Rape victims to be asked for views on justice system.

// 14 May 2009

Kudos to The Times for putting this article on the front page today. It reports that in response to Britain being named the European country with the worst conviction rate for rape, the policing standards watchdog, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, will be launching a project to ask rape victims why they feel they have been let down by the justice system. This will form part of a nationwide audit of the police force and Crown Prosecution Service.

The article neatly shatters a number of myths, firstly that the reason for the UK’s 6.5% conviction rate is simply because rape cases are too hard to prosecute:

Two decades ago, on a lower level of reporting, the conviction rate [for the UK] was 19 per cent. The first Europe-wide study of rape conviction rates found that France, by contrast, had a conviction rate of 25 per cent in 2006 despite a steady rise in the reporting of attacks over the past 15 years.

25% isn’t ideal, of course, but it’s a hell of a lot better than 6.5 per cent, and if France can do it there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to.

Secondly, the same study found that – surprise, surprise – the proportion of false allegations is “extremely low”, ranging from 2 per cent to 9 per cent.

Finally, one of the main factors in the low conviction rate is the attitudes of the police and judiciary:

The study’s author, Liz Kelly, an expert on sexual violence who has advised senior police and the Home Office, criticises a “culture of scepticism” among officers and prosecutors and says that too many people are wedded to the stereotype of the rapist as a violent stranger.

[…]

Dave Gee, the former detective chief superintendent who heads the programme, said that Britain’s low conviction rates were partly due to poor evidence gathering and “indifferent attitudes” towards rape by police. “Too often, because of the negative mind at the outset, the case is undermined rather than built up,” he said.

You can read the rest of the article here but, as ever, I’d recommend avoiding the comments section; something tells me it’s going to fill up with false allegation obsessed rape apologists. Though I did have a little dismayed chuckle at the guy who appears to think that it’s not really rape if it happens on a Saturday night:

[the false allegation rate] does not take account of inconsistent/unreliable complainants who fatally weaken the case .Speak to officers involved in the investigations and you’ll see a lot involve alcohol, weekends and infidelity.

This is so utterly ridiculous and offensive I almost want to give him a point for inventiveness. Almost.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 14 May 2009 at 11:07 pm

Yet more unnecessary research because once again it will show how and why women survivors of male sexual violence in all its forms, are subjected to routine scepticism, disbelief and claims ‘you are out for revenge.’ The whole system from police right through to the Judges who oversee rape cases has been structured by men for men. This is why we have endless research and reports all basically saying the same thing – namely rape laws and the legal system in respect of rape were designed to protect men from mythical false rape allegations.

Women rape survivors whose cases are perceived as ‘true’ and proceed to the court are then faced with having to endure court room procedures which do not allow women rape survivors to tell their story. Instead women rape survivors have to try and make their experiences fit a male-defined ideal of what passes for ‘fact’ together with male-defined notions of appropriate feminine and masculine sexualities.

How many more research projects will we have, all of which do not alter one iota the fact we continue to live in a rape culture and one moreover wherein over 95% men charged with rape escape justice.

One way of challenging ingrained male scepticism is by having expert witnesses in rape cases but male judges have opposed this move because it would supposedly bias male defendants’ right to a fair trial. Well what about the female rape survivor’s right to a fair trial wherein she will have legal representation rather than a CPS prosecutor who will not have presented the case in conjunction with the rape survivor. That luxury is only afforded to male defendants charged with rape because they work with their defence barrister to prepare his defence.

But then justice is always blind or should I say – male biased.

rutiger // Posted 15 May 2009 at 2:41 pm

the article does not surpise me at all.it is a sad fact that police just don’t care

lou // Posted 15 May 2009 at 7:20 pm

http://womensgrid.freecharity.org.uk/?p=2511

Cambridge Rape Crisis are doing something like this locally-but looks like they are looking at service providers’ views too.

rutiger // Posted 16 May 2009 at 6:09 pm

i think maybe rape laws should be changed,so the actural rapists can be sent to prison.

Falco // Posted 19 May 2009 at 12:37 am

“i think maybe rape laws should be changed,so the actural rapists can be sent to prison.”

How would you change them? There should be more support for victims through the trial and the police, if the are not taking allegations seriously, need to be retrained, (as an aside I believe there is considerable variation in conviction rates between forces within the UK).

