It’s no big secret that the rape conviction rate in the UK is utterly and depressingly low. And that unfortunately is something that will not be fixed over night.
But, while I would never be so foolish as to become optimistic, I was indeed hopeful when I learned that the Home Office was working on a campaign to tackle violence against women and drive up rape conviction rates. Especially when I learned that prosecutors were going to start challenging rape myths in court, as a response to the Home Office survey.
Now, a Guardian article (h/t Gauntlet) gives us the disappointing and upsetting news that even that much was ill-founded.
We know that currently in nearly three-quarters of all reported rapes, the perpetrator is never charged and the case isn’t referred to the CPS. The reasons are numerous and have been debated in various arenas over the past few years. However, in a recent interview, Dave Gee, rape adviser to Acpo and the Home Office, admitted that Britain’s appalling conviction rates were often due to poor evidence-gathering and negative mindsets, which he said too often led to cases being “undermined rather than built up”.
Police forces across the UK and Wales have all been allocated “rape champions” to oversee the roll-out of their sexual violence action plans, to implement good practice guidelines and to tackle the “negative mindsets” within their forces. Along with specially trained officers, they have received sexual violence training and are part of the initiative that we have been assured will help to address the culture of disbelief that we know, from what women tell us, still exists. However, at the Home Office violence against women consultation in the east of England in May, a rape champion for one of the police forces in the east of England stated openly that “everyone knows most women and girls who report rape can’t be believed”.
It is truly concerning that rape champions, who oversee the training and work of the specially trained sexual offences officers in police forces, hold these views. It has long been acknowledged by Acpo that miscounting rape statistics – most specifically recording women’s withdrawal from the process as a false allegation – has not helped to change the police’s wrong assumptions that at least 25% of women reporting rape won’t be telling the truth, when in reality that figure is no more than for any other crime. If frontline officers are assuming that 25% of the women who come in to their stations to report rape “can’t be believed”, one wonders how this affects their response to all victims of this most serious of crimes.
First of all: how the hell does this guy still have his job? Can we get him fired, please? Preferably, yesterday?
Secondly, what kind of training are we really talking about if this is the view that those undergoing it walk away with? That “everybody knows” that women aren’t really raped, and are actually lying, vindictive whores? If this is the post-training attitude, I doubt that I even want to know what the attitude is pre-training. Though I suppose if, as suggested above, the general thought is that 25% of rape reports will be false, that’s actually an improvement over the rape champion’s assertion of most!
Then, there’s this disturbing addition:
In the past year, we have seen another disturbing development in the attempt to further manipulate the statistics. Throughout the country, rape crisis ISVAs have been reporting their concerns that women who have attempted to report their rape to the police are being discouraged from doing so with the rationale that “there probably isn’t enough evidence”, “it’s their word against his” and “it really isn’t worth them going through with it”.
Nothing new, of course, but still disheartening each and every time it occurs. It’s also extremely traumatizing to survivors. I’ve long thought that one of the most important means of showing a rape survivor support after an assault is simply to believe her. For many, the negative reaction, disbelief and victim-blaming they receive from others significantly enhances the trauma, and can even be as traumatic as the rape itself. For police to be engaging in this behavior is always, always abhorrent.
I’m also concerned that setting targets for rape convictions may only exacerbate the problem. While seemingly a good faith initiative, I worry that even as it drives up the conviction rate, it will significantly lower the overall rate of prosecutions, as police work to not pursue those cases where they see a lower chance of conviction rather than work harder on investigations to increase the chances of a conviction. If anything, I imagine, it would be a better idea to set prosecution rates rather than conviction rates. (Of course MRAs would still throw a massive, massive temper tantrum over that idea, but I care very little what they think.) Convictions rely very heavily on jury attitudes, which police have little power over. Prosecutions rely on police and prosecutor attitudes, and that is indeed something within their own control.
As a final note and piece of advice: “rape champions”? Seriously? That’s kind of the worst name ever for someone who is supposed to be defending rape survivors rather than rape itself. Perhaps “rape survivor champions” would be a better name, as one of about a billion examples I can think of that would be a massive improvement. Though, from the above, it sadly might not be a wholly inaccurate descriptor.