reid, who managed to slip through the net multiple times and raped more than 70 women before being convicted.

The Guardian reports:

Data for each force, including the number of cases taken to court and the number of successful prosecutions, will be constantly monitored and chief constables will be called to account if the figures are deemed too low, as part of a drive to increase the persistently low conviction rate. It currently stands at 6.5%.

Inspectors will also check how many reports of rape are being regarded as not crimes and not investigated further.

The number of rape allegations recorded as crimes fell by 8% in 2007-08, prompting concerns detectives were taking early decisions to dismiss cases that they feared would fail in court, hitting their overall crime clear-up rates.

Last year, a senior adviser to the government told the Guardian that cases which did not fall into the classic “stranger rape” category – such as those where the woman was drunk or was attacked by her partner – were being dismissed by officers with a “Life on Mars” attitude based on making snap judgments about the credibility of the victim.

Under today’s strategy a new “rape performance group” led by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service will monitor each police force and CPS area in England and Wales on a quarterly basis, comparing their performance with similar forces and with national averages.

The number of rapes recorded and the number of cases discontinued by the CPS will also be tracked, and chief crown prosecutors will be called in if there are concerns about the statistics for their area.

Comments From You

Laurel Dearing // Posted 15 April 2009 at 7:00 pm

get ready for complaints that more innocent men ill be convicted than that almighty 2% of false convictions just to get targets. >.

Rose // Posted 15 April 2009 at 7:27 pm

Frankly, I very much doubt that things are going to improve in any hurry. Is patriarchy really going to start giving up its assumed rights over womens bodies? …. maybe if you threatened to castrate them, irons in hand.

I was at the london protests on the first of this month, and one of the riot police grabed my boob, in an unmistakably intentional manner. I don’t know if this practice is to intimidate petite women out of the front of crowds to avoid photos of them getting hit by the big men in uniform, or if he did it ‘just for kicks’, but either way, I think it speaks volumes about ‘the force’ we are suppose to report such assults to.

Heres for a vote of no confidence.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 15 April 2009 at 10:45 pm

Frankly, I’d be happier if the task force was all female and they were allowed to use deadly force.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 15 April 2009 at 10:45 pm

It will take more than ‘checks’ on police to convict rapists. The government once again has failed to understand the reasons why so many men are being acquitted of rape is because immediately a woman reports a man has raped she faces a culture of disbelief, scepticism and denial from the police, CPS, and juries sitting on rape cases. That is if she is very fortunate in having her case accepted by the CPS as a ‘real rape case.’ The widespread women-blaming is increasingly daily; rape myths are increasing; women consuming so much as a drop of alcohol are presumed to consent to any man having sexual activity with them. Male perpetrators’ actions are not cross-examined by prosecutors in courts. Women rape survivors routinely are subjected to in-depth humiliating cross-examination by defence counsel whose sole aim is to discredit the woman. The list is endless and yet the government believes ‘checks on police will increase numbers of men convicted of rape.’

Finally and most shockingly many men and a good few women too, believe women rape survivors commonly make false allegations a man/men has raped them. Fact is the figure for false rapes has remained between 2-8% and it has not changed. Now as regards the numbers of rapists who lie and claim their female victims ‘consented’ is unrecorded because of course male rapists never lie about their crimes.

So, what needs to be done – a radical overhaul of the criminal justice system is needed and first of all expert witnesses must be used in rape cases in order to educate juries about the realities of rape. Expert witnesses are commonly used in other criminal cases but not rape. Why? Because the judges refuse to accept expert witnesses will challenge rape myths and of course many judges themselves adhere to women-blaming myths and rape myths. More information can be obtained at Truth About Rape’s website.

CMK // Posted 16 April 2009 at 7:57 am

I really cannot see this helping. At best, a few over zealous officers will fabricate evidence to hit their targets which may lead a rapist being jailed. At worst, every conviction will be questioned as the police and CPS who are supposed to be objective will now have an incentive to prove guilt.

I always thought the key difficulties with prosecuting rape is that

a) proving what someone said (yes or no) is nigh on impossible

b) the physical aspects of consensual intercourse and non-consensual intercourse (where there has been no struggle) are effectively indistinguishable

c) intercourse usually takes place in a private place so there are no witnesses

It often comes down to credibility and if they are equally credible then that will result in an acquittal (which is right in my view).

Getting corroboration is always going to be an uphill battle and I don’t see a realistic way around it. Perhaps more time spent educating people rather than tinkering with the law or targets would be more successful in reducing the number of rapes – which is presumably what we all want.

Jennifer D: I had not heard those figures before but if I were on a jury and someone quoted the higher figure of 8% (i.e. that 1 in 12 rape claims is false) it would weigh heavily on my mind. Then again, if the lower figure were quoted it might assuage a concern (I think Jurors should question everything they are told).

tom hulley // Posted 16 April 2009 at 10:35 am

I agree, Jennifer, the ‘culture of disbelief’ is a massive barrier to change. It is worth challenging anyone who trivialises rape and other forms of violence. Often the same people who criticise lack of concern for victims, in other crimes, actually blame the victims of rape.

Incidentally, I have just written to complain about the DVD box for ‘The Duchess’ saying ‘contains moderate sex’. One of the ‘moderate’ scenes depicted rape. It is only a small gesture but challenging lazy thinking will help alter disbelief.

Thanks for all the information in your reply as it is easier to convince people when better informed. I think it is vital for men to question other men’s assumptions about rape but we need some feminist insights to do this.

Madeleine // Posted 16 April 2009 at 11:24 am

“Rape Performance Group”? Bit of an unfortunate title, I would have thought.

A friend of my Mum’s did jury duty last year and one case concerned a teenage boy accused of sexually assaulting a girl. She was horrified at the attitudes of her co-jurors, all of whom blamed the girl – she shouldn’t have been drinking, out late, talked to him, been alone with him, worn a mini skirt. When she dared to suggest that maybe just maybe the boy shouldn’t have assaulted the girl, the other jurors looked at her as if she was mad and one woman snapped, ‘Boys are like that!’ Another thoughtful soul said that if the boy got a criminal record he’d find it difficult to get a job.

Anne Onne // Posted 16 April 2009 at 1:21 pm

I hope this might help in prevent truly shoddy police responses to sexual assaults. This has been a real problem, with many women not having their cases taken seriously. Evidence needs to be taken quickly, and cases need to be followed through properly.

However, as has been pointed out, a huge deal of the problem seems to be with the jury. We need to chance society’s understanding of consent, and also their understanding of how rape works, because rape myths can weigh so heavily in people’s minds as to negate actual evidence of traumatic rape.

You can have all the evidence in the world, but if people want to rationalise the idea that a rapist shouldn’t be convicted because:

– He might be innocent. here’s the clue,jurors, : beyond reasonable doubt, not beyond all possible doubt. If it is very, very likely someone committed a crime and there is nothing apart from their testimony that they didn’t, guilty it is. Sad that it can’t be 100% proof, but that’s probability and that’s the criminal system. Accused rapists don’t deserve any more benefit of the doubt when there is no evidence for it than any other criminal.

– It will affect his life. Note to jurors: so does convicting someone of murder, or assault, or burglary, or any other crime. Yes, it will affect their life. Yes, causing someone problems in their life is not a desirable thing. But, the reason we convict criminals? Because they have done something wrong, and society thinks that other people need to be protected from this person and warned about them. And that this person has to pay for what they have done, which is, in the case of rape, a very serious things. We convict someone we have evidence is guilty, not because we want to ruin some random person’s life*, but because not doing so is an injustice against the victim and may cause further pain to them and new victims.

– She was wearing a short skirt/talked to him/flirted with him/kissed him/had sex with him once/had sex once etc.

Note to jurors: None of the above are illegal. They are not crimes, nor can they force someone to commit a crime. They are ordinary behaviours many men and women take part in.

– That’s just how boys/men are. Note to jurors: in that case, let’s not bother with the justice system at all. After all, the vast majority of criminals are men, and boys will be boys, won’t they. They can’t help themselves from stealing and murdering and all that. Yet these crimes are considered punishable and unacceptable whilst rape isn’t? If someone argues that men can’t keep from committing criminal acts, and that this is a reason to not convict them (‘they can’t help themselves’), shouldn’t this apply to ALL crimes? **

…Sorry, why is the argument that men can’t help themselves and are born violent criminals NOT an argument to lock them up? If you’re gonna argue that all men inherently want to rape and commit crimes, let’s police them instead of the women. It’s ironic that whenever you bring up the issue of making sure there is consent, people complain about how it’s unfairly putting the burden on men, and it will slow things down

Also, I’d like to see really stupid defenses like ‘I didn’t realise she was so drunk she was unconscious or unable to consent’ coming from men who were sober at the time to notice this. Er, if you don’t notice in sex that your partner is not even moving then you’re probably really bad at sex, but more importantly, you don’t give a shit whether they are awake or able to consent. I don’t care if you honestly never thought about the pesky thing called consent and all the rules about when it’s OK to continue and when, if you’re a decent human being, you don’t take advantage of another person. You did something that was wrong, and you should have known not to. The fact that you didn’t doesn’t negate what happened and the trauma suffered.

Though it would be good if consent, when it can be given, when it can’t, was discussed too. I don’t want any rapist to be able to use ‘I just didn’t know that this is not consenting’ to weasel their way out, when in all likelihood, they didn’t care whether she wanted to or not. Society needs to MAKE them care.

Society also needs to make people genuinely care about rape victims. About what they suffered, about the fact it was really rape, about the fact that women do not owe consent in any case, regardless of actions or dress or whether they know the man. This needs to be addressed, because without addressing these, we could carry every single rape into court (without reducing the numbers), and most rapists would still walk free. We need to decrease the numbers of rapes by making it men’s responsibility to not rape, their issue, not just a women’s issue. And we need to teach society, our jurors, that many factors they think mitigate the crime, don’t.

* I know the criminal system is faulty. That does not mean that for the moment, the best place for sex attackers isn’t in prison or that they don’t deserve to be seen as guilty of a crime they committed.

**Sex crimes are no different because rape is not about sex. Never was, never will be. I don’t think any man’s so stupid that instead of mastubrating (free, less effort than sex or rape, whenever they want etc) they would simply have to go and rape everyone if they feel horny. I despair for the people for whom ‘but men have sexual urges!’ is a justification for rape. There’s no rule written in stone that men must have sex with women to satisfy those urges, and the only acceptable ways of satisfying them are with a consenting partner or yourself.

So, if you can’t find a consenting partner, the only option is yourself. Unfair if you can’t find someone to sleep with you, but then having sex on tap is NOT a human right, because it depends on another person. (I hATE that argument… but he’s ugly and no woman would WANT to sleep with him or do what he wants in bed, so why can’t he rape or why can’t he abuse prostitutes?’ Because sex requires a willing partner! Because he’s not owed every fantasy, just like I’m not owed millions of pounds or whatever… )

Just like it’s someone’s human right to marry (Government, take note!) but that does not mean they have a right to force any particular person to. If you can’t find someone to marry, you’re not owed it. Same with sex. No more pity parties.

I really think this attitude contributes immensely. People can’t get their heads around the idea that men aren’t owed whatever sex act or sex with whatever woman they feel like regardless of how she feels, or sex whenever they want regardless of what the woman wants. Too many people empathise with rapists to the point where they don’t think of what it is like for their victims.

Sabre // Posted 16 April 2009 at 2:43 pm

I like tom hulley

Shea // Posted 16 April 2009 at 10:27 pm

I also like tom hulley and Anne Onne.

I remember reading a piece on this website that said rape should be re-classified as a hate crime. I thought it was a great idea then and I still do. Too many people equate rape with sex and sex is no bad thing, so……WRONG! So Wrong!

At this point I almost think it is worth changing the burden of proof to “on the balance of possibilities”, even if that means it gets seen as a less serious crime (it isn’t) just so some of these rapists actually end up paying for what they have done. Its sad and defeatist but this is what it has come to.

There will always be excuses made for these men, she wore too short a skirt, she was drunk, they had a prior relationship, she was alone with him, eventually the square root is —she existed. A hate crime, as I said.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 17 April 2009 at 4:15 pm

I hate to be cynical, but there’s really no point to jailing a rapist. Like I said, deadly force- if more rapists ended up dead, less men would rape.

Janet Realy // Posted 24 July 2009 at 2:11 pm

I can’t understand this attitude that some folks have regarding rape. Yes it is a horrible crime probably second to murder BUT it isn’t so horrible that we simply throw out the rules of law. One person suggested using “balance of probabilites”. Yes, the would help the conviction rate for sure, but it would skyrocket the false conviction rate as well.

BTW, I notice a couple of people touting the 2% number , you do realize that number was proven false mulitple times, the authour of the number even admitted that her math was incorrect.

Large scale studies over the past 10 years have shown the rate to be between 22 – 31% , and these are proven cases of false allegations not just acquittals.

Jess McCabe // Posted 24 July 2009 at 2:20 pm

@Janet Realy I strongly recommend this post by abyss2hope on the percentage of false accusations.

Ruth // Posted 24 July 2009 at 7:17 pm

“the reason we convict criminals? Because they have done something wrong”

No, we convict people who may have no defense but their own integrity, because all you need are two witnesses who can spin a yarn. Sometimes the ‘criminals’ have actually done nothing wrong except get on the wrong side of someone who doesn’t care about perjuring themselves in order to deflect the attention of Police away from a crime *they* have committed. I know someone who now sports a conviction (and a huge legal bill, because he naively believed in British justice) for just that reason (not anything sexual, before everyone jumps on me – it was tryng to stop some teens persecuting his disabled child)…and the people responsible? Scot-free and laughing all the way from the courtroom.

This is what scares me about all this “deadly force” cant – what is essentially being advocated is state-sanctioned lynching. The legal system is not only not perfect: it’s my belief that in it’s current incarnation, it actively encourages wrongdoing and ‘working the system’. And yes, rapists do the latter in spades: but they are not alone.

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