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

Share
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 (www.straightstatistics.org)

React Now

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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker