Rape conviction rates up, but…

It was reported last week that conviction rates for rape in the UK are higher than they’ve ever been. 63% of prosecutions in 2012/13 resulted in a conviction, which is 5% more than five years previously. Similar success is reported regarding domestic violence. This is, of course, good news. However, it’s not quite a straightforward success.

First,  the ‘conviction’ rate includes all convictions resulting from the prosecution, many of which are not actually for rape (someone might, for example, be tried for rape and convicted of a lesser sexual offence). In 2010/11, the actual rate of conviction for rape was 33% out of an overall conviction rate of 58%. The same is likely to apply to the reported figure for 2012/13.

Second, as the initial linked article points out, another main complaint about the legal process concerns the proportion of reported rapes which result in a prosecution. According to this article, an annual average of 15 670 reports results in an average of 2 910 prosecutions. That’s about 19%. So even if 63% of those 2910 cases result in convictions, that’s a mere 11% of the original reported total. In other words, 89% of reported rapes don’t result in any sort of conviction. Bear in mind that the Crown Prosecution Service recently released a report (pdf) which establishes pretty comprehensively that false allegations of rape are extremely rare.

Third, yet another problem with the legal process is the fact that so many people are discouraged from reporting rape in the first place. For fairly obvious reasons, statistics on under-reporting are hard to come by or verify (one estimate attributed to the Ministry of Justice in the Independent article above is 60 000 to 95 000 — that’s quite a variation between the upper and lower limits). But it’s apparent that this is a problem, and it’s apparent that even if conviction rates continue to increase, there’s a lot more to be done to improve the legal and policing environment which results in under-reporting and under-prosecution.


7 thoughts on “Rape conviction rates up, but…

  1. There’s also the problem of people reporting rapes being encouraged to drop their claim. Does anyone know if this means that the claim doesn’t show up on reporting statistics, or if it does show up on reporting statistics but is classed as resolved?

  2. It’s also probably worth noting that these two goals (a. raising the conviction rate; b. raising the reporting rate) are probably, to some degree, in tension with one another. If we have reason to believe that non-reported rapes are disproportionately likely to be the ones difficult to prosecute, then an increase in reporting would probably cause a decrease in conviction rates. The issue of whether we have such a reason is, of course, still out there.

    I point this out neither to defend low conviction rates nor to defend low reporting rates, but rather to point out that some police and prosecutors probably act with some of these things in mind. Here in Iowa a few years ago, we had a prosecutor who refused to prosecute a high-profile rape case in part because she was afraid the case would lower her conviction rate. While many folks found the prosecutor’s decision abhorrent, she was probably right that she would have lost the case and, hence, lowered her conviction rate.

  3. A: Rapes which are reported but dropped, for whatever reason, show up in the reporting statistics. When reported crimes don’t turn into prosecutions, it’s known as `attrition’. I don’t know if there are good statistics out there regarding the various reasons for attrition in rape cases, but here’s an interesting (if a bit old) paper on the subject (pdf):


    Matt, that’s a good point, yes. We do have good reason to believe the antecedent of your conditional, unfortunately. The rapes that are least likely to be reported are the ones which (as the Independent article puts it) are regarded by the victim as “embarrassing” or a “private/family matter”. These are likely to be cases where it’s effectively one person’s word against another about exactly what happened, and those are indeed difficult to prosecute. Of course, that’s a reason to think about how the system could be changed so prosecution is easier, not a reason to think the problem’s insoluble.

  4. A main problem here is that women’s lib bargained away women’s bargaining power in many areas. Many women today drop their case because rapists are allowed custody rights over here in the United States. What do feminists have to do with this? Well, feminists are pointing out these very real problems women face yet their movement support the sexual revolution which devalued women’s bodies (since 1977, “evolving standards of decency” has been cited by the Supreme Court in two different decisions saying the rapists could not be given the death penalty) and gender-neutralizing family law gave unwed fathers the same rights as married fathers and removed the tender years doctrine which used to protect mothers in custody disputes. Those men’s groups have exploited women’s lib to their advantage, legislators everywhere have taken seriously feminist arguments that fathers be treated equally before the courts and that men can be just as nurturing as women (something evidence does not bear out).

  5. “De-valued” women’s bodies? Oh. I get it— like some girls used to say in the high school bathroom— “At least whores get paid. Sluts just give it away!”

    Puleeze. Our bodies are worth what they’re worth to US and are, hopefully, priceless. No one has the right to “steal” the sex they don’t want to “rent” or pay for and women do not need to apologize for the rapists that are out there no matter what we do or say.

  6. Thank you for this useful, though depressing and unsurprising information. I’ve had several situations recently where I’ve wanted to quote the conviction rates for reported rapes in the UK and, although you show how difficult it is to ascertain, I appreciate having this site to point people to.

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