Fewer than one rape victim in 30 can expect to see her or his attacker brought to justice, shocking new statistics reveal.
Only 1,070 rapists are convicted every year despite up to 95,000 people – the vast majority of them women – suffering the trauma of rape – according to the new research by the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics.
The figures have reignited controversy over the stubbornly low conviction rates for sex crimes, as well as the difficulties in persuading victims to go to police in the first place.
Although 90 per cent of rape victims said they knew the identity of their attacker, just 15 per cent went to the police, telling researchers it was “too embarrassing”, “too trivial” or a “private/family matter”.
Between 60,000 and 95,000 people are estimated to be raped each year.
About one woman in 200 told researchers she had fallen victim in the previous 12 months, suggesting that between 54,000 and 85,000 women were raped over the year. Several thousand men are also raped every year.
An average of 15,670 rapes are reported annually to police, less than one-quarter of which result in a suspect being identified.
Many of those are not brought to court as hundreds of women drop out at this point as they cannot face the ordeal of giving evidence against her attacker.
Prosecutions are mounted against 2,910 individuals, resulting in the convictions of 1,070 rapists who committed an average of 2.3 offences each. The figures suggest that just one major sex crime in 38 leads to a conviction for the offence.
Convicted rapists were released with cautions in 19 cases, 16 going to offenders aged 17 or younger.
Around one in 20 women aged under 60 also says she has been raped or seriously sexually assaulted in her lifetime – equivalent to more than 800,000 victims.
The huge delays in concluding successful rape convictions were also highlighted by the report. When a defendant pleads not guilty to rape it takes an average of 702 days – almost two years – to reach a verdict.
The research also found an average of 473,000 men and women are victims of sexual offences, including flashing and groping, each year. But only 54,000 cases are reported to by police and 5,620 offenders are convicted.
Victims’ groups reacted with dismay to the conviction figures and called for a fresh drive to persuade women to report attacks.
Deborah McIlveen, policy and services manager at Women’s Aid, said: “Despite all that is known about rape and sexual violence, the justice system still fails to hold most rapists to account and so fails to deliver victim safety, public protection and management of perpetrator risk. These men are free to continue to rape and this is unacceptable, harmful and illegal.
“Most rape victims can identify their abuser, and many of these will be their partners or ex-partners. This ongoing failure to secure convictions will continue to leave women and young people vulnerable and in potentially risky situations.”
A spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England and Wales said: “The figures are shocking but sadly not that surprising. There has been lots of publicity and measures put in place to try and increase the conviction rate around rape and sexual abuse. But it looks like it is not having as much effect as we would like.
She said: “It is a chicken and egg situation: women do not report offences because they know they are very unlikely to get a conviction. They know they would have to put themselves through a system which is very traumatic and are likely to come out at the other end with no justice.”
Javed Khan, Chief Executive of Victim Support, said: “Much more needs to be done to encourage rape victims to report incidents – such as promoting high-quality support services to help victims move on with their lives, and ensuring that we shift the rape ‘blame culture’ from victims to offenders.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary and Minister for Women & Equalities, said: “These dreadful figures show why national action is desperately needed to tackle sexual violence.
This should be a wake-up call to the Home Secretary to do more. We need an urgent step change in how we tackle sexual offences, to make the criminal justice system much more effective in prosecuting offenders, support victims and prevent crime too.”
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: “Very tough sentences are available to the courts for those who commit the most serious offences including a new mandatory life sentence which we have introduced for anyone convicted of a second very serious sexual or violent crime.”
“How could the judge say that nine rapes and four assaults were insignificant?”
Jane Clough’s family are not sure how many times she was raped and sexually assaulted by her ex-partner Jonathan Vass before she found the courage to report him to police.
“It was extremely traumatic for her,” said her father John. “The police support was second to none, but she would come back from giving statements completely drained because it was so harrowing to talk about.”
Vass was charged with nine counts of rape and four assaults, including three sexual assaults. He appeared in court in December 2009 and was remanded in custody, but the following week reapplied for bail, which was unexpectedly granted.
“Jane got a phone call from the police telling her he had been released,” her father said. “The police had been so supportive of her, they had all but promised her that he wouldn’t be released. When she took the call, the colour just drained from her. You could see the terror on her face. From then on she was like a prisoner in our house. She didn’t dare go anywhere on her own.”
Jane, 26, a nurse from Blackpool, was murdered by Vass in July 2010 as he awaited trial for raping her. She was stabbed 71 times outside the hospital where she worked. Vass pleaded guilty to her murder and was jailed for life with a minimum term of 30 years – but the judge ordered the rape and assault charges to lie on file.
Mr Clough believes his daughter was failed twice by the system. Once when her attacker was bailed, and secondly by the judge’s decision not to press ahead with the rape charges.
“The judge said in open court that the other charges were insignificant,” he said. “How could he say that nine rapes and four assaults were insignificant? It was horrific.”
The CPS has since announced that rape linked to murder will be prosecuted, after Jane’s family campaigned for the policy. They also saw the bail laws changed so that prosecutors can appeal if a defendant is released on bail.
“The police asked if I wanted to ‘leave it’ as there was alcohol involved. I don’t drink”
Anonymous accounts of sex assaults taken from The Everyday Sexism Project (www.everydaysexism.com)
“Last night was the work Christmas party. I was sexually assaulted by a fellow employee I’d never met before. When I challenged him he called me a “freak” and a “weirdo”. Upon reporting this to other party goers (including my manager) I was told: “We could ask security to get him thrown out, but it’s just your word against his.” Today I went to the police to report it and an officer later called me back and asked if I “really wanted to go through the entire process of making a complaint, getting the CCTV (which captured the incident) and then getting him arrested and possibly going to court” – or if I just wanted to leave it as there was alcohol involved (a pretty big assumption given that I don’t drink).”
“I am a female engineer and work in a very male-orientated environment. In my first job I was physically assaulted by a male colleague who had previously made numerous sexual comments towards me. I kept it to myself for a few days until I told my mum and understandably she was upset and angry at me for not telling her sooner. I reported it to my boss the next day and disappointingly was told to sweep it under the carpet Because there were no witnesses or evidence of assault nothing could be done. I left the company shortly after and now have a good career, although for a long time I blamed myself, lost a lot of confidence and went through a period of deep depression.”
“I work in a male dominated business environment. At every off-site meeting, one of the male team members tries to get off with me. Last time the director tried to sleep with me, dragging me to his hotel room and leaving finger-shaped bruises on my upper arm for over a week. I didn’t and won’t report it to HR, as I want to get on in my career and don’t want to be sacked.”