New date rape offence considered

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A NEW offence of "date rape" - which would carry a lesser sentence than rape - is being put forward by senior Home Office officials.

The controversial step is being studied amid fears that many rapists are at present going unpunished by the criminal justice system. Prosecutors claim juries are reluctant to convict rape defendants who are well-known to the victim.

The proposal has come from the newly-formed Home Office Sex Offences Group. Its chair, Betty Moxon, said yesterday: "There have been suggestions from various quarters that a distinction (is needed) between stranger rape - which has been called proper rape - and other forms of rape, on the grounds that a rape by somebody you know is not as traumatic and disturbing as a rape by somebody who comes out of the blue and drags you into the bush."

Ms Moxon said evidence from victims "did not necessarily" support this view, and the betrayal of trust in a rape by an acquaintance could be equally traumatic.

But she argued that juries may be more willing to convict in cases where consent was difficult to prove, if there was a new offence.

She said: "If you had a lesser offence, a sort of date rape or non-consensual sex between friends offence, you might improve the conviction rape."

Ms Moxon spoke at the publication of new Home Office research showing that only six per cent of rape complaints led to a conviction for the full offence.The report found that in 25 per cent of cases police recorded "no-crime" and in a further 31 per cent of cases they took no further action because of evidential weaknesses or the victim deciding not to pursue the matter further.

The report, called "A Question of Evidence? Investigating and Prosecuting Rape in the 1990s", examined 500 cases of rape recorded by the police in 1996.

In 82 per cent of cases there was some degree of consensual contact between the complainant and suspect immediately prior to the attack.

This ranged from some form of sexual contact (six per cent) to a prior sexual relationship with the suspect (23 per cent), kissing (7 per cent), an invitation to the suspect's home (10 per cent) or a lift from the suspect (8 per cent). Researchers also included in this category victims who had merely had a conversation with a suspect .

The report found that 22 per cent of attacks occurred in the victim's home, a further 22 per cent in the suspect's home and 13 per cent in the home they shared.

Home Office minister, Paul Boateng, said of the findings: "This research clearly demonstrates that the steep drop in conviction rapes which has taken place over the last few years is matched by a corresponding rise in reported rapes by people known to the complainant - partners or ex- partners, family members, casual acquaintances or "dates'.

"These cases, which tend to hinge on the question of consent, pose particular difficulties for the criminal justice system. We need to look very carefully at what we can do to achieve justice in more of these cases without running the risk of unsafe convictions."

Comments