Return to home page

Further information on viewing conditions, site index and the site Google search facility
Frost's Meditations Logo

Conviction rates for rape remain appallingly low

Rachel Williams  27 March 2009

Table shows the percentage of rape convictions

It is a figure that is often quoted, and yet never fails to shock: of all the allegations of rape recorded by the police, only 6.5% result in a conviction. The figure is 34% in general criminal cases. Between 75% and 95% of rapes are not reported.

The low rate persists despite a string of initiatives, including new policy guidelines, specially trained police officers and prosecutors, and an increase in referral centres, where victims go for forensic examination and medical care.

Experts and campaigners say the problem stems from failures and prejudices at all stages of the system, from initial complaint to trial. It may start with police officers who are sceptical about the victim's story, perhaps because she has been drinking or was attacked by her partner, and either dismiss the complaint or make little effort to investigate. Prosecutors might be reluctant to take a case to court where they fear the victim lacks "credibility".

Juries, reflecting a belief among the public in a number of "rape myths", can be reluctant to convict. Research has found that a third of people in the UK believe a woman is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she has been flirtatious. Almost the same number think she should shoulder some blame if she was drunk. It is telling that while around 60% of cases that reach court lead to a conviction, most of these result from a guilty plea. Less than a quarter of all those charged with rape are convicted following a successful trial.

But the worst area for the attrition rate is during the police investigation, after the report of the crime but before any charge. Only a quarter of allegations end up in court. Home Office research found that the most common reasons charges were not brought were insufficient evidence - in 40% of cases - and the victim withdrawing her complaint, in 35% of cases.

The Without Consent report, published in 2007 by the independent inspectorates for the police and Crown Prosecution Service, was highly critical of the way police and prosecuting authorities deal with rape cases, finding that many officers had little specialist training and lacked awareness of the need to follow the relevant guidance.

Delays, "unpleasant environments", inappropriate behaviour by professionals, insensitive questioning and "judgmental or disbelieving attitudes" were all found to have been inflicted on victims.


Rape Crisis England and Wales response to Government £1.6 million March 26, 2009

A year ago the Government’s Rape Crisis Emergency Fund ensured that for the first time after a decade of closures, no Rape Crisis Centre shut in 2008. Rape Crisis England & Wales stated that

“In 2008 20 Rape Crisis Centers were at risk or facing cutbacks in services and staff. The Emergency Fund halted for a year, closures of Centers and reduction in services. We are now faced with the necessity of another special fund in 2009 for sexual violence services whose support to survivors is threatened due to lack of resources in the next year”.

“Equally vital is that the Government, led by the Equalities Office, takes a joined up approach to tackling the historic underinvestment of sexual violence services by firmly committing to cross government discussions on sustainability for the sexual violence sector over the next year. Rape Crisis Centers need long term solutions and do not want to be in the same critical situation again in March 2010?.


Damning IPCC report into police rape investigation
womensgrid March 19, 2009

When it was made public that the police had allowed John Worboys to rape dozens and possibly hundreds of women, many people asked, “How could this happen?” A damning report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) issued in response to a rape victim’s complaint provides a blow-by-blow of an unconnected rape investigation by London’s flagship specialist rape units – Project Sapphire. It shows that:

•   Hundreds of rapes and sexual assaults in one Sapphire unit were turned over to untrained, unqualified officers.

•   Supervisors failed to advise, check or monitor them.

•   Despite rape being considered the most serious crime dealt with at local level, the rape unit was systematically deprioritised and starved of resources; resources were found instead for motor crimes and robbery.

•   Central London Sapphire, which knew the local unit was in crisis, did nothing.

•   Officers (in this case women) who tried to get rape taken seriously were rebuffed and blocked at every turn by men at the top.

•   The detailed procedures and requirements for investigating rape were ignored.

•   Two of the same officers had been the subject of a complaint on another rape case.

•   Trained officers are allowed to pick and choose whether to work in Sapphire units –and many refuse. “Proactive” roles(aggressive targeting of suspects) are considered more exciting and better for an officer’s career, than “reactive” investigations such as rape.

•   Home Office pressure to gather statistics seemed to be undermining rape investigations.

The sentence must fit the crime
The IPCC report is in response to a formal complaint about the rape of a 15-year-old girl by a 28-year-old man in 2005. After months of pressure by the mother, the accused was finally arrested and tried. But crucial evidence which would have confirmed what the girl was saying was not gathered or was lost; not surprisingly the jury did not convict.

