Sunday, November 28, 2010

women, rape and the criminal justice system

Only 6% of reported rapes result in a conviction and a significant number of those accused are never charged at all. And reported rapes are themselves in a minority. Figures from the Department of Health suggest that a woman is raped every 10 minutes. The vast majority – an estimated 95% of the rapes that actually take place in the UK – are never reported in the first place. Afua Hirsch, legal affairs correspondent, tells us in the guardian online on

Why is this in the news again?
Because a woman who accused her husband of rape was locked up and he was set free, when she was intimidated by him into dropping her charges. Helen Pidd's article on
"It was horrible because I knew the police officers and the solicitors believed that the rapes did happen but the CPS wanted to prosecute me for perverting the course of justice.
It was unbelievable. I remember going in and seeing my solicitor and finding out what course of action they were going to take and I was in tears coming out of the police station. I still can't get my head around the fact that the police officers and my solicitor knew damn well I had been raped and even when I rang the main CID person and said the rapes did happen as I had originally said, he said: 'I just thought it was only a matter of time before you came to me and said yes, they did happen.' Still to this day I can't get my head around it."

"Sarah" was let out of prison following a decision from Britain's
most senior judge, Lord Judge. who said there should be: “a broad measure of compassion for a woman who had already been victimised”. However, Sarah is still stuck with a criminal record - and a suspended sentence. The case against her husband has been dropped.

In 2007 I wrote about Cameron's committment to improving conviction rates and in 2005 about the way rates have got lower over the last few decades. Afua Hirsch's articles suggests that the issue of jurors attitudes contributing to this.

False complaints of rape necessarily impact upon the minds of jurors trying rape cases," a crown court judge said last year, sentencing a rape complainant to two years in jail. Jury prejudice is often cited as one of the reasons that the UK lags so far behind the rest of Europe in its rape conviction rates. In 2009, 59% of people formally charged with rape were convicted. But the majority of those pleaded guilty, with far fewer found guilty by a jury.

So, what is the Government going to do about the unfairness and low conviction rates? Well it seems likely that cuts in public services are only likely to make matters worse.

The Crown Prosecution Service says it is committed to ensuring specialist rape prosecutors continue to be available, but cuts are certain in all areas of criminal justice,

Defence barristers, whose conduct in court is for many rape victims one of the most frightening aspects of reporting the crime, are more likely to be male and less diverse as a result of the continuing cuts to legal aid. The government frequently states that protecting the diversity of the legal profession is simply not its problem.

Apart from those criminalised because their rape allegations are not believed,women otherwise involved in crime are often there in part because of experiences of rape and violence. one third of all women offenders are the victims of rape.

In this context, it is ludicrous for the courts to think that they need to provide a strong deterrent for women who are contemplating making false allegations.

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