Editorial: A long way to go in our response to sex crimes

Weaknesses in the police and criminal justice systems are only part of the problem

Share
Related Topics

The rape, and subsequent death, of a physiotherapy student in India has rightly drawn attention to the country's appalling levels of sexual violence. Here in Britain, although attitudes towards such crimes are less overtly misogynistic, the gulf between the number of people who are sexually assaulted and the number of prosecutions, let alone convictions, nonetheless remains disturbingly wide.

That the latest figures suggest nearly half a million adults – most, but by no means all, of them women – suffer some kind of sexual attack each year is bad enough. That barely more than one in 10 of the incidents is reported to the police is an indictment both of legal procedures that too often fail the victims and of a culture that, for all its avowed modernity, still leaves too many blaming themselves for the wrongs perpetrated against them.

In fairness, there has been some progress. Many areas do now have specially trained police officers for sexual crimes, and specialist prosecutors are also more common than they were. Neither is yet the norm, though. Meanwhile, despite rises in both reporting and conviction levels, the advances are slight in comparison with the scale of the problem. And sexual allegations are still designated "no crime" more than twice as often as are other offences. Altogether, many questions remain as to the effectiveness of investigation methods.

Police practices are just one part of issue. By their nature, rape cases are tricky for a legal system founded upon "innocent until proven guilty" and "beyond reasonable doubt". Not only is one person's word often pitted against another's, with no witnesses; the crime is not the act in itself but the intentions of those involved.

Acknowledging the complications is not to say that no improvements can be made. Far from it. Victims may no longer face cross-questioning by their alleged assailant in court, but many still baulk at an ordeal of a process that can be almost as much a trial of the accuser as the accused. Hardly less egregious are the extraordinary lengths of time involved. With the average rape case lasting a gruelling 22 months, is it any wonder that many victims choose to avoid a trial? Alongside a systematic review of police procedures, a shake-up of legal processes that take little account of the peculiarly traumatic nature of the crime is also long overdue.

Weaknesses in the police and criminal justice systems are only part of the trouble, however. Although a mere 15 per cent of the most serious sexual assaults are reported to police, more than a quarter of victims tell no one at all. Here, indeed, is the nub of the matter. For all the well-rehearsed dangers of dark streets and walking home alone, the overwhelming majority of serious sexual offences are perpetrated by attackers who are known to their victim, and most of them take place in a domestic setting. As the Jimmy Savile scandal has made abundantly clear, perpetrators can often rely on victims' shame and fear of being disbelieved to keep their crimes hidden; what works for a celebrity DJ is no less applicable for a partner, family member or supposed friend.

Perhaps there is an upside to the Savile revelations, then. The several hundred alleged victims who have felt emboldened to come forward may help chip away at the stigma – real or imagined – that still does so much to hamper the fair treatment of sexual assault. Changes in police and legal procedures are still sorely required, but there is also a cultural issue here. While Britain is not India, our approach to sexual crime is no model of social progress either.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Not only is Liz Kendall a shy Tory, but her words are also likely to appeal to racists

Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)