The IPCC report is a breakthrough, achieved by a determined team: the victim and her mother; Women Against Rape, with 30 years experience of campaigning and support; and a lawyer. Unlike most other complaints, this one did not get buried under the lies, carefully worded “apologies” and “local resolutions” that so often allow officers who have sabotaged rape cases to avoid any punishment or

When the man was acquitted, the girl’s mother contacted WAR, and soon became part of its campaigning team. A meeting with the Borough Commander arranged through the local MP sparked an internal investigation, exposing much more of the truth than comes out in most complaints. Not satisfied with merely an apology, a formal complaint was lodged demanding that the officers responsible leave the force.

While the truth is now out, the disciplinary measures meted out by the IPCC are an insult. The officers involved had previous: the IPCC reveal that when they were let loose on this investigation they had already mismanaged the pursuit of another young person’s rape. Yet the IPCC is not recommending that they should be sacked, or even suspended; they do not ask for a misconduct hearing, as is expected in the much publicised Worboys case. Instead, three officers are to be given“written warnings”, and a fourth is to get “words of advice”. The Borough Commander and Deputy Borough Commander were told but were doing nothing about it. The Deputy retired from the Met while the investigation was under way.

The report proves what we have been saying for years: the problem is not merely “canteen culture” at the lowest ranks, but the deprioritising of rape organised from the top. While government targets focus on property crime, hounding sex workers, spying on protesters, and terrorism, nothing is done about the much more widespread terrorism suffered by victims of rape and domestic violence. The report makes clear that the most junior officer struggled under an impossible workload; it blames the man in charge, the Deputy Borough Commander. Yet he was allowed to dodge interview, denying his responsibility in a 37-page written statement, and to swiftly move elsewhere. (He is now at the Centre for Policing Excellence.) This may be common practice in the Police Service, but it flies in the face of natural justice and should not be allowed.

The girl’s mother speaks for Women Against Rape:

“The implications of such botched investigations for women’s and girls’ safety are wide. Statistics often show that when rapists go unpunished, they go on to attack again. As a mother my concern is to get justice for my child, and also to prevent other families going through the trauma we’ve had to go through. I hope one of the outcomes of this is to show other victims that if you feel something is wrong, it’s your right to challenge it. I can’t emphasise enough, You have a voice. But it will continue to happen while those responsible for deprioritising rape get away with it. The PC has been used as a scapegoat. He should take a small amount of the blame. But the higher ones should be sacked for it, they should not be allowed to move on, be promoted, and then retire on full pensions.”

Content of the IPCC report
Police lost vital telephone evidence. Proof that the man made calls to the victim’s mobile, which he denied, was lost when the PC requested the wrong information.

They never visited the man’s flat, the scene of the rape, to gather forensic evidence, which any detective would expect to find there.

They never used available CCTV footage, and never spoke to witnesses who saw the distressed victim in a shop she ran into immediately after the rape.

Police delayed three months before the accused was arrested, despite having his address, name, car registration, and witnesses: as the report says, “on a plate”. They had gone to his address “to make enquiries with the occupiers” “but did not receive a reply.”

He was only arrested after a second woman reported this same man for rape.

A PC was sole investigating officer in this case. He had no detective training, let alone training in rape investigations. While Standard Operating Procedures for rape dictate that the officer in charge of each case must be at least a Detective Constable, this PC was in charge of this case and up to 33 sexual offences, including many rapes.

THE REPORT: “The bigger question is . . . why such an officer, without skills or experience in the investigation of the most serious offence routinely dealt with by Borough officers, was posted to a Sapphire Unit as his first-ever investigative role in the first place; and why he was then routinely allocated the most serious category of cases dealt with by that unit, in clear breach of MPS policy, as part of a punishing workload which would have tested even an experienced investigator.” (268)

The Investigating Officer’s decisions should have been guided and regularly supervised at specified intervals by the Detective Sergeant, of 22 years experience. Instead there is no record of any input from him at any stage. Scandalously, this DS is still employed by Southwark police.

The report found DS guilty of “nothing less than a grave and sustained neglect of duty”.

The Detective Inspector who oversaw the Sapphire unit, begged her Detective Chief Inspector for trained officers, telling him they were ”in breach of MPS policy”. For much of the time this unit, which while this investigation was proceeding dealt with nearly 100 rapes, had no trained DCs at all.

DI: “I made it clear that . . . if an issue happens such as we’re sitting here now, our position was indefensible”.

DI “I even tried the tack with [Deputy Borough Commander], ‘is it because I’m a female and my supervisor is female . . .’ because the robbery DIs and DCIs are all male, seem to be getting more resources . ..’

