Low rape conviction rates prove corroboration should be scrapped, says Rape Crisis Scotland

Caitlin Logan

New figures show that only two in five rape cases in Scotland lead to a conviction

RESPONDING TO FIGURES published today which reveal that just 39 per cent of rape cases prosecuted in 2016-17 resulted in a conviction, Rape Crisis Scotland has said it’s time to look again at removing the requirement for corroboration in rape cases. 

Of 1878 rapes and attempted rapes reported to the police in 2016-17, 251 were prosecuted and 98 led to a conviction, the lowest conviction rate since 2008-09.

While there was a 16 per cent increase in the number of prosecutions for rape or attempted rape compared with the previous year, there was a seven per cent fall in the number of convictions.

“The vast majority of reported rapes never make it to court.” Sandy Brindley, Rape Crisis Scotland 

Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland commented on the figures: “Rape is a crime which can take a great deal of courage to report, and the past decade has seen increasing numbers of women and men coming forward to report what has happened to them to the police. 

“In a year where there were 1,878 rapes and attempted rapes reported to the police, there were only 98 convictions. The vast majority of reported rapes never make it to court. 

“The most common reason rape survivors are given for this is the requirement in Scotland for corroboration. This disproportionately affects rape cases, and we believe that the time has come to look again at removing the requirement for corroboration.”

In 2014-15, 45 per cent of prosecuted rape and attempted rape cases led to a conviction, compared to 48.6 per cent in 2015-16.

In 2016/17, these crimes had the highest acquittal rate (59 per cent) of all crime types, while sexual assault was the second highest (35 per cent), compared with an overall rate of seven per cent for all crimes. 

Following concerns that misconceptions or prejudices regarding sexual offences might be impacting on jurors decisions in trials, changes were introduced in April 2017 which allow juries to be given direction prior to a trial to challenge these assumptions.

Brindley continued: “We also need to look at why only two in five cases which reach court lead to a conviction.

“The Scottish Government recently introduced judicial directions for rape cases, to enable judges to provide factual information to juries about commonly misunderstood issues such as delays in reporting to the police or lack of physical injury. 

“More needs to be done to ensure that people sitting on rape juries make decisions based on evidence, rather than misunderstandings about reactions to rape.

“The figures released today show that 17 per cent of rape and attempted rape trials result in a not proven verdict. This is far higher than for any other crime.”

READ MORE: Latest sexual crime figures “a wake up call”, says Rape Crisis Scotland

Rape Crisis Scotland launched a campaign last year – I Just Froze – which aims to challenge public assumptions about how a person should react if they were raped.

Scottish Labour’s shadow cabinet secretary for justice Daniel Johnson also said the new figures were “cause for serious concern”.

Johnson said: “These crimes are already under reported. We have seen positive steps from the government to rectify that – such as the ‘I just froze’ public information campaign, but serious questions need to be asked as to why conviction rates are falling. 

“People need to have faith that coming forward means they will get the support they need and see a robust process. Labour supports the new directions from judges to properly inform juries on how to consider evidence in these cases – and not to be influenced by a pre-conceived notion that a victim should react to an attack.

“We also need to give more consideration to what support we give the victims of crime, particularly during the legal process and following the resolution of a proceeding. This is a serious issue; Labour will consider what support we can offer the government to make this system more robust.”

“The relatively low conviction rate for rape reflects, in part, the challenging evidential requirements to prove this crime.” Justice secretary Michael Matheson

The Scottish Government has warned that the figures could be sensitive to annual fluctuations due to the relatively small numbers involved. 

Cabinet secretary for justice Michael Matheson commented: “While the relatively low conviction rate for rape reflects, in part, the challenging evidential requirements to prove this crime, the government will continue to seek to strengthen the law where possible, and how such cases are dealt with. 

“Since last April judges are required to direct juries in certain sexual offence cases on how to consider evidence – specifically explaining why a victim may not physically resist their attacker, nor report an offence immediately. Our on-going jury research is also examining how juries reach decisions and use the ‘not proven’ verdict.

“As well as ensuring the justice system has the resources needed to pursue perpetrators and to better support victims, our preventative work includes education on the pervasive nature of gender-based violence – an issue on which people across society, in families, schools and the wider community, must continue to speak out against.”

Picture courtesy of Laura Dodsworth and Lauren Carter Allan 

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