UK: So easy for men to escape conviction, rape might as well be legal!
London -- Thursday February 1, 2007
Why is rape so easy to get away with?Despite all the reforms to the police and courts, rape victims have only a tiny chance of seeing their attacker convicted. Julie Bindel investigates
Scroll down to also read "Third of dropped rape cases should have been pursued, says report"
'I coped with being raped," says Jane Lewis, who was attacked by a man two years ago at the party where they met, "but I went mad when he was acquitted. That is when I started fantasising about killing him." She later discovered that he had been accused of rape four times previously: twice not charged, and twice acquitted by a jury.
Today, rape might as well be legal. With women frequently accused of making false allegations, and victims who had consumed alcohol blamed for "getting themselves raped", it is a wonder that the conviction rate for reported rapes is as high as the current figure of 5%.
Rape is an everyday occurrence. Research published yesterday by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Home Office Inspectorates estimates that of the 50,000 rapes thought to occur each year, between 75% and 95% are never reported. And almost a third of reported cases recorded by police as "no crime" should have been properly investigated as rape.
If a man commits a rape, then he has, on average, a less than 1% chance of being convicted. Those most likely to result in a conviction are classic stranger rapes, involving a man with a knife who breaks into the victim's home or drags her into the bushes.
Elizabeth Harrison is the manager of the Whitechapel Haven, one of three centres in London that provide a 24-hour service to help anyone who has been recently raped or sexually assaulted. She is all too aware that many rape victims are not believed if they have been drinking. "On the one hand, doctors we use at the Haven are saying these women are too drunk to consent to a medical examination," says Harrison, "but the court is saying that she was not too drunk to consent to sex."
I have observed a number of rape trials. One case I sat through concerned a woman who had met a man at 2am while waiting for the night bus after an evening out with friends. They spoke for five minutes before going on to a grass verge where they had anal and oral sex. She said it was rape. He said she was gagging for it. She admitted she had drunk six alcopops. The jury acquitted the man.
Alcohol seems to have become the new short skirt. The majority of cases resulting in an acquittal now involve a complainant who had been drinking. And despite changes to both legislation and court conduct over the past 30 years, conviction rates continue to plummet. How can that be?
Nicole Westmarland, chair of the Rape Crisis Federation, believes that the main obstacle to convicting rapists is the stereotypes about the crime. "Those responsible in the criminal justice system know that everything has been done with the process and legislation," she says, "and we are now at a really dangerous place where they might start to look at measures such as restorative justice, or downgrading 'date rape' and differentiating it from what many see as 'real' rape, involving a stranger and a back alley."
"People do know that rape is very common," agrees Harrison, "but many people - including those on juries - protect themselves by thinking, 'I would have fought him off' or 'The men I know wouldn't do that.' If you start accepting that you can't stop it happening to you, or that the nice man you work with might be capable of doing it, that's when it gets frightening."
The CPS will only take a case to court if it has a "reasonable chance of conviction". This means that those cases that fit the stereotype - such as stranger rapes - take precedence over the more commonplace ones. Yet often women say that being raped by a man they love and trust hurts more than being attacked by a man they will never see again.
"If cases that appear difficult to win do not get to court," says Hamish Brown, a retired senior police officer and expert on sexual violence, "then jurors will never get the chance to become educated about those more complicated cases that rarely go forward." Despite this, Brown admits that in cases where it is simply "her word against his", he would usually decide not to charge. "If there is too much in the defence's favour, such as she was carrying condoms, it is unlikely to result in a conviction."
What is going wrong? Police deal with rape within a culture of suspicion. Despite feminists heaping praise on the police since they improved their approach to victims from the bad old days of the 70s and 80s, response to rape is still patchy and, at times, unacceptable. A Channel 4 documentary, screened last year, portrayed some officers as lazy and sexist and an allegation of rape by a prostitute as being treated lightly.
Dave Gee, vice-chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers working group on rape, admits that while some forces have made "great strides" towards improving victim care and rape investigation, others stand still. "There are still problems with some police attitudes around rape," says Gee, "because police officers can take on board the stereotypes that a lot of the general public do about rape."
