Rape: Getting Away With It

In the aftermath of yet another woman’s death, following yet another rape trial acquittal, The Independent reported yet another scandal — hapless investigation and prosecution of sexual crime.

It is this impoverished process that gives men who want to rape women virtual impunity — individual immunity from prosecution; and that and thus a society that hardly knows or cares what happens to women.

It is not as if the police and criminal justice system don’t understand the politics of sexual crime and justice: In Britain we have emerged from three decades of dramatic discovery about the prevalence and meaning of rape, three decades of professional reviews and legal reform.

Until now, more and more women every year have come forward to report rape. But they have not been reciprocated by reformed policing or criminal justice systems.

In the 1980s, society was shocked by Roger Graef’s documentary on Thames Valley’s response to a woman reporting rape. In the 1990s the law and police processes were reformed. In the 2000s, Liz Kelly and her specialist scholars at London Met University reported that the rate of detection had slumped to the lowest ever; Betsy Stanko’s research into the Met’s files revealed shocking disdain for women reporting rape — and cases of known suspects who were never traced or investigated; the law was reformed, and it is as good as law on sexual crime anywhere.

To no avail.

I and others have been writing about this scandal for nearly a decade — here’s some of it:

Published on 16th April 2007, “Rape: The Truth

“Observations on criminal justice — the shocking failure
when it comes to rape prosecutions.”

New Statesman

Shocking evidence is circling the desks of the police and the Home Office showing that many men reported to the police for rape are not investigated, and their crimes do not appear in police records – even though they have previous records of violent offences and sexual attacks on women. Men rape with impunity and immunity, and they can do it again and again. Furthermore, as long as men target women who have been drinking or young women under 18, there is a good chance that the police won’t bother to interview or investigate, and the allegations won’t appear “on the books”.

New research commissioned by the Metropolitan Police delved into the Met’s own case files: it not only analysed the victims’ fates in the criminal justice system, but for the first time checked out the histories of the suspects. No one had carried out an offender profile of alleged rapists before. No one had correlated the victims’ stories with the records of the accused. The results are shattering.

Researchers reviewed the files on 677 rapes reported to the London Metropolitan Police in two months in 2005, and followed up by tracing the suspects. A third of the reported rapes were “not crimed” – that is, they were not investigated or recorded as crimes, because they were not thought to involve an offence. But many of the suspects had “previous”. More than half of the men accused of raping women who had been drinking, where the cases were “not crimed”, had a history of sexual offences against women.

A third of suspects whose victims were under 18 were not investigated, but had histories of violent offending. Among those cases that were crimed, but didn’t get past the police investigation stage, were some with known histories of offending who were not prosecuted, “in the public interest”.

This is sorely embarrassing for the macho (and besieged) Home Office. The evidence shows that the police directed their gaze at the wrong people. “We concentrated on services for victims,” comments Richard Sumray, a magistrate member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, “but we did not concentrate on offender profiles.”

One of the country’s pre-eminent researchers into sexual crimes against women, Professor Liz Kelly of London Metropolitan University, says the new findings are unprecedented. “This is unadulterated data that we’ve never had access to before.” It was Kelly’s research – based on the experiences of 3,500 victims – that in 2005 exposed the alarming collapse of the conviction rate. What was not apparent earlier (because it had not been correlated) was that men who like raping women do it over and over; they target their quarry.

It is the not-crimed category that is particularly sinister, officers giving up on cases without even checking up on the suspect. This is evidence that officials will want to keep out of the public domain, but which also vindicates reformers in the police service. The Met’s review — the largest of its kind — vindicates Kelly’s celebrated study that showed an unbroken increase in the numbers of women (and a few men) reporting rape in the past 20 years but a static number of convictions.

“The attrition rate [the rate of cases being not-crimed, not detected, or not pursued by the victim] is abominable,” comments Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who, as well as heading the Met’s cash-for-peerages inquiry, is also lead spokesman on rape for the Association of Chief Police Officers. “Rape is regarded as second only to murder, because of the violence and the violation, but most attrition takes place with us in the police,” he says. “My aim is to take best practice in scene management and forensics in cases like murder, and apply it to rape.”

