Why rape convictions are so hard to get

Our writer, reflecting on her experience on a rape jury a few years ago, says that regardless of avoidable police mistakes getting a guilty verdict is exceptionally tough

Share
Related Topics

I was on a rape jury a couple of years ago. I can clearly remember the indictment being read out; hearing what the man in the dock a few feet away was alleged to have done, what we would be asked to decide upon.

At that moment you cannot help, particularly as a young woman, remembering the countless stories you have read about shockingly low conviction rates, about rape victims not being believed, about justice gone undone. You know that many rapes go unreported, and many more never reach trial. This one has made it to the courtroom, I thought. We are going to do our jobs properly.

Distraught

The next week of my life was one of the most depressing and frustrating I have experienced. The young complainant was distraught as she gave her compelling evidence, which was horrible to sit through. But almost more upsetting was the paucity of the other evidence with which we were presented. Of course, as the jury, we were not party to the various twists and turns of the police investigation. We weren't told of the practical problems that officers might have had in gathering artefacts, or persuading – even finding – key people to come to court and give their versions of events. Nor should we have been.

But just from sitting through the trial, it seemed clear to me that whatever unavoidable problems they had experienced, the police had also made some very avoidable mistakes. At least parts of this case had been handled by the Metropolitan Police’s Sapphire Unit, supposed specialists in investigating rape and serious sexual violence, and yet I felt that the prosecution case was hampered by human error and sloppiness.

We found the defendant not guilty. I don’t know if we were right, and that uncertainty is not a nice thing to live with. There is part of me that would have liked to have done my small bit to improve this country’s woeful rape conviction rate, which has made me angry on many occasions. But of course that is ridiculous. As a juror, you are not trying the system, you’re trying the defendant, and I know for sure that there was no earthly way, on the basis of the evidence I was shown, that I could be sure beyond reasonable doubt that he was guilty. In that sense, we absolutely made the correct decision. I would no more want to convict an innocent man than free a rapist. Yet I would have liked – and the complainant deserved – a better-managed case on which to base our verdict.

No excuse

One other thing. After the case had finished, I went home and mentally re-ran the trial, this time with a prosecution based on a perfect police investigation, and wondered whether our verdict would have been any different. While it is impossible to know what evidence there might have been, the truth is I find it hard to imagine anything that – in the specific set of circumstances of this case – could have made me be sure to the legal standard needed for a conviction that sex between complainant and defendant had both taken place and been non-consensual.

That does not excuse the failings of those who, from what I saw, let that young woman down. Who knows? Maybe there was a smoking gun in this case that went by the wayside. But my mental re-trial did make me realise how hard it must be, in many instances, to secure a guilty verdict for the crime of rape even after model investigations and with conscientious, unprejudiced juries. This was a case that the Crown Prosecution Service brought to trial; one of those that they thought, unlike many others and despite the apparent police shortcomings, stood a reasonable chance of securing a conviction. It didn’t get close. That was perhaps the most depressing bit of all.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
 

Cameron's speech was an attempt to kill immigration as an election issue

Andrew Grice
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game