That said, changing the law is far more problematic. You cannot lock someone up for years without a conviction that is beyond reasonable doubt. When, so many rape cases, particularly those where the attacker and victim know each other, come down to one persons word against anothers, that is very difficult.

I believe the changes be with support and policing rather than the law.

Sam Rico // Posted 21 May 2009 at 1:38 am

Yeah I study law and some of the cases we look at just take the f*ckin biscuit. I mean, we looked at one (this is just one of many though, off the top of my head), where a guy invited a (large) group of friends to rape his wife, and apparently said that she would protest, but it was role play, and she liked it. All of his friends got off, because the jury apparently believed that they didnt actually realize that they were raping someone!

What worries me even more though, is the attitudes of my classmates, in all my subjects (politics, sociology, law & philosophy), particularly in law, because many of them are going for law degrees, so they will be the next generation of legal ‘professionals’, and yet the majority seem to both find the majority of rape cases funny in some way, and also adamently deny that it was rape wherever they can, even when the law says otherwise. Especially worrying is the fact that the majority of the girls seem to share these views….

Falco // Posted 21 May 2009 at 11:44 pm

“All of his friends got off, because the jury apparently believed that they didnt actually realize that they were raping someone!”

If you’re refering to the Morgan case, (1976), then not only did the jury convict all parties but all convictions were upheld on appeal. The point of law in question was whether an honest but unreasonable belief in consent was a defence. The Law Lords decided that it was but agreed with the jury, that in this case there was no honestly held belief.

rutiger // Posted 22 May 2009 at 5:18 pm

“and yet the majority seem to both find the majority of rape cases funny in some way, and also adamently deny that it was rape wherever they can, even when the law says otherwise. Especially worrying is the fact that the majority of the girls seem to share these views….”

i wan’t to know where in the country is this? i don’t know anyone who thinks raping someone is funny,if someone thinks thats funny then they are a bit fucked in the head

Sam Rico // Posted 23 May 2009 at 3:33 pm

in response to rutiger,

the country is the UK, and if you have never met such people, it appears that you have been lucky, especially in my generation, which is those coming out of college now. they find especially funny rape or threats of rape against prostitutes, misogynistic things which the lords have said about rape, rape involving alcohol or drugs misuse, rape through some sort of deception (e.g. one where a girl thought a man in the dark was her boyfriend, so let him have sex with her, and he got off even though it was obvious that he had intended to rape her anyway, he was just lucky that she made the mistake), or, unsurprisingly, anything which feminists have done to try to reform the law in terms of rape (or domestic violence)

Sam Rico // Posted 23 May 2009 at 3:41 pm

thanks for clarifying that Falco, because our teacher seems to have made a mistake. she told us that their convictions were quashed on appeal. nonetheless, the ruling of the law lords about this point of law is worrying. and we are taught about plenty of other worrying rape cases, rulings, and opinions of judges in our legal system.

rutiger // Posted 23 May 2009 at 11:36 pm

“the country is the UK, and if you have never met such people, it appears that you have been lucky, especially in my generation, which is those coming out of college now. they find especially funny rape or threats of rape against prostitutes, misogynistic things which the lords have said about rape, rape involving alcohol or drugs misuse, rape through some sort of deception (e.g. one where a girl thought a man in the dark was her boyfriend, so let him have sex with her, and he got off even though it was obvious that he had intended to rape her anyway, he was just lucky that she made the mistake), ”

no disrespect but they must be very sick people.i would imagine these people are in there twenties as of me.i don’t think rape is ever funny especially towards prostitutes,those poor women have enough stick from the media as it is.

Sam Rico // Posted 24 May 2009 at 10:35 pm

of course, rutiger, i totally agree with you. they are just under 20 mostly. a lot of the time they deny it is even rape, wherever it is possible to do so, it seems to me. and like i said, even if they dont in many cases, they still find it funny. the only time when the class is totally against rape is when it is of a woman who matches their ignorant, false ‘purity standards’, for example if she is a virgin who is raped by a stranger, or if she is a child. just like in the courtroom, it seems.

rutiger // Posted 25 May 2009 at 6:06 pm

“the only time when the class is totally against rape is when it is of a woman who matches their ignorant, false ‘purity standards’, for example if she is a virgin who is raped by a stranger, or if she is a child. just like in the courtroom, it seems.” wtf? no offence, but those people need their heads tested. rape is wrong full stop. it reminds of Judge Pickles, old english judge many years ago thought if young women wore mini skirts it was their fault if they got raped. absolute nonsense. rape is a horrible crime and there is never an excuse for it, it is worse than attacking someone because sometimes people can use self defence.

CMK // Posted 25 May 2009 at 7:43 pm

This article does not add much to the debate. It is good news that the HMIC is going to involve rape victims and I hope they’ll involve those accused and those convicted too. Although I find it staggering that such people have not been involved previously (ditto for other types of crime).

I really do not know what we can do about the rape conviction rate. Clearly the view that nothing will result from raising a complaint puts people off raising claims. The attitude of those investigating and prosecuting is no doubt affected by low conviction rates resulting in a vicious circle. But, what to do?

If rape often occurs when two people are alone (which I imagine is generally the case) who is to decide what was said? It will come down to A vs B, who is more credible. Can you include conduct witnessed by others beforehand? Well that removes the opportunity for someone to change their mind at the last minute.

It is a very difficult question and I have yet to see any satisfactory suggestions that are realistic and fair. Rape is wrong and it should not happen, putting innocent people in jail is wrong and it should not happen.

Anne Onne // Posted 25 May 2009 at 9:59 pm

You cannot lock someone up for years without a conviction that is beyond reasonable doubt. When, so many rape cases, particularly those where the attacker and victim know each other, come down to one persons word against anothers, that is very difficult.

What about changing the perception of the public (including the jury) and actively discouraging the rape myths? I don’t know if this is still the case, but rape victims have often been asked detailed questions about their sex lives and underwear in court, as if this actually has a bearing on whether they were raped. This is unnecessary, and supports the idea that women who have had sex, or wear ‘sexy’ clothing (or even sexy underwear nobody can see) must have consented because they are sluts.

The problem is, even when there IS enough evidence, if the jury think that a woman consented because she talked to the man, or knows him, or wore a short skirt, they’re still not going to convict someone of rape, evidence or no evidence. We need society, and juries, to recognise that flirting, or having previously had sex, does not imply that this woman had consensual sex. Otherwise, no matter how much evidence there is that the woman was raped, the patriarchy will always conveniently counter it with ‘but she must have wanted it anyway, because…’.

Once we get to a point where non-evidence is ignored and discouraged in court, and rape cases where there IS evidence are prosecuted successfully as a matter of course, then we can talk about the cases where there is absolutely no evidence and it’s ‘him against her’.

Which isn’t to say we don’t need support for victims: we do. Desperately.

Just that the ‘his word against hers’ myth makes it very convenient for society to say ‘well, we just can’t prosecute rape cases because it’s one person’s word against another’s’, all the while ignoring that even when there is evidence a woman is raped, society and jurors often go out of their way to fabricate excuses for the rapists, and that it wasn’t really rape.

First we need to encourage a supportive police atmosphere and help in collecting evidence, and then work hard to eliminate rape myths and educate jurors before a case that having kissed a man doesn’t mean you automatically must have consented to sex.

Because whilst we have jurors who believe that women aren’t raped unless they are virgins and it’s by an eeevil stranger who jumped out of the bushes, we’re not going to get good conviction rates, even if there is evidence. Not when people want to believe that women always consent.

Sam Rico // Posted 25 May 2009 at 10:41 pm

yep, like i said rutiger, i totally agree with you. i either sit in my class fuming, or have a huge argument with everyone, depending on my mood. and your example of a judge ‘many years ago’ who said that is just one of many- often more recent- examples of our often sexist judiciary.

Kate // Posted 26 May 2009 at 10:23 am

“Beyond reasonable doubt” seems to be misapplied in rape cases. Too often the jury will look for any doubt, no matter how farcical the situation. This is not justice for anyone. The problem often seems to be that unless the victim is incredibly sympathetic, e.g. ticking all the rape myth boxes, juries simply do not want to convict someone of rape and will look for any possible explanation. Sometimes I think this is because we over-estimate how prosaic rape can be. Juries assume that if they’re on a rape case they must be dealing with a distraught woman and predatory psychopath and often the truth is far more mundane than that. Rape has become normalised for many people and understanding that rape can superficially resemble their own saturday night experiences is too much for many jurors.

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