THE REPORT: they were “understaffed . . underskilled and overburdened [this] was properly the responsibility of more senior managers .. the situation was known, problems anticipated and action could have been taken . . .” (214)

Instead of putting more officers onto rape investigations, the Deputy Borough Commander further depleted her team by sending some of them to work on a street robbery initiative being promoted by the Home Office.

DI: “. . . the Motor Vehicle Crime unit, the Borough Intelligence Unit, the Dedicated Source Unit, the Burglary Team, the Robbery Team and the Task force had more substantive [trained] DCs than the Sapphire Unit. The picture painted was that greater importance was given to motor vehicle crime than victims of serious sexual assault.” (106)

THE REPORT: “she was required by [Deputy Borough Commander] to provide officers from her understrength unit to staff a Borough robbery initiative, Operation Challenger.” (104)

DS: “If you’re not in priority business then you will not tend to get the more experienced or able individuals.” DPS investigator: “Was Sapphire considered a priority do you think?” DS: “Not at all . . . The office wasn’t staffed with substantive [qualified]detectives. . . it would always have been possible to do that. So I can only assume that there was a clear choice not to. . “ (330) [our emphasis]

Sapphire’s London HQ took no responsibility. They were aware of the situation but did not ask the Commissioner to intervene. Shortly before this rape was reported, because of the “performance figures in the unit” the DI was

“called to meetings by[Commander], at that time the senior officer in charge of Sapphire Met-wide, to explain” . . . “Her plea for extra resources at borough level went unanswered, however.” (104)

When the case came to trial, the judge strongly criticised the officers for losing evidence, and the telephone evidence in particular:

Trial JUDGE: “A most important piece of evidence was lost. It pains any judge to say this but this is a disgrace . . .” (145)

Two of the same officers had been the subject of a complaint about their handling of another young person’s rape (not by the same man). But the complaint had been handled illegally: a) as so often happens in police complaints, the complainant was offered “local resolution”, which is not allowed for a matter this serious b) she accepted this because she was told the matter would go on the officers’ files. But as it was a local resolution no disciplinary action could be taken, so it did not get recorded as a complaint, it was not on the computer when the new complaint came in, so the officers erroneously appeared to have a clean record. This matter should have been referred to the IPCC, but the IPPC has so far refused to look into it.

Further quotes from the report

THE REPORT: PC“was then asked what he knew of the Standard Operating Procedures on the Investigation of Rape and Serious Sexual Assaults:

‘Yes I think it was mentioned when I was there’ ‘Did you ever read it?’ ‘No I didn’t.’ ‘So you had no kind of induction process?’ ‘No, I just turned up and got on with the job.’

DS: “this was a successful rape investigation in the fact that it [reached court] –something that doesn’t happen in the majority of rape cases” (356) . . . “I don’t think I let anybody down. (358)

DPS INVESTIGATOR to DS: “Don’t you think as a supervisor, you ought to know if an unskilled PC is dealing with a stranger rape of a 15-year-old girl?” . . . “Everything you needed was handed to you on a plate – as far as rapes go, this was an eminently solvable, easy one to do because you had it all there” (390)

DI: “I went on leave for a period of a week … when I came back I found that my last DC had been removed and posted to the financial unit. . . by that stage when I left I had none, and the reply I got was they’ve got issues so they couldn’t come into Sapphire Unit. Seemed to me the whole of Southwark had issues” (415)

DI: “even the public protection unit officers who had appointments to see serious sex offenders, they were going out on robbery patrol because of Operation Challenger, that was a Met initiative at that time.”

DS: When [Deputy Borough Commander] left and a new woman was made Superintendent, “within. . . a month or six weeks, we had at least 6 or 8 exceptionally good experienced detectives working in the office.” (334)

THE REPORT: [This] “indicates the immediate and substantial improvement capable of being achieved through the exertion of senior management will, and b) that this was always achievable from within the borough’s own resources, had SMT [Senior Management Team] but chosen to do so.” (335)

THE REPORT: [The Deputy Borough Commander] made “a surprising informal agreement” with an incoming DCI to bring in a team of experienced detectives but only with “guarantees that they would only be posted to ‘proactive’ roles.” “(Proactive in this context means roles aggressively targeting suspected offenders. It is considered by many officers to be the ‘exciting’ part of policing, and proactive roles are often much sought after, as success in this arena is considered useful in an officer’s career development. Sapphire, dealing with the aftermath of crime which had already occurred, and often involving lengthy and difficult investigation with uncertain outcomes, is defined as reactive.)” (493)

THE REPORT [re failing to interview Detective Superintendent, who retired from the Met in the middle of the investigation:] “Considerations of difficulties with [his] diary, his location, his other commitments, and the possibility that he might be leaving the service and thus place himself beyond the reach of discipline interviews were held to render this option impossible.” (224)

Note: The IPCC is widely discredited for its pro-police bias. In Feb 2008, the Guardian reported that the Police Action Lawyers Group had resigned from the IPCC’s advisory board. The Guardian’s own investigation at that time found, “A pattern of favouritism towards the police with some complaints being rejected in spite of apparently powerful evidence in their support.”


Lawyers to be retrained in attempt to improve shocking rape conviction rate
By Mark Aitken Aug 24 2008

Every prosecution lawyer who deals with rape victims will be retrained to improve Scotland's appalling conviction rate for sex crimes.

Victims have less than a one in 30 chance of seeing an attacker convicted - one of the worst rates in the western world.

The shocking figures have been blamed on inexperienced prosecutors and victims' lack of confidence in the system.

By next summer, fiscals will only be allowed to handle rape cases if they have approved training. More than 500 prosecutors will be trained.

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."

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.

By contrast, latest figures for Scotland show those found guilty of rape has dropped to an all-time low of 2.9 per cent.

In 2006-7 there were 922 rapes reported but just 27 cases ended in a conviction.

There is also a gulf in the conviction rate across Scotland.

Grampian had a 6.2 per cent conviction rate but the rate at both Tayside and Dumfries and Galloway was zero.

The Crown Office will not fully adopt the American system but police chiefs and victim support groups back it.

Sandy Brindley, of Rape Crisis Scotland, said: "The development of this course is an important step in improving responses to rape."

Assistant chief constable Bill Skelly, of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, said: "We are delivering reform to ensure victims are afforded a sufficient level of support through the judicial process."


Rape conviction rates may rise after Court of Appeal ruling
Conviction rates for rape could rise after an "important" ruling
on what juries can be told about alleged victims, legal experts claim.

By Martin Beckford, 24 Oct 2008

The ruling was welcomed by Vera Baird, QC, the Solicitor General, as an "important advance".
The Court of Appeal ruled that trial judges can tell jurors an alleged rape victim could have delayed making a complaint to police because they felt "shame and guilt" about being sexually assaulted.

This is likely to strengthen prosecution cases in trials where the alleged victim did not report their ordeal immediately, a fact that is often seized on by the defence as proof that the claim is unreliable.

Rear-Admiral John WaltersThe ruling was welcomed by Vera Baird, QC, the Solicitor General, as an "important advance".

She said: "It is a rape myth that a victim of sexual assault will always scream for help as soon as she is able and if she does not, she must have made the whole thing up.

"Jurors who are new to these issues can – and frequently are – brought to what the Court of Appeal calls 'an unjustified conclusion' by this.

"The court has taken the opportunity to tackle this myth, on the basis that judges are better aware from their court experience that many reasons, including trauma, fear and shame may make a victim unable to complain for some time."

She added: "This is likely to contribute to improved fairness in rape trials where the conviction rate is now increasing but is still unrealistically low."

Recent figures show the conviction rate in rape cases is below 10 per cent in most parts of England and Wales, and fell in recent years in 18 out of 43 police areas.

The new ruling arose out of an unsuccessful appeal by John Arthur Doody, 43, who was convicted at Wolverhampton Crown Court in June last year of six counts of rape.

His lawyers argued that the trial judge should not have given possible reasons, during his summing up of the case to the jury, why a victim may delay making a rape complaint.

But Lord Justice Latham ruled: "The judge is entitled to make comments as to the way evidence is to be approached, particularly in areas where there is a danger of a jury coming to an unjustified conclusion without an appropriate warning.

"We think that cases where a defendant raises the issue of delay as undermining the credibility of a complainant fall into (this) category save clearly that the need for comment is in this instance to ensure fairness to the complainant.

"But any comment must be uncontroversial... The fact that the trauma of rape can cause feelings of shame and guilt which might inhibit a woman from making a complaint about rape is sufficiently well known to justify a comment to that effect."


Oppression lies behind the low rape conviction rates
by Sadie Robinson 20 November 2007

Tory leader David Cameron last week used the low conviction rate for rape as an excuse to condemn the “moral collapse” of British society. This is the latest way that Cameron has tried to tap into a feeling of social crisis.

The low conviction rate for rape is a problem. Of reported rapes in 2006-7 the conviction rate was just 5.6 percent – a startling figure that itself ought to condemn our criminal justice system.

But the statistics say more about women’s position in society than about an alleged decline in moral standards.

We are facing an ideological backlash in which the right is attempting to roll back the gains that women in Britain have won over the last few decades.

We live in a society where the dominant ideology tells us that women’s oppression no longer exists. Yet rape is itself a product of women’s oppression. The denial of the fact of this oppression leads to a huge problem in understanding rape.

At the same time, the real gains that women have made over the last few decades mean that more women now have the confidence to report rapes that occur within relationships.

But these cases don’t fit the dominant ideology – which tells us that rapes are predominantly carried out by strangers – and are less likely to result in a conviction.

The low conviction rate shows how old ideas about rape have not gone away. In the 1970s and 1980s, women were told that they encouraged rape because of the clothes they wore.

Today women are blamed for drinking and thereby putting themselves in a “vulnerable” position. Our society tells us that it’s the responsibility of the woman to avoid rape. There has been an attack on the idea of date rape – with some saying, “One person’s rape is another person’s bad night.”

Men are still portrayed as being unable to control their “natural urges”.

Meanwhile we are surrounded by sexualised images of women that supposedly reflect our “empowerment”.

Language and behaviour once condemned as sexist are increasingly acceptable. Whereas once stripping was seen as exploitative and degrading, now even prostitution can be portrayed as empowering.

All of this adds up to a misinterpretation of the reality of rape and confusion about why it occurs.

Rape is a product of the way that capitalism distorts our relationships and turns women and sex into commodities to be bought, sold and sometimes stolen.

Popular mythology conjures up the image of a woman being attacked in a dark street by a stranger.

But most women who are raped are attacked by people they know – and often by people in their own family. In home office figures, only 12 percent of rapes are defined as “stranger rapes”.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels identified the family under class society as the key to women’s oppression.

The family as we know it today emerged at the same time as private property and the state.

Before this men and women lived in hunter-gatherer societies where they had equal status. Marx and Engels called this “primitive communism”.

The ideology of the family generally saw women as a form of property and subservient to men.

Engels described women’s resulting reduction in status as “the world historic defeat of the female sex”.

The right likes to focus on individual men as the source of the problem because it distracts us from facing up to the institutional oppression that is part of capitalist society.

The dominant ideology dwells on rape by strangers because acknowledging that women are more likely to face violence within the home would mean challenging a fundamental institution of capitalism.

Instead people like Cameron seek to bolster the ideology of the family, with their talk of tax breaks for married couples and the like.

Over the past two decades reported rapes have been on the increase. Between 2001 and 2005 reported rapes rose by just under 4,000.

But it’s hard to tell if rapes have increased or if reporting has risen. And of course, many rapes still go unreported – an estimated three out of four. This is hardly surprising. According to figures from the home office, over two thirds of reported rapes don’t make it to court.

One quarter of reported rapes were subsequently “no crimed” by the police, with cases where the complainant and suspect knew each other being most likely to be “no crimed”.

Half of all rapes defined as a crime led to no further action by the police.

The low conviction rate needs to be challenged. It sends a message to men that they can get away with rape, and to women that there’s little point reporting it. It is a reflection of the value that our society attaches to women. But we need to recognise that the answer to the problem of rape is not a legal one.

Right wing politicians try and use the issue of rape as a means to attack the “permissive” nature of our society and call for a stronger state to put things right – hence the demand for longer sentences for convicted rapists.

Focusing on longer sentences in a situation where most cases don’t even result in a conviction is unhelpful. It also means avoiding the cause of the problem.

The reasons for rape are embedded in the kind of society we live in. It occurs because women are oppressed – and to end it we need to end that oppression.


UK Data on Rape and Sexual Assault
1 in 4 women have experienced rape or attempted rape Painter, 1991 Survey of 1,007 women in 11 cities, Northern England
1 in 7 women have been coerced into sex,
rising to 1 in 3 among divorced and separated women
Painter, 1991 Survey of 1,007 women in 11 cities, Northern England
The most common perpetrators of rape are husbands and partners
Painter, 1991 Survey of 1,007 women in 11 cities, Northern England
97% of callers to Rape Crisis Lines
knew their assailant prior to the assault
Rape Crisis Federation of England and Wales Analysis of RCF members' records, England and Wales
The majority of perpetrators are known to the victim Kelly et. al, 2005

During 2001 it is estimated that 190,000 incidents of serious sexual assault and 47,000 female victims of rape/attempted rape

See also

What is Rape Trauma Syndrome?
Women jurors think rape victims were 'asking for it'
Talking about rape [77KB PDF]
Rape victims told alcohol consumption may cost them compensation
Regional Rape Convictions Map 2006 [317KB PDF]
Information pack from the Scottish Government [297KB PDF]

Readers please email comments to: editorial AT including full name

Note: contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of "fair use" in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than "fair use" you must request permission from the copyright owner.
Return to home page