It ought to defy belief that, in the 21st century, a victim of rape was told by a lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service that the “type of underwear” she had on during the attack – Spanx control pants – made any prosecution unlikely. Sadly, The Independent heard from the woman in question yesterday – and her story fits a pattern that is all too familiar.
Sentences such as the eight years handed down to Max Clifford yesterday are commensurate with the seriousness with which the crime of sexual assault needs to be taken. Yet at the same time less than 20 per cent of rapes are reported, and even in the two organisations tasked with encouraging more victims to come forward – the police and the CPS – a culture of victim-blaming has proved difficult to shift.
The data paints a depressing picture. The number of reported rapes is rising. And yet police are choosing to refer fewer cases to the CPS for prosecution – a third fewer, indeed, since 2011 – and new figures reveal that 133 fewer rape suspects were convicted in 2013 than the year before. Police claim that the drop in rape case referrals stems from increasingly strict guidelines from the CPS on the kind of evidence needed to get a conviction.
Indeed, evidence can be extremely difficult to get hold of – so much so that Scotland’s government plans to drop its requirement for two pieces of corroborating proof to be presented in court. But, once more, this shifts the burden of responsibility away from authorities, who may simply be giving up too easily. The police force is still three-quarters male, and a “macho culture” – inhospitable to crimes against women – permeates the high command, according to the female head of the Police Superintendents’ Association. The stark geographical variation in pursuit of rape claims also suggests that the make-up of the local constabulary matters far too much.
Cuts to police forces have been blamed by the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, while the shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry, notes the 30 per cent reduction in CPS staff levels since 2010. Both may be right. But the kind of male mindset that sees wearing Spanx as having any relevance clearly still lets too many rapists off the hook.