Nigel Hawkes: Is our rape conviction rate really so poor?

Related Topics

The Government's decision to cancel a review of the conviction rate for rape to save money has loosed a chorus of lamentation. The UK, we are told, has the lowest conviction rate for rape in Europe – 6 per cent.

In fact, the UK convicts, proportionately, as many rapists as most comparable European countries. The European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics shows that in 2007 (the most recent year covered) the median conviction rate in Europe for rape was 1.8 per 100,000. In England and Wales that year, the rate was 1.6 per 100,000 – higher than Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, lower than Sweden or France.

So what's the problem? Rape is a terrible crime and those guilty of it should be convicted and jailed. The figures suggest we're doing only marginally worse than average.

What does differ hugely is the level of reported rapes. The UK and Sweden are well ahead of most other countries in the number of rapes reported to the police. In the UK, the number rose by a factor of 10 in the 20 years between 1981 and 2001. It's hard to believe men became 10 times more violent: it's also hard to believe Swedish and British men are 10 to 20 times more likely to commit rape than those in, say, Portugal or Hungary, which is what the figures for reported rape imply.

Countries with high reported rape figures have low conviction rates, measured as the proportion of the reports that end in convictions. Sweden convicts three to four times as many men per head of population as the European average, but still has almost as low a conviction rate as we do when measured as a proportion of rapes reported to the police. So are many of these reports false?

Many rape claims fail at the first hurdle, when women withdraw the charge or refuse to give evidence. Others fail when police are unconvinced, more when the CPS looks at a case. It is almost impossible to calculate the number of false claims, but it is far more than the 2 per cent cited in the CPS's Rape Manual. The source for the figure almost certainly comes from a 1970s book by Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will. The source of the data is untraceable. The real level of false accusations is higher. Nobody knows and views on the subject are irreconcilable.

Most alleged rapes are by acquaintances. Proving a lack of acquiescence in such cases is extraordinarily difficult. When cases come before a jury, the conviction rate, 55 per cent, is roughly the same as for other serious crimes. That suggests the justice system is getting it about right in the choice of cases it sends to trial.

* The Lancet's Ombudsman, Dr Charles Warlow, has ruled that criticisms made in this column and on the Straight Statistics website of a WHO study of the risks of elective Caesareans raise "considerable concern". The study, carried out in Asia, claimed that women who choose to have a Caesarean without medical reasons are nearly three times as likely to die or suffer complications as those who have a normal vaginal delivery.

The result depends entirely on a statistical correction for "confounding factors" – differing baseline risks of the individual women – since the raw data show elective Caesareans are actually safer.

Nigel Hawkes is Director of Straight Statistics (

React Now

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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before