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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A royal serving the nation

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko prior to the start of the European Council Summit in Brussels last month  

David Cameron talks big but is waving a small stick at the Russian bear

Kim Sengupta
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn