Police forces fail to record rape claims.

// 21 September 2009

The BBC reports that police forces are failing to record up to 40% of rape claims, with vast differences in recording across the country. When a victim reports their rape to the police, this should be recorded whether or not the case is taken to court, unless the claim has been verified as false or reported to the wrong force.

In Northumbria, there were 382 reports of rape. Of those, 172 never made it into official Home Office figures and that was before any were “no-crimed”.

Police in Durham said only five of 130 cases had been “no-crimed” yet the figures showed a further 83 cases were never officially recorded in the first place. In contrast, forces in Humberside, Gloucestershire, and Northamptonshire recorded at least 90% of cases for investigation. Northern Constabulary, which covers the Highlands, Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland, puts every case on its records.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary demanded improvements in recording rape claims two years ago but has admitted there is still cause for concern.

The figures also showed hundreds of complaints lodged in the year to March 2008 never went forward to a full investigation.

These figures suggest that some sections of the police force are still failing to take rape and rape victims seriously, and this can only have a negative effect on survivors’ fight for justice and willingness to report rape in the first place.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 21 September 2009 at 7:49 pm

There are a number of reasons why so many individual police officers of differing forces are not recording women’s complaints a man/men has/have raped them. One of reasons is that police officers live in a society which predominantly adheres to rape myths, including belief ‘most women and girls are innate liars.’ Police officers therefore are not immune to internalising such myths and lies as ‘facts’ particularly since no two rape cases are ever identical and the myth of stereotypical male rapist remains a formidable obstacle, together with myth of ‘real rape victim.’

Another factor is all too often individual police officers receive little or no specialist training with regards to investigating rape cases. Instead police officers deal with rape investigations for a short period and then are moved over to deal with supposedly ‘more serious crimes such as car theft and burglery.’

We must not forget the Metropolitan Police Force’s Sapphire Unit’s officers were frequently subjected to movement from working on rape cases to dealing with car crime and burglery. Not until the media sensationalised cases of Worboys and another male serial rapist did the public learn Sapphire officers did not in fact solely focus on investigating rape.

Once again, Home Office recommendations and procedures continue to be ignored with regards to investigating and police recording rape cases. We have to demand why given the Home Office has specific instructions do so many different police forces continue to no-crime so many cases involving male sexual violence against women. Is it because the Home Office and/or differing police forces are more concerned with reaching targets and therefore ‘no-criming’ women’s complaints means an overall decrease in official numbers of men raping women each and every year.

After reducing crime is the priority and if this means ‘no-criming’ women’s reporting of male violence committed against them – then so be it.

Daniela Vincenti // Posted 21 September 2009 at 7:54 pm

Does anyone have any constructive suggestions on how to improve conviction rates in rape trials. Some brainstorming is urgently needed here. Any lawyers/judges/police around?

thebeardedlady // Posted 21 September 2009 at 8:33 pm

Nobody – nobody! – believes rape victims! Rapists don’t think that what they are doing is rape. They think that it’s either their right to sex, or the woman just needing some ‘encouragement’ – even if they have to beat her up. They also think that women would rather die than be raped, so if they don’t have to kill you, you must have wanted it. The first thing that people do when they hear a woman say she’s been raped is they question *her* – “are you sure?”, “had you been drinking?”, “that doesn’t sound like something Bob would do”, etc. Women who have been raped don’t always know they’ve been raped because they were at home at the time, or wearing a miniskirt, or drunk, or flirting, or out looking for someone to shack up with, because we’ve been taught that only if we are sober, virginal, non-risk-taking and covered up from head to foot could what happens to us possibly be ‘real’ rape. It’s never real rape! According to the rules of patriarchy it’s never rape. How can it be rape when women have bodies that we are taught are for the pleasure and entertainment of men? So of course the police don’t think it’s rape. They’re trained, like the rest of us, to think that rape only happens in this very narrow set of circumstances. They are also trained to think that women lie about rape. In fact, it seems to me that in discussions about rape, the consensus is that it’s men who are the victims of rape, because rape is a lie put about by women, and we need to defend innocent men from pernicious and evil women and their manipulative lies.

Well, we know the police aren’t interested in protecting women or pursuing justice for them. We need to start thinking a lot more seriously about self-defence. I think a lot of women freeze up when in confrontational or violent situations, because we are conditioned to hate violence and fear it. Which of course is right. But maybe we need it. I would like to think that if someone tried to rape me now, I would have a go at punching them hard in the cock, or stabbing them in the eye, and running away. Maybe that would make the fucker think twice next time. Maybe feminists need to start organising self-defence classes for women. I know that men are often bigger than women and it’s frightening, but self-defence teaches you how to use your attacker’s size and weight against them. Most importantly, it teaches you not to freeze up, so that you can consciously take control of whatever it’s possible to be in control of in any given situation.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to go off on a tangent but this stuff makes me ANGRY!

Shea // Posted 21 September 2009 at 10:28 pm

Daniela – yes. Re-classify rape as a violent/hate crime, not as a sexual offence, which to my mind would remove alot of the confusion over “well its sex and women like sex so it can’t be that bad”. There is a brilliant post on this site about it.

Have specially trained prosecutors able to deal with rape cases (as they do in America). Bring in expert witness psychologists better able to explain the reaction of women post rape (i.e a time lag between the attack and reporting the rape) to sceptical juries. Have all judges attend training and rehabilitation session to deal with misogynistic and sexist attitudes to rape victims. Have the defendant’s criminal history made admissible to the court— it is a very common phenomenon that rapists have some kind of stalking or harassment, or sexual assault of women in their criminal past. Have rape victims spend time with their barrister and solicitor prior to being cross examined, so that they are fully prepared. Have a minimal amount of information regarding the sexual history of the victim made admissible and ONLY where there is strong evidence of a prior relationship and this can objectively be said to be material to the case. Any other information, including prior number of partners, or engaging in sex work would be inadmissible and deemed prejudicial to a jury.

There are plenty of ways that the rape conviction statistics could be improved.

Laura // Posted 21 September 2009 at 11:07 pm

No need to apologise, thebeardedlady, it makes me angry too!

polly styrene // Posted 21 September 2009 at 11:43 pm

A lot of rapists are serial offenders. And will get away with rape for a long time before being convicted if they ever are. The problem is that juries currently aren’t allowed to know if someone has been accused, or convicted, of rape before.

The reason is that this might bias the jury’s decision. But most rape cases are a matter of one person’s word against another’s. Forensic evidence that there has been a sexual act doesn’t prove rape because the crucial element is consent.

I think there’s a strong argument for allowing evidence of previous attacks to be heard in rape cases.

Realistically – you can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone didn’t consent if there were no witnesses. So most rape cases comes down to who does the jury believe, and they’d be more likely to believe a woman in a case of acquaintance rape, – the most common kind – if there was evidence that other women were claiming the same thing.

maggie // Posted 22 September 2009 at 11:01 am

Most rapes take place because the rapist wants to exert control and other complex attitudes associated with that such as the fear this violent act causes in the victim. It rarely happens because the rapist wants sex and is unable to control their desire.

I agree that the crime of rape should be reclassified as an act of violence.

Going back to police attitudes when recording rape claims. The victim may think they are taking control back by reporting the crime. However as pointed out earlier, their claims are sometimes met with a subconcsious disbelief and control of the situation is taken over once more this time by a person in authority.

Not all police forces are remiss in recording the crime but those that have good statistics in this area sadly stand out.

Slywolf // Posted 22 September 2009 at 1:20 pm

Poly styrene has a point.

This is the kind of thing I’m gonna be shouting about at the London ‘Reclaim’ this year.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 22 September 2009 at 3:24 pm

Often there no objective witnesses when other crimes are committed against the person and yet individuals charged with such crimes are more likely to be convicted than in cases of men charged with rape. Why? Is it because ingrained and long-standing innumerable rape myths influence jurors’ perceptions of how women as a group are supposed to behave and/or react when dealing with a male/males intent on gaining sexual access to the woman’s body.

Many rape cases involve the fact a female rape survivor has been drinking prior to the man raping her and even when witnesses are produced stating the female rape survivor was unconscious and/or drunk at the time the man allegedly raped her – this is commonly ignored by jurors. I’m sure we all remember the case of woman student who charged a man with raping her when his job was to accompany her back to her student rooms. This man allegedly raped her when she was unconscious but the jurors acquitted him because no one could prove the woman had not momentarily recovered sufficiently to give informed consent to her body being penetrated by his penis. Amazing excessive alcohol consumption apparently does not negate a woman’s ability to give ‘informed consent’ instead she is presumed to still be a constant state of ‘consent/willingness to have a penis thrust into her body.’ It is never rape because the woman did not say ‘no’ or had an independent, objective male witness to hand.

