lies, damn lies, and rape statistics
The next time you read a story about the Government proposing ways to increase rape convictions because they are “too low”, and those evil judges trying to block such ‘reforms’, keep this article from the Times in mind (my emphasis in bold):
Rape is not something that any of us likes to think about. It is a vile crime. But this week’s headlines have been hard to ignore. They tell us that only 1 in 20 rape victims will see their attacker convicted. That 30 years ago it was 1 in 3. That the number of reported rapes has soared, from 5,136 in 1995 to 14,002 in 2005. That we are living in a world in which huge numbers of evil men get away with violating women because the police are useless and juries think that women are “asking for it” by wearing short skirts.
But it is not so simple. I first started looking at this issue because something jarred with me. The figures were shocking, and getting worse despite a decade of effort by police and prosecutors. And the Government was using them to justify a steady dismantling of defendants’ freedoms.
The first thing I found was that the “conviction rate” of one in twenty, the rate cited by every authority on the issue, is not the conviction rate at all. It is the number of convictions secured out of the total allegations made, not the number of convictions secured out of the cases tried. I can think of no other crime where conviction is so routinely confused with attrition. The attrition rate in rape cases is very high: only about 12 per cent of allegations reach court. The true conviction rate in rape cases is closer to 50 per cent than 5 per cent. That does not suggest that juries are weak: quite the opposite.
The next thing I found was that more people are being found guilty of rape: up from 655 in 2002 to 728 in 2005. Conviction rates are falling only because allegations have jumped by 40 per cent in that period.
A large proportion of rape allegations aren’t prosecuted at all. Indeed, between half and two thirds “drop out” before referral to prosecutors (see consultation document below). Victim “withdrawals” account for one third of cases “lost at police stage”.
So we have a Government attempting to solve so-called ‘problems’ with our courts, when there are much larger issues outside.
Is it in the interests of justice (and indeed the victims) to fiddle with the facts?
The consultation (now closed) document (264Kb PDF) can be found on the Home Office website.