The crisis comes from what Kelly calls a “culture of scepticism”. “The police are often quite willing to interview people who don’t support an account,” she says, “and they seldom follow up what supports it.”

If the not-crimed and attrition findings weren’t bad enough, the picture becomes even more disturbing when correlated with patterns of vulnerability among victims. The overwhelming majority of rape reports on the Met’s files – 87 per cent – are made by women whose characteristics make them vulnerable. Most are known to the perpetrators: acquaintances, partners and ex-partners; they are young; they consume alcohol or drugs; they suffer from mental illness. These categories attract police pessimism and a preoccupation with the virtues or vulnerabilities of the victim rather than the propensities of the perpetrators. This correlation appears to be decisive.

Pioneering research by Vanessa Munro at King’s College London transcended the ban on talking to British jury members by assembling jurors from the electoral register for mock trials. She found that although the law on consent was radically reformed by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 – requiring defendants to show that they had taken steps to ascertain consent, and requiring that the alleged victims had the capacity, choice and freedom to give consent – it still didn’t help them greatly. Some jurors felt that, however intoxicated, “as long as a woman was conscious she’d have the capacity to consent or resist”.

Sumray reckons that the crisis is multidimensional: cultural and political, as well as a policing problem. The political arena, he says, has “to begin to influence how people think about this”.

There is good news: the promotion of specialists in the Met’s dedicated Project Sapphire, and greater respect and care extended to victims by sexual assault referral centres. The Met’s response to research is already palpable; it reduced the number of rape reports dismissed as false allegations from 10 per cent in 2005 to 4 per cent in 2006, in line with Kelly’s estimate.

According to Kelly, however, given the sexism of the culture and British institutions: “Yes, a woman can get better care, but she still can’t get justice.”

Published on 13th November 2007, “Culture Victims

“In exploiting the rape crisis for political capital,
Cameron has ignored a wealth of new research.”

The Guardian, Gay Pride

David Cameron is right to talk about rape. Its prevalence and prosecution are a crisis. And it is full of complexity. But politicians, especially Tories, don’t do complicated. Cameron has done a typical Tory thing: invoke the disaster of rape for a moralistic, collapse-of-civilisation-as-we know-it populist agenda that has nothing to do with contemporary culture or policing. It ignores his own party’s history: Tory law-and-order debates have been animated by women’s laments about the beastliness of men since the 1930s; and it ignores the remarkable discoveries emerging from research into policing.

When Cameron talks about the rape crisis as a sign of “moral collapse” and sexualisation of the culture he is being lazy. Rape rates are not new: rape is nothing to do with “permissiveness”; it is a crime of dominion, as old as patriarchy itself. To pledge tougher laws exemplifies the Tory tradition: exploiting women’s humiliation and harm to promote populist – authoritarian – politics.

But explosive evidence from Scotland Yard – hitherto unpublished – shows the problem is not the law. The problem is still canteen culture, and it is still sexism that muddles the judgment of juries.

The reformed Sexual Offences Act, heavily influenced by women’s experience of sexual crime and by scrupulous (often feminist) research, is not to blame. The Association of Chief Police Officers agrees: the problem is what happens when a woman makes that first call to the police. And what happens at every step thereafter – right up to the appeal court. It is the “demonisation of women as a set of victims”, says the Acpo rape spokesman, Dave Gee.

The Guardian, Culture Victims, Bea Campbell

Buried in those processes is sinister evidence that a significant proportion of perpetrators are simply not investigated. Policing has got better at treating victims humanely. But it has been mesmerised by the worth of the victim, and averted its gaze from many of the suspects. The Met has been contemplating this evidence for nearly a year. It should have made it public. It should have seen it not as a source of more shame but as a resource for reform.

The story starts with a 2005 survey of rape victims, conducted by Liz Kelly, Jo Lovett and Linda Regan from London Metropolitan University. Their study, A Gap or a Chasm?, found that more women than ever had the confidence and courage to report rape, but fewer than ever achieved justice, not least because their cases entered a “culture of scepticism” and investigative inertia.

Acpo and the HMI inspectorate set out to find out why. Their report was published earlier this year, followed by a Home Office study of eight forces last July. All confirmed the study’s findings.

Next came some remarkable research at the Met. An independent team looked into all 677 rapes reported to the Met in two months of 2005. What they discovered challenged conventional wisdoms about victims and perpetrators. It found that men who like raping women target their victims and that these women cluster into the very groups least likely to attract police attention: those under 18; in present or past relationships with the perpetrators; living in domestically violent environments; under the influence of alcohol; suffering mental ill health. These groups constitute nearly 90% of reported rapes. Between half and a third of these reported rapes were not “crimed” – they don’t appear in the books. It gets worse. In half of the not-crimed cases involving alcohol, for example, the suspects had not been investigated, despite having a history of sex offences.

“Those in most need of caring and sympathy in the criminal justice system get smacked even more,” says Professor Betsy Stanko, who conducted the Met study. There is, then, a scandalous synergy between men who like raping women and police pessimism.

If the police haven’t made their evidence public it is because they don’t want to discourage women from reporting rape, and they can’t rely on politicians to get the story right. As Liz Kelly has pointed out, Cameron could have done something useful: he could have said the culture is hard to change, that appeal court judges’ prejudices are ricocheting through the criminal justice system, but that the Home Office and senior police officers are having a go. He could have said the huge investment in terrorism should be spent on “ordinary domestic and sexual terrorism”.

Tories – usually to great effect – have enlisted the experience of women as the victims of men, but never to empower women, and never to challenge the masculine cultures that sponsor crimes against women.

Published on 16th March 2010, “Stern Morphs into Pollyanna

“The rape review does a disservice to women from whom
police and courts have averted their gaze.”

The Guardian, Gay Pride

Will more women be encouraged to report rape if they’re told that Britain’s conviction for rape isn’t 6% but 58%? Undoubtedly the police would be able to feel proud, rather than ashamed, and the government could proclaim it had made a difference. But will this statistical manoeuvre empower women? Or will it avert our gaze from the failures of policing culture?

The Stern Review, published this week, argues that burying the bad news will encourage women to report, yield more convictions in the courts, and raise the level of optimism about policing. But why would it? The problem isn’t women: while only 2,800 reported rape in 1988, this was up to 13,093 by 2008; their courage and confidence grows year by year. Yet the police response has not raised conviction rates, and institutional scepticism rewards men who like raping women with impunity.

The Guardian, Stern Morphs into Pollyana, Bea Campbell

It was this paradox – more women reporting rape, reciprocated by the lowest conviction rate yet in the courts and, therefore, the dismal knowledge that society was averting its gaze from the most violent sexism– that prompted solicitor general Vera Baird and leader of the house Harriet Harman last summer to commission this review by Vivien Stern. She has done a disservice to the ministers. This could have been a great moment, says sexual violence expert Professor Liz Kelly – a moment to match Sir William Macpherson’s critique of institutional racism in the police. It has been squandered. During the last decade there has been a revolution in what is known about rape – to whom, and how it happens, and what happens next.

In 2005 the Home Office published research by Kelly and her colleagues at the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit. In it, victims disclosed widespread scepticism among police officers. Rape is unique: women tend to know their assailants. But 15% of reported rapes are not even recorded as crimes. A further 20% of complaints are withdrawn – many women told researchers they had been encouraged to quit by police officers. A further 23% fall through; about a quarter of suspects are charged. Some 12% reach court, and finally only about 6% attract conviction for rape.

Instead of confronting that forlorn process head-on, Stern morphs into Pollyanna. Justice isn’t everything, she says, reassuring us anyway that half of the minority of cases that get to court result in a conviction for something or other. Worse, she suggests that we should now investigate the problem of false allegations. The police have already researched that, and in any case decent detection should deal with it.

Senior police officers were not so awed by the evidence. The Association of Chief Police Officers, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Home Office and the Met itself all looked into what was going on. They found some excellent practice but also routine, endemic failure to properly investigate rape.

The Met’s research was dynamite. It focused on more than 700 rapes reported over two months in 2005. Victims were clustered in groups of “vulnerability” – women who didn’t attract police interest or investigation. The Met took another look. A significant proportion of the men had never been checked out or tracked down. And a significant proportion, it emerged, already had records of violence and sex offences.

This is the dangerous matrix that alarmed ministers: men who like raping women target those who won’t engage police attention or confidence. That’s what Stern should have exposed: this toxic correlation, the institutional sexism that disarms rape investigation.

And, finally…

Check out this chilling review by scholars, into decades of troubled inquiry, reportage, research and reform of the dismal outcomes for women reporting rape and other sexual crimes to the police:

2011 – The Journal of Criminal Justice Research (JCJR) – Volume 1, Number 2

RESEARCH ARTICLE

CRITICAL ISSUES IN RAPE INVESTIGATION:
AN OVERVIEW OF REFORM IN ENGLAND AND WALES

Miranda A.H. Horvath, University of Surrey
Stephen Tong, Canterbury Christ Church University
Emma Williams, Metropolitan Police Service

 Rubbish

….Criminal investigation is …based on discretionary decisions made by detectives. Reiner (2000: 93-94) points to “police property” as a category of crime left to the police to deal with by the “dominant powers of society?. Within this category are a group identified as ”rubbish”, reflecting “messy”, “unworthy” offences that maybe be perceived as the “complainants fault”. Crimes that can fall within this category include rape, domestic violence or hate crime…

…“messy” investigations (long protracted cases where the officer may have some doubts regarding the integrity of the complaint), or unworthy of attention (the officer believes the event is not an offence but a private matter, or a trivial event) or finally the complainants fault (the officer believes the complainant contributed to their own victimisation) …

….The belief that investigative work simply required “common sense” with low levels of education, the lack of research aimed at improving investigative practice, the slow pace of change to past and current criticisms and evidence of a continued presence of negative attitudes towards marginalised groups remain barriers to improving investigative standards in England and Wales.

…Although some progress has been made especially in the care of victims and some re-shaping of the law to reflect modern notions of sexual autonomy many of the reforms have failed to be effective or have not been fully implemented.

Key criminal justice reforms in the last thirty years in England and Wales.

…In the 1980’s criminal justice reform was spurred on initially by Roger Graef’s documentary “A complaint of rape”, which showed oppressive interviewing of a rape victim by Thames Valley police officers and subsequently by a joint publication from the Women’s Aid Federation and Women Against Rape that suggested detailed requirements in police procedures in the investigation of rape. This resulted in the Home Office issuing a number of circulars (25/83 and 69/86) requiring police to revise their procedures.

The nineties began with significant changes in the law…The nineties ended with a Sex Offences Review, which began in 1999. The review aimed to achieve “protection, fairness and justice? within the Home Office’s overall aim of creating a “safe, just and tolerant society” (Home Office, 2000b). It sought to review sex offences in England and Wales and make recommendations to provide much more coherent and clear sex offences, ensure perpetrators are punished appropriately and abide by the ECHR and Human Rights Act so as not to be discriminatory.

The Sexual Offences Act (SOA) 2003 came into effect from May 2004: Amongst the many changes it Act introduced are the meaning of rape to include oral penetration as well as vaginal and anal with the penis; a legal definition of consent; children under thirteen years old can never now legally consent to sexual activity.

…Crown Prosecutors took over deciding if the defendant should be charged in serious cases including rape. This is just one of many moves in England and Wales which seem to be developing best practice towards a more American style approach to dealing with rape where investigators and prosecutors work closely on cases, continually consulting and advising one another.

….The 2007 HMCPSI report assessed the progress against the recommendations in the 2002 inspections:

…despite the many efforts directed at improving and making more consistent responses to victims the picture does not appear to have changed substantially over the last decade.

The review of the Metropolitan police rape cases by Prof Elizabeth Stanko discovered four categories of vulnerability – victims appeared to be targeted:

In 87% of the cases analysed victims displayed more than one of these vulnerabilities, this was confirmed in a subsequent study using data from the same force but from a different time period (Horvath & Kelly, 2009), and patterns of attrition differed depending on the type of vulnerability involved.

Police work has been hindered by performance regimes influenced by efficiency savings and private sector principles of measurement that do not necessarily recognise the complexities or duties of public sector practitioners particular in the context of the investigation of sexual offences.

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