According to figures released by the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and the Office for National Statistics, more and more incidents of women being raped in England and Wales are being recorded:
|Rape of a female
|Rape of a male
That is a total of 47,007 incidents of recorded rape over a three year period.
And the number of convictions for rape in that same period (and yes, I know there is no absolute read-across between the offences and convictions)?
Yet these figures don’t reveal the horrific extent of rape and serious sexual offences in England and Wales: the report also shows that 57% of women told someone but not the police of a rape or serious sexual assault. 28% told no-one.
And then the questions…
There were “only” 40 non-custodial sentences for rape in 2011. Excuse me? Why were there any?
Apparently “Since 2005, there have been fewer than seven Suspended Sentences Orders (SSOs) given each year for rape of a female and none have been given for rape of a male.” What does the fact that any SSOs have been given say about differences in perceptions between rape of a female and rape of a male?
Another shocking statistic is that, on average, it is 722 days from the moment someone is raped until the completion of the case. That is almost two years of reliving the hell of what happened in order to secure justice. Why should someone have to wait so long?
There are so many important questions that arise from this report it is difficult to know where to start.
The figures should hit home like an iron bar hammered in your face.
They should be screamed across the front page of every newspaper. They are utterly appalling – and reveal a shocking affront to justice that reminds us we are light years from ensuring that rape victims receive the support they need to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.
And now, in the wake of Leveson, is the ideal time for the press to demonstrate their worth. After all, we’ve had plenty of self-indulgent hand-wringing in recent months, most notably about the important role played by our newspapers in our public life and democracy. In his evidence to Leveson, The Sun’s editor, Dominic Mohan, extolled his paper’s virtues (Para. 60):
“It distils complex important issues of the day, including politics, finance and law into concise readable copy which educates and entertains.”
So, on a day when official statistics reveal such a shocking failure of our investigative and legal processes, on an issue that clearly straddles law and politics, what was this bastion of our free press’s front page?
Perhaps we would expect such crassness and double-standards from The Sun. But what were the front pages of most the other main UK papers today?
Only two national newspapers ran the story on their front pages: The Independent and i – the quality tabloid off-shoot of The Independent:
Metro, the newspaper given out free in major cities, also had it on its front page.
Where were all the others?
Where was The Guardian, never usually bashful in its self-promotion as the left-wing champion of women’s rights and awareness of issues that particularly affect women? Who knows. It certainly doesn’t consider this report front page news. Even after the Savile report was released, The Independent still had this story as a second headline on its website. By contrast, it was the 17th headline on The Guardian Online – appalling.
What does this lack of interest say about a media more concerned with itself than getting to the core of issues that affect hundreds of thousands of people in the most horrendous ways?
It is a corroboration of the silence and inaction that characterises our society’s approach to rape – an approach that continues to allow rapists to escape justice. With Savile, with the horrors of Steubenville and Delhi, perhaps this might just change. Perhaps. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that any of these are, in and of themselves, the answer.
As Deborah McIlveen, policy and services manager at Women’s Aid, told the Independent:
“Despite all that is known about rape and sexual violence, the justice system still fails to hold most rapists to account and so fails to deliver victim safety, public protection and management of perpetrator risk. These men are free to continue to rape and this is unacceptable, harmful and illegal.
“Most rape victims can identify their abuser, and many of these will be their partners or ex-partners. This ongoing failure to secure convictions will continue to leave women and young people vulnerable and in potentially risky situations.”
And as spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England and Wales told the Independent:
“The figures are shocking but sadly not that surprising. There has been lots of publicity and measures put in place to try and increase the conviction rate around rape and sexual abuse. But it looks like it is not having as much effect as we would like.
“It is a chicken and egg situation: women do not report offences because they know they are very unlikely to get a conviction. They know they would have to put themselves through a system which is very traumatic and are likely to come out at the other end with no justice.”
If it matters to you, read the report for yourself. Ask questions.
And don’t be silent.