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

SEN Learning Support Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Learning Supp...

General Cover Teachers - GRIMSBY

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: We are working with a number of ...

SECONDARY SUPPLY TEACHERS NEEDED IN AND AROUND FOLKESTONE

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Description Randstad Education i...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Gordon Brown’s finest hour, a letter from Quebec and the problem of anti-politics

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week