Exclusive: Rape of vulnerable women ‘has been effectively decriminalised’

Prosecution rates when accuser has learning difficulties condemned

Rape of vulnerable women, especially those with learning difficulties, has effectively been “decriminalised”, according to a research academic employed by the country’s largest police force.

The claim is made by Professor Betsy Stanko, who is currently the Metropolitan Police’s assistant director of planning and has been researching the force’s investigation of rape for 10 years.

In a draft, unpublished report obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Professor Stanko claims that despite a decade of reform the percentage of prosecutions and convictions of rape has remained consistently low. She says this is largely because two thirds of rape allegations drop out during the police investigation stage.

The problem is particularly acute for people with vulnerabilities such as mental health issues and learning difficulties for whom the likelihood of getting their cases solved is extremely remote.

“These women face almost unsurmountable obstacles to justice,” Professor Stanko says. “Their rape is highly unlikely to carry a sanction, and in that sense, it is decriminalised.”

Her research shows that people with mental health issues are 40 per cent less likely to have their case referred to the police for prosecution than people without these difficulties. People with learning difficulties were 67 per cent less likely to have their case referred.

“Victim vulnerabilities effectively protect suspects from being perceived as credible rapists,” she says.

Professor Stanko calls for a change in the way rapes are investigated by the police, saying that anything other than a complete change is “tinkering around the edges”.

The call comes as the High Court ruled yesterday that the Metropolitan Police was liable to pay compensation for failing to properly investigate after two victims of convicted serial rapist John Worboys reported they had been attacked in 2003 and 2007 respectively.

Professor Stanko’s research, which is being presented at the LSE in two weeks’ time, delves into nearly 500 rape allegations made to the Met in April and May 2012. It indicates that little has changed for rape victims in the past 10 years.

It shows that more than 80 per cent of people reporting rape to the Metropolitan Police are considered vulnerable to sexual attack for one of a range of reasons - including being under 18, having mental health issues or learning disabilities, having drunk alcohol or taken drugs prior to the attack and being in an intimate relationship with the suspect.

But rather than boosting the women’s credibility in the eyes of the police, these vulnerability factors actually mean their cases are substantially less likely to result in a suspect being charged.

“If a victim has mental health problems or is in a current relationship with the suspect, then the most likely outcome is that the case will be dropped,” Professor Stanko adds.

Her research also reveals alcohol consumption prior to the attack reduced the chances of referral to prosecutors by 45 per cent, as did a history of consensual sex with the suspect.

The new research has led Professor Stanko to call for a radical shake-up in the way rape is investigated by the country’s police forces.

She claims that a total cultural change is needed. Police investigators, she says, need to take a person’s vulnerability as evidence that they are more likely to be raped and investigate whether that vulnerability was exploited by the suspect.

Currently questions around consent rather than vulnerability dominate. “The debate, policies and law reforms continue to address issues of consent – the legal line separating sex from rape,” says Professor Stanko. “Exploitation is seldom recognised, though it is critical to how rape happens.”

Last night the Metropolitan Police declined to discuss Professor Stanko’s research.

Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Company decides to go for simply scary after criticising other sites for 'creepy and targeted' advertising

Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
News
news

Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home

Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past