Joan Smith tells us the why and what of rape and the justice system:
The problem is staring us in the face. It could not be plainer: a criminal justice system designed largely by men, who worry about protecting other men from wrongful convictions, has turned into a get out of jail free card for sexual predators. The answer isn’t stiffer prison sentences, given how few rapists are convicted, and it isn’t tinkering with laws that defence counsel always know how to get round.
What we need – what we should be demanding in the wake of the killing of Sarah Everard – is a recognition of institutionalised misogyny throughout the criminal justice system. We need to harness our anger and tell the people with power – ministers, MPs, police chiefs and prosecutors – that this is on them. The women of this country will not be safe until they start taking violent men off the streets.
Let’s not worry about wrongful convictions then, eh? But then anyone who lived with Dennis MacShane is going to have some men problems. The difficulty with the analysis is that she brings Baroness Stern into the conversation:
The Government makes much of the fact that its latest rape review is about to be published, as though that will magically make everything right. Maybe it will have as much effect as the Stern review, published in 2011 and welcomed as a game-changer by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. The 435,000 annual cases of sexual violence May mentioned at the time have now risen to almost 700,000, of which 560,000 involve women.
Well, yes, what did that report say?
Conviction rates for rape are the subject of considerable political and
media attention. Much is said about the conviction rate for rape being
six per cent in England and Wales. The six per cent figure is widely
quoted. We found in carrying out this review that it was known and
used by almost everyone in the field. Some have found it helpful as
a campaigning tool in arguing for an improvement in the way rape
cases are dealt with. Others found it misleading and deeply unhelpful
in building confidence in victims and increasing the number of cases
reported to the police that could possibly go forward to a prosecution.
Many expressed concern at the widespread use of this figure without
analysis or explanation.
The way this conviction rate figure is calculated is unusual. Conviction
rates are not published or even measured in this way for any other
crime so it is very difficult to make a comparison. The term ‘conviction
rate’ usually describes the percentage of all the cases brought to court
that end with the defendant being convicted. When dealing with rape
the term has come to be used in a different way, and describes the
percentage of all the cases recorded by the police as a rape that end up
with someone being convicted of rape.
We have looked closely at the information about convictions for rape
and it is clear to us that the figure for convictions of people of all ages
charged with rape1 (as the term is normally used in relation to crime)
is 58 per cent. The confusion arises from mixing up the conviction
rate with the process of attrition. ‘Attrition’ is the process by which a
number of the cases of rape initially reported do not proceed, perhaps
because the complainant decides not to take the case any further, there
is not enough evidence to prosecute, or the case is taken to court and
the suspect is acquitted. The attrition rate figure has been the cause
of considerable concern, and attempts to reduce it are behind many
of the reforms that have been introduced in recent years. Our terms of
reference also ask us to look at ways in which it can be further reduced
and we have made recommendations to that effect, taking into account
the many difficulties that stand in the way of successfully prosecuting
cases of rape.
However, it is clear to us that the way the six per cent conviction rate
figure has been able to dominate the public discourse on rape, without
explanation, analysis and context, has been to the detriment of public
understanding and other important outcomes for victims. Since this
is an area of such public interest and debate, and many organisations
have an interest in this information and what it means, we feel the
presentation of the statistics could be looked at again and we so
She also says that the system, as a whole, is fine, even admirable. There is work to do in making sure that everyone, but everyone, is adhering to the system.
That is, the actual report is entirely at odds with everything Joan Smith says on the subject.
Which is a big surprise now, isn’t it?