Saturday, July 11, 2009

The UK rape conviction rate is a Postcode Lottery...

...and the Bristol area is amongst the lowest in the country.

The Guardian's figures show that in the 70s the rape conviction rate for the UK was 33%.
Today it is 5.1%... and lower than that if you live in Bristol.

4 comments:

Whose Crime said...

It is really interesting when we get figures illustrating how the law fails that the normal response is that the solution is – surprise, surprise – the law! In recent years this has led to a radical overhaul of rape laws but no radical critique of law or indeed any increase in convictions or reduction in levels of rape. Rape is about power and the law is hyper-sensitive to power.

The low conviction rates for rape is repeatedly seen as the law malfunctioning, but such a view is both naïve and ahistorical. Was the law of rape created to protect women? Or was it a patriarchal creation designed to protect the property of men? It was of course the later and so why are people so surprised when it operates in a way that reflects its historic origins?

To illustrate this here is a typical example of the relationship between rape as a lived experience and rape as a legal construct taken from the early nineteenth century.

Jill, a 12 year old child was a slave on a plantation. She was unlucky to catch the eye of the plantation manager who ordered her up to the big house. There she was raped, firstly by the Manager and later by his 14 year old son. Later that night two males slaves raped her, telling her it was to “reclaim” her from the “whites”. The next day she complained to the overseer, who had her whipped for making up false allegations.

Sometime in the next week the plantation owner frustrated by his inability to find some papers went in search of his wife in her garden, he eventually found her in the potting shed in the embrace of Jack, their gardener. Both were fully clothed.

Jack was charged with rape and the law took over. A few weeks later he was hung. Jill never reported her rape. If she had it is highly likely she would have punished. Her rapists had little to fear from the law.


Things have changed – but by how much? Rape convictions are both rare and almost always achieved only in cases where the man is in a position of relative powerlessness. Convicted rapists are nearly always men who, according to social norms, really should not have been touching the women they are accused of raping. They are black men (in cases where the victim was white), men with learning difficulties, or working class men (where the victim was middle or upper class). The reality is that men who rape only those women it would be socially acceptable for them to sleep with will generally have nothing to fear from the law. Their victims know this and will therefore normally not report them.

Law may offer hope to the white woman raped by a black man, the middle-class woman raped by a working class man, but it offers no solution to the epidemic of male violence that scars our society. The solution to that lies in challenging power and creating new social relations that are free from the violence embedded in existing relationships.

Clearly we can not wait for the revolution to do something and the best immediate option is to move rape from a criminal justice to a public health paradigm.

jennifletzet said...

Thanks for your response. Yes, rape is infinitely complicated. One of the main problems with its positioning before the law is that it's seen as primarily concerned with sex, rather than violence. The law knows the violence is an element, but it considers it secondary to the sex, and the law has problems condemning any form of sex between a man and a woman: it's been unable to completely overcome its inherent belief that sex with a woman is man's right. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that approximately half of all rapes take place between friends: that friendship prescribes a degree of possession by the man, or passage granted by the woman.

Although I agree with you that the laws in place that deal with rape are possibly even deliberately ineffective, there was a time when they worked better, because the conviction rate for rape in the 70s was significantly higher. What this shows I think is that we are facing an insidious return to status quo. It's commonly referred to as a 'backlash' against women and feminism, but I would call this a misnomer, since 'backlash' suggests an active, concerted effort and force, whereas I think it is simply a passive tide of a return to what the majority of society is happy with. When, for whatever reason, feminism cannot keep up a constant force against the status quo, social order, the law, simply returns to the state in which it felt most benefited. Whenever I get on my feminist high horse about things, I am often bombarded with declarations that feminism has done all it needs to and women have equality now so why can't we just all get on with it. It's the law's attitude to rape and the statistics that reveal its apathy towards the subject that reminds me how much work feminism has to do - and will always have to do.

Whose Crime said...

the law has problems condemning any form of sex between a man and a woman: it's been unable to completely overcome its inherent belief that sex with a woman is man's right.

Rape law is not about protecting women and girls but about the defence of (male) property. So whilst we focus on "consent" (however it may be defined and redefined) we fail to understand the laws operation. A conviction of rape can only occur when (a) the women asserts she has not consented and (b) where the jury are satisfied that the sexual act was inappropriate.

By exploring the conviction stats in more detail we find the headline conviction rates hide as much as they reveal. A man accussed of raping a women that society would regard as legitimate for him to sleep with is virtually never convicted. The convictions are focused on cases where, irrrespective of the issue of consent, a jury feels any sex would be illegitimate. The last time I broke down the stats around half of all rape convictions where in cases where the victim was under 16. i.e. someone a jury felt it was inappropriate for the defendant to have sex with regardless of the issue of consent. When I have looked at individual cases of successful rape convictions with adult victims I have been shocked at the number of men with learning difficulties convicted and that almost all of those without learning difficulties are either foreign or non-white men.

there was a time when they worked better, because the conviction rate for rape in the 70s was significantly higher

Could this be because since then societies attitude to sex has changed and there are now less cases where, irrespective of the consent issue, juries find the idea of the two parties having sex as unacceptable. (For example whilst I would expect any black man accussed of raping a white women in the 1970s to have been convicted whatever the evidence now any socio-economic factors woukd be consider - i.e. white women have sex with black men is no longer automatically regarded as wrong)

Feminism has made some major errors and I think the faith many feminists have in the law as a route to liberation is one of more serious ones.

jennifletzet said...

"Could this be because since then societies attitude to sex has changed and there are now less cases where, irrespective of the consent issue, juries find the idea of the two parties having sex as unacceptable."

I think this is a good point. There are less marriages and more divorces, so whereas it was once perhaps easier to believe a woman accusing a man who was not her husband of raping her, this has been deemed trickier by the law now that far fewer woman are married and having more sex with men who aren't their husbands.


"Feminism has made some major errors and I think the faith many feminists have in the law as a route to liberation is one of more serious ones."

Feminism may have made some major errors, but this is hardly surprising since everything the movement did set a precedence. And if Feminist movements didn't try to change things, no one else was going to!