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View Full Version : Are rapists getting away with it?

01-31-2007, 12:05 PM

This is the UK:

Are rapists getting away with it?
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

In 1980, one in three complaints of rape ended in a conviction. Today, it's one in 20. In Gloucestershire, which was named the worst-performing county last year, how did it get so low?

Rapists are escaping justice, many people are convinced.

The number of convictions has risen a little, to 728 in 2005, but this has not kept up with the soaring rate of reported rapes.

A report published on Wednesday accuses police and prosecutors of failing to build strong cases, and the government is considering further reforms to make the justice system more sensitive to the needs of victims.

In Gloucestershire the problem is most acute. In Home Office figures published by the Fawcett Society, the county was bottom in England with a rape conviction rate of 0.86% of reported allegations. This compared with nearly 14% in Northamptonshire.

About 80% of rapes never reported
One-third those reported not recorded by police
A fifth of those recorded reaches trial
Half those tried result in conviction

Of the 116 people accused in 2004, only one was convicted during that year. But Gloucestershire police point out that 10 of these investigations were ongoing and resulted in convictions the following year.

For the women told their evidence does not stand up - or that they are lying - the experience can be as traumatic as the rape itself, says Bee, who has worked at Rape Crisis Centre in Gloucester for more than 20 years.

"Young women these days are quite sassy and have more of an idea that these things shouldn't happen to them.

"The sad thing is that the whole system lets them down. They go to court confident that they're going to get this guy and the system can't come up with the goods. Then suddenly we're not dealing with the rape but the refusal of the system to give them justice."

She believes the police in Gloucestershire have been trying hard to improve the situation by introducing measures to make rape easier to report, such as special interview suites.

Memory gaps

Ironically, the increase in complaints may have contributed to the fall in proportion of convictions. But there are deep-seated problems in the criminal justice system which mean people are getting away it, Bee says.

The police bring frivolous cases - most complaints are unwarranted
Simon Hett, defence solicitor
She would like more judges and prosecutors to be specially trained in sexual crimes, and expert witnesses to give evidence to explain the behaviour of complainants, which is something the government says it is considering.

"The response of victims is the very thing that stops the cases from getting convictions, such as they didn't go to the police straightaway, they couldn't remember what happened.

"They have gaps in their memory and say contradictory things. They remember things later. There's no little women sobbing in court. They're detached."

Bee would also like the public, including juries and police, to be better educated about how widespread rape is and how "normal" rapists can appear to be.

But it is the police who are partly to blame, says defence solicitor Simon Hett, based in Cheltenham.

Complainants can give pre-recorded evidence
Definition of consent has changed
Defendant's bad character can be used
Defendants cannot cross-examine complainants
£7m on new referral centres
"I've found the evidence brought by complainants is unsatisfactory. And the police choose to levy the charges at too high a level. I'm not unsympathetic but I've seen a vast majority of cases which should not have been brought. It's got to be proven beyond reasonable doubt."

Mr Hett does not believe rapists are being acquitted, only that juries are identifying flimsy and maliciously false accusations. As an example, he highlights a recent case where a woman accused her husband of rape, five days after they had sex.

"He said, 'we had sex and she's my wife. I didn't force her.' He faced four counts and it was dropped a day before the trial. It goes to show that police bring frivolous cases. Most complaints are unwarranted."

He does not believe there should be any changes to the law because it is already "too easy" for serious complaints to be made. But he says he works on cases all around the country and cannot see the system in Gloucestershire being any worse than elsewhere.

Binge drinking

Gloucestershire police say they work closely with the CPS throughout the investigation and every allegation is investigated by sexual offence trained investigators working to national standards. A spokeswoman adds that the fall in convictions may be down to changes in the way statistics are compiled.

And there has been real progress in bringing sexual offenders to justice, says Adrian Foster, chief Crown prosecutor for Gloucestershire, with a conviction rate of 75% for all sexual offences in 2006.

Some commentators believe the increase in alcohol consumption among women in the past 20 years has made it harder for juries to believe victims did not consent. And a rise in accusations made against acquaintances has increased the focus on consent, which is difficult to assess.

Dr Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society, says police and prosecutors' attitudes towards victims need to be more sensitive.

More fundamentally, the public debate about rape has to move away from presenting violence against women as acceptable, and victims of rape as blamed or disbelieved, she says.

Among the many women too afraid to go to police, many do contact charities like Rape Crisis Centre. Bee estimates they deal with nine times as many cases as the police.

There is hope on the way for rape victims in Gloucestershire. A Sexual Assault Referral Centre is due to open in Gloucester in 2008 and this "one-stop" location for victims will enable them to report a rape without pressing charges or giving their name. Then they can think about the consequences of legal action while the police collect evidence.

Bee believes it will make little difference unless public attitudes change. "I can tell you that [this centre] might get us up to the average of 5% and that's still nothing."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I was raped when I was 15 and still a virgin. I knew my attacker but because my dad was a policeman and his view at the time was "had been to a party and was wearing a short skirt - was asking for it!" I was only 15 and had only had one glass of wine. Have been in counselling only recently.

Please, why can people not accept the fact that if you drink so much that your memory is impaired you cannot make a reliable witness?
Geoff Winkless, Leicestershire, UK

The law should side with the innocent party, be it the person who was raped OR the accused if no offence occurred. With the number of miscarriages of justice its no wonder convictions are low as sending an innocent person to jail is the last thing anyone wants.
Darren, Lincoln

Having sat in on a case like this, to me it was very his word against her word. How can a jury decide if that's enough evidence to convict someone?
None, None

Does it not occur to any one involved in this that false allegations do happen? As with all things, each case needs to be addressed in its own right, and problems inherent in that should be addressed. Making "targets" for conviction, however, is just absurd: there will be more pressure to convict regardless of the facts of the case, and more people's lives ruined by the false allegations thrown at them.
Wes, Bristol

Part of the problem is the fact that so many women are falsely accusing men of rape nowadays. A woman gets drunk and gives consent, yet in the morning can accuse the male of rape. Add to that cases of women accusing celebrities of rape, yet the first port of call is Max Clifford, then the local police station, doesn't stand to reason. A judge and jury have to take these in to account before establishing 'beyond reasonable doubt'.
James, Durham

Surely a prosecution which finds someone wrongly accused of rape not guilty is as successful as finding someone rightly accused of rape guilty...
Dan , Bristol

I was raped in December 2005 and I never reported it to the police. Mostly because I knew it wouldn't be taken seriously. I live with the guilt of thinking that my attacker - who was known to me - might do it again to someone else and I could have prevented it. If I'd had more faith in our legal system I'd have gone to the police. But because I was drinking that night, I knew I'd be the one put under the spotlight, not my attacker.
RatherNotSay, Leeds

One of the things that has changed since 1980 is that women now feel more confident in reporting a genuine rape, but unfortunately, the one thing that is often forgotten is that these women will probably be very traumatised by their experience. They are told not to shower or clean themselves before going to the police, but often it is the first thing they want to do to comfort themselves. They are told to go to the police immediately, but they are left in a daze or live in fear that their attacker may return and so delay going to the police until they are confident enough. It doesn't make their case any easier to defend, but even if they cannot bring their case to court, they need assistance and understanding from the police.
Heather, Wolverhampton

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01-31-2007, 12:26 PM
The main problem concerning rape convictions is evidence. Many women will wait days before they report the crime, and in many cases there were no witnesses or other alternatives other than physical evidence. This makes it difficult to prove, and a jury will usually choose the side of caution in many instances. That is why it is important for women who have been raped to report it immediately and give the authorities the tools they need to charge an individual for the crime.

01-31-2007, 01:27 PM

Woman gets drunk. Agrees to sleep with a guy.

Next morning changes her mind.

Says she was raped.

Do you agree or not?

01-31-2007, 01:36 PM
format_quote Originally Posted by soulsociety

Woman gets drunk. Agrees to sleep with a guy.

Next morning changes her mind.

Says she was raped.

Do you agree or not?
I'm sure this has happened, but without getting too detailed, there are usually physical signs to determine whether a woman has been raped or not. Not always, but in most cases.

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