Expert witnesses were recommended in respect of rape cases but judges (in their superior wisdom!!) refused to even consider this and the idea was dismissed. Yet expert witnesses are routinely used in other criminal cases and whilst expert witnesses can and are called by both defence and prosecution council this does not bias court proceedings.

There are multiple ways the female rape survivor is silenced if she is fortunate or perhaps unfortunate to have her case brought to court. All female rape survivors give their evidence in court first and after having given their evidence they cannot re-enter the witness box to refute defence counsel claims or insinuations the ‘female survivor is not credible/she is sexually promiscuous/she has deviated from ‘respectable feminine behaviour/she led the man charged with rape on/she is a bad mother. Oh the list is endless and yet the female rape survivor cannot produce her own character witnesses and she is denied the right to refute claims made against her character, reputation and creditability. Why? Because she is only a witness to the crime and hence it is the CPS responsibility to prosecute the case.

The male defendant however, is permitted to call character witnesses on his behalf all of whom swear he is an upright ‘respectable man’ who is kind to animals and loves his mother!

Additionally, female rape survivors when cross-examined by defence counsel are commonly forced to answer questions with a yes or no. This means the female rape survivor is denied an opportunity to say how and why she did not physically fight back or why she did not resist. Why she reacted the way she did; why she froze. Instead yes or no apparently is sufficient to define the ‘facts’ from the ’emotional and hence irrelevant’ proceedings of what actually happened. Read Carnal Knowledge by Sue Lees because Ms. Lees dissects a number of rape cases to prove concisely how female rape survivors are forced to reinterpret their experiences within a male-defined and male-centered definition of what comprises real and non-real rape.

thebeardedlady // Posted 22 September 2009 at 3:51 pm

Thanks Jennifer Drew – that’s really interesting and I will put that book on my reading list.

CMK // Posted 22 September 2009 at 8:49 pm

I think one of the key difficulties regarding rape is that intercourse is perfectly legal and the only thing that changes it from legal to illegal is the mindset of those involved.

Collecting useful evidence is nigh on impossible unless there are witnesses or particular violence to demonstrate force.

I may be wrong but did the law not used to be that a women had to positively refuse rather than consent? Perhaps this explains why someone paralytic through alcohol could give “consent”.

Trials (of all sorts) are generally loaded in favour of the accused/defendant, up to a point this is proper and correct. It is for the prosecution to prove their case before an innocent party even needs to stand to defend themselves. The current system does not work, there needs to be a rebalancing.

Anne Onne // Posted 22 September 2009 at 9:22 pm

When a victim reports their rape to the police, this should be recorded whether or not the case is taken to court, unless the claim has been verified as false or reported to the wrong force.

Definitely true. This is what makes my blood boil when people judge sexual violence victims for not reporting it to the police, or try to pressure them to do so even years later ‘for the good of all women’. In a world where women who report rapes straight away and aren’t taken seriously, women who report a crime years afterwards face the realistic chance that their case will not be recorded let alone prosecuted.

I laud any victims who have the courage to go ahead with this, but those who do not are not to blame. They don’t cause discrimination against rape victims, and they don’t cause rape. Yet they, and the ones who do talk about rape or report it, take the brunt of the ‘blame’ or the criticism for the current rape crisis.

Shea // Posted 23 September 2009 at 10:35 pm


” I may be wrong but did the law not used to be that a women had to positively refuse rather than consent? Perhaps this explains why someone paralytic through alcohol could give “consent”.”

The mens rea of rape is that the defendant knew the victim was not consenting or was reckless to the fact. Consent as a defence requires the defendant to have a reasonable belief that the victim was consenting (and good grounds for believing this). This is distinct from a mere submission, i.e she did not move, or speak. The law holds that a inebriated person is still capable of giving consent “drunken consent is still consent” (although oddly not in the case of medical procedures- a doctor who got drunken consent for an operation, or operated on a drunken patient would be sued for negligence and prosecuted for assault, at the very least).

The burden of proof for consent as a defence rests with the defence, so anything that could be held to show the victim would have consented is used (i.e evidence of a prior relationship). Considering most rapes are by people known to the victim, this leaves us in a very bad situation. An alternative might be to hold that drunken consent is not consent and therefore could not be relied upon. Unfortunately the courts don’t want to do this and in the real world I think it would be very difficult to implement.

Unfortunately, Polly has it right- it ultimately comes down to who the jury believes.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds