Rape in the UK


Less than ten per cent of all reported rapes result in a conviction while less than six per cent of all rapes are reported nationally. In the UK, one out of every 20 women said they have experienced rape, yet only 15 per cent actually report the crime. It's a terrible state of affairs, and there are signs it could get worse.

Since the 1970's rape conviction rates have dropped substantially from 30 per cent, for a variety of reasons. Part of the issue is what Cate Briddick, a specialist on the law of sexual violence at Rights of Women - an organisation which works to empower women through advising them on their legal rights - calls a "culture of scepticism".

Society, she says, has a tendency to believe that "women are making [rape claims] up" when, in fact, rape, just like any other crime, has a very small number of fake accusations - estimated at less than three per cent.

When most people imagine rape, they envisage an attack by a stranger, alone, who uses a weapon and force to subdue his non-intoxicated victim who fights back, sustains injuries and reports the rape immediately afterwards.

This rape stereotype is actually among the rarest kind, in fact most rapes occur when the victim knows the perpetrator, who is often a current or ex-boyfriend, workmate, or someone met at a club or party.

As a result, many women do not report their rape, believing that it was their own fault or that what happened to them was not a "true" rape.

Many others fear that no one will believe them and their allegations, delaying reporting to the police. That leads to a corrosion of the evidence, making conviction even more difficult.

The introduction of DNA technology has also marked a shift in conviction, says Briddick, from perpetrators claiming it was not them, to claiming the act was consensual.

"Rape is a very intimate crime; only the two people involved were there and can say [whether or not it was consensual]," Briddick told politics.co.uk. With the culture of scepticism, women are often treated with considerable suspicion.

Recent research by the Independent Inspectorate for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), shows that police officers, solicitors, barristers, and other law officials only perpetuate the problem.

Common issues include not building enough evidence upon investigation to sustain a case and then failing to safeguard the evidence that they do collect, not properly interviewing the victim and the suspect, and allowing for personal information, including past sexual experience, of the victim to be considered in court despite its illegality.

Rights of Women have now launched the third edition of 'From Report to Court' a guide for survivors of rape to advise women on medical and legal assistance offered to survivors of sexual violence.

"Research has shown that when survivors are given proper information and support their case is more likely to end in the criminal conviction of the perpetrator of sexual violence," Emma Scott, director of Rights of Women said.

"We are very pleased to have worked again with the Home Office on this comprehensively updated edition to ensure that thousands more survivors get the information and advice that they need."

The book is available free of charge to survivors of sexual violence and is being distributed through police centres, rape crisis centres, and through Rights of Women's legal advice lines.

The government, recognising obvious problems dealing with sexual violence crimes has started to implement some new policies to rectify the situation, including encouraging the start of more sexual assault referral centres.

Other positive developments include a recent ruling by the Court of Appeal allowing trial judges to explain to jurors why a victim would have delayed reporting a rape to police, helping to alleviate the influence of the rape myth.

But problems with rape convictions are far from over, as victims continue to deal with poorly trained law officials, rape stereotyping, and the persistent failure of public opinion to recognise rapists don't always look like monsters.

Caitlin Libby


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