Accusations and press reports of women making false allegations have been widespread recently, and yet the most up-to-date research on this shows that false rape allegations are no higher than in any other crime, and stand at around 3%, although police officers questioned in the same report assumed 23% were false. One academic who has written extensively about false allegations of rape says his students believe that half of all rape complaints are false.
There are many calls for women to be harshly treated if they appear to be lying about rape. At the moment, these voices seem louder than those calling for justice for the thousands of rape victims who do not see their attacker dealt with by the law. Last year a Labour Peer, Lord Campbell-Savours, used parliamentary privilege to name a woman during a debate on rape legislation, calling her "a serial and repeated liar" after a man found guilty of raping her had his conviction overturned. The woman neither admitted nor was charged with making a false allegation. Many tabloid newspapers have joined in, giving the impression that rape is simply a figment of mad women's imaginations.
Some women who report rape can end up in the dock. Last year, a teenager who reported being raped by three men in a park was cautioned by police for perverting the course of justice after the accused showed footage from a mobile phone of the victim engaging in sexual activity with one of the men. "It proved nothing," she tells me, "except that they were filming the rape for porn." Police have since wiped the caution after the victim challenged it.
Previous allegations can influence whether or not police and jurors decide if the complainant is lying. The horrific consequence of this attitude is that women raped more than once who report attacks to the police are even less likely to get justice than others. Complainants who the police or courts decide have lied could be named, and there are now even calls for their DNA to be filed in case of future reports of rape.
Some women who report rape risk heavy penalties in the civil courts. Lucy Green is one of a number of women sued for slander in the past decade after the men they accused were either not charged or acquitted in court. "All of a sudden I was in court as a defendant, not a victim of rape, which I had been prepared to endure. I was so scared I wet myself on several occasions during cross-examination."
The jury was divided and gave a hung verdict. "If he had won I would have been forced to make a public apology and pay him money for raping me."
Not only are women who report rape routinely viewed as liars; it would seem that once a woman becomes sexually active she is no longer allowed to say "no" on subsequent occasions. Despite legislation introduced in 1999 to restrict defence barristers from raising a complainant's sexual history in court, judges all too often allow them to get away with it. I have witnessed defence lawyers badgering women with questions about their sexual activity while judges and prosecutors do nothing to stop them.
For the many women who do not receive justice, the only route left open can be claiming criminal injuries compensation (CIC). Judith Scott was raped at knife-point in 1983, and three years later picked a man called David Mulcahy out of an identification parade. But the procedure was compromised and the police were forced to release him. He was eventually arrested, more than 10 years later, after the notorious "railway rapist", John Duffy, identified him as his partner. By then, Mulcahy had raped at least 12 more women and killed three.
Having battled with years of trauma as a result of the rape, and misplaced guilt at Mulcahy remaining free to rape and kill other women, she attended the trial, despite the fact that the CPS had decided not to pursue him for her rape. "I wanted some kind of closure for myself," says Scott, "and obviously found sitting through the trial very, very difficult."
After Mulcahy's arrest, Scott was advised by the police to apply for compensation, and was examined by a psychiatrist hired by the CIC board, who concluded that she had "brought on her own trauma" by choosing to attend the trial. She says the board adjudicator, recommending that Scott should not be paid any additional compensation for trauma and loss of earnings (at the time of the rape, she was an aspiring dancer), asked her why she "went back for more".
"The whole process was like a re-enactment of the rape," says Scott, "with some abusive man wielding power over me."
Although the top payout for rape at the time was £7,500, (recently raised to £11,000), far bigger sums have been awarded to men who said they were falsely accused. Being accused of rape is seen as more serious and damaging than being raped, and yet research shows that levels of post- traumatic stress disorder is higher amongst rape victims than war veterans.
What needs to be done? Not, says Harrison, government advertising campaigns that warn men they will go to prison if they commit rape, such as the one run in lads' mags last year. "These men are aware that the likelihood is they won't even get charged, let alone convicted, " she says. Police, the CPS and campaigning organisations all say that changes need to take place outside the courtroom, such as education programmes to debunk the myths about rape. "It is the responsibility of the government to educate potential jurors that all rape is real rape," says Lewis, "because at the moment, most rapists know they are very unlikely to be punished."
In 1998, a headline appeared in the local Grimsby weekly: "Man faces rape charge". He had dragged a 15-year-old girl down an alley and assaulted her. The CPS decided not to pursue the case. That man was Ian Huntley. At the time, he was not seen as a danger to the public, and neither are the majority of other "opportunist" rapists who get away with it.
One victim of rape, the feminist writer Andrea Dworkin, once said that women and children were not protected by the law as it stood from "men who rape, rape, rape", and would have to take the law into their own hands if justice was ever to be done. "Women should get guns and should be allowed to use them to defend themselves," she said. If women continue to be denied justice, there will be many who agree with her.
Some names have been changed.
London -- Wednesday January 31, 2007
Third of dropped rape cases should have been pursued, says report
· Police and prosecutors 'not following guidelines'
· Justice gap for victims is widening, warn watchdogsClare Dyer, legal editor
Police and prosecutors are regularly failing rape victims by wrongly recording many cases as "no crime" and dropping others prematurely without following possible lines of investigation, according to a report today by the independent watchdogs for both services.
Officers routinely fail to follow home office guidelines, said the joint report. Nearly one in three of the cases police recorded as "no crime" should have been properly investigated as rape.
Police made the decision to record "no crime" because the victim withdrew her complaint or because they felt she lacked credibility due to inconsistencies or factors such as alcohol consumption. But they should not have done so unless they had "verifiable information that no crime was committed", according to guidelines. The failures not only inflated police perceptions of the scale of false allegations, but led to a loss of information about perpetrators and risked undermining the victim's credibility if she made a later report of rape, the report said.
While recorded reports of rape are soaring - up 40% in four years to 13,721 in 2004-05 - the number of rapists convicted each year has been rising only slightly, from 640 in 2002 to 728 in 2005. The result, said the report, is that "the justice gap for victims of rape is widening".
Of a sample of 752 rape reports in 2005 looked at by the inspection team, 179 were "no-crimed", of which 57 should have been recorded as crimes. Among the eight police areas studied, the rate of no-criming varied hugely - from 4% to 47%. Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society, said: "Wholesale reform is needed to give women confidence in the system, deliver justice to victims of rape and prevent violence against women in the first place."
The inspectors found that some prosecutors were taking decisions prematurely to drop a case when further steps were possible. They were failing to follow a recommendation of a previous inspection in 2002 that they should get a second opinion before closing the file. They were also overlooking new laws allowing hearsay and evidence of a defendant's "bad character" to be produced in court. Prosecutors tended to consider only previous convictions, although previous acquittals and rape reports to police are also admissible as evidence of bad character.
Other problems included wide variations in the quality of medical examination services for victims, with some services outsourced to private companies recruiting doctors from abroad on short-term contracts. There were poor examination facilities, "unacceptable" delays, the taking of inappropriate samples and a lack of expertise.
In one case an elderly victim who had been raped and violently assaulted was forced to wait over six hours at the sexual assault referral centre. In another, when a child victim on holiday with her mother had still not been seen by a paediatrician after three days, the mother took her child home to London, where she made her own arrangements. "This level of delay is unacceptable and is a factor that is likely to contribute significantly to victims withdrawing their complaint before the investigation has properly commenced," said the report.
The Home Office minister Joan Ryan said the government would be making a further £1m available to extend the number of sexual assault referral centres from 15 to 40 by the end of 2008. The director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald QC, said: "I am determined to improve the way we deal with these cases from start to finish. We owe it to the complainants, who are showing more confidence in coming forward, to do our best for them."
The Metropolitan police assistant chief commissioner John Yates said the police and others in the criminal justice system must redouble their efforts. "The police service has a number of priorities, but this has to be close to number one."