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June 08, 2006

Rape Statistics

We are told endlessly that there is a serious problem with the presecution of rape in the UK. That it isn’t taken seriously and that something must be done to raise conviction rates.

Interesting numbers:

Reported rapes (male and female):


  • in 1995  - 5,136
  • in 2004-05 - 14,002

    Conviction rates

  • in 1995 - 10%
  • in 2004-05 - 5.29%

  • Number reported is up, number of convictions is up. The conviction rate is falling. Hhhm. No, I don’t insist that this is the case, just that it could be. Some of the increase in reported crimes is in fact of weaker cases that cannot be proven?

    June 8, 2006 in Sex | Permalink


    The conviction rate in rape cases is scandalously low but the conviction rates for other serious offences, such as wounding and robbery, are not a great deal better:

    "The paper said that analysis of Home Office figures indicated that only 9.7% of serious woundings reported to police resulted in a conviction, while for robberies the figure is 8.9% and for rape just 5.5%."

    All the talk about imprisonment keeping criminals off the streets is just so much talk with conviction rates running below 10% for a range of serious offences. No wonder folks don't feel safer despite the government's regular mantra claiming total crime falling. In fact, according to the latest official crime stats:

    "Robberies in England and Wales rose by 11% between July and September last year [2005], with overall violent crime up 4%, Home Office figures show. The rise came after robberies jumped 4% in the previous quarter following the ending of a government scheme to target the problem of street crime. Total recorded crimes fell 1% to 1.37m incidents compared with the same period a year ago, and burglaries were lower."

    Posted by: Bob B | Jun 8, 2006 11:22:59 AM

    A friend joined a Gay and Lesbian group: he would go in and man the helpline. One of the lesbians told him one day that since he was a man, he was a rapist.

    Posted by: dearieme | Jun 8, 2006 11:41:25 AM

    I've never understood how anyone can say that the rape conviction rate is too low. These people must know that many people who are suspected and actually guilty of rape are not being convicted. How do they know this?

    Posted by: Pete | Jun 8, 2006 11:52:30 AM

    "I've never understood how anyone can say that the rape conviction rate is too low."

    Because the best estimate of actual rapes experienced by women is around 60,000 a year: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/r159.pdf

    Compare that to a convictions total of, what, less than a thousand (extrapolating from the figures Tim cites)? How can that conviction rate NOT be too low?

    Posted by: Jim | Jun 8, 2006 12:07:45 PM

    Pete, Admittedly in alleged rape cases there are often defence arguments about whether a crime has been committed but at the very least much personal pain is inflicted in failed trials as well as a great deal of tax payers' money misspent. However, in the case of woundings and robbery, it is usually much more difficult to credibly argue that no crime has been committed and conviction rates are still abysmally low.

    Much public discussion has focused on sentencing and the scale and effectiveness of imprisonment in Britain but we really should focus more attention on the miserably low conviction rates for serious offences.

    Posted by: Bob B | Jun 8, 2006 12:11:06 PM

    Nobody should be convicted of a crime without proper independent evidence. That is why rape convictions are low in proportion to the accusations. This is entrely correct and proper. I find it sinister that someone somewhere has decided what a 'proper' conviction rate for rape cases should be, and that the courts should deliver this conviction rate whatever the reliable evidence is in each individual case.

    Posted by: Pete | Jun 8, 2006 12:30:54 PM

    One problem I see is that without conclusive, independent evidence (witnesses or forensic) the proof comes down to a he says, she says issue.

    In such a situation it is very difficult for the prosecution to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt.

    I would imagine that this is especially the case now that juries are well aware of the severe consequences of being convicted for rape. I know that if I were a juror I would need to be very sure before condemning someone to not just imprisonment, but solitary confinement (for his own safety) and a lifetime of fear and harassment thanks to the Sex Offender Register. Genuine rapists may deserve this, but what if one is not 100% sure?


    Posted by: The Remittance Man | Jun 8, 2006 12:46:49 PM

    I can go along with much of those reservations relating to the special significance of rape cases but the low concurrent conviction rates in cases relating to woundings and robbery suggest that there is something systemically wrong with the way that prosecutions are conducted.

    Posted by: Bob B | Jun 8, 2006 1:19:24 PM

    Well, I think it's obvious that the more horrible a crime is, the more likely it is that any given person accused of it is guilty. It stands to reason don't it?

    Posted by: P. Froward | Jun 8, 2006 1:35:53 PM

    A Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure was set up under Sir Cyril Philips in 1978. Its report was published in 1981 and had the following three main criticisms of the Criminal Justice system in England and Wales:
    - the police should not investigate offences and decide whether to prosecute. The officer who investigated a case could not be relied on to make a fair decision whether to prosecute
    - different police forces around the country used different standards to decide whether to prosecute
    - the police were allowing too many weak cases to come to court. This led to a high percentage of judge-directed acquittals.
    The outcome was that a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was established in 1985.

    Does the CPS work effectively? I've little direct knowledge of what goes on from personal experience. About ten years ago, a work colleague gave his explanation of why it wasn't working well - his interest being that his son, a law graduate, was about to embark on a career at the Bar.

    Before the CPS was established in 1985, the Police decided whether or not to prosecute and either presented the prosecution case to the court for minor offences or hired in barristers to present the prosecution case for the more serious offences. This meant that a barrister could be prosecuting in one case and defending in another, all depending on how successful (s)he was at attracting briefs. After the CPS was established, a young barrister embarking on a career at the criminal Bar, was faced with a choice of either becoming a salaried professional prosecutor employed by the CPS or plying for hire, in which case they usually acted as defence counsel in criminal cases.

    My colleague suggested that the more enterprising young barristers opted for the second course because they expected to make more money that way. To build a successful and lucrative career meant attracting briefs and they were more likely to do so if they established a track record of gaining acquittals for their clients. Hence, there is a powerful personal incentive operating for defence counsel to win acquittals but not for prosecuting counsel who are salaried employees of the Crown.

    It's an interesting example of incentives analysis IMO and one that I suspect Tim will approve of.

    Posted by: Bob B | Jun 8, 2006 8:19:07 PM

    Just to clarify, the 5.5% 'conviction rate' refers not to the number of prosecutions that end in convictions but the number of complaints that lead to a conviction. The conviction rate where a case makes it to court is apparently about 21%, usually after a guilty plea. See Home Office Study 293, A Gap or a Chasm?, p 42.

    The problem prosecutors face, I think, is that very frequently the only dispute is about consent, and the jury, quite rightly, is asked not 'who do you think is telling the truth?,' or even 'who do you think is probably telling the truth,' but 'are you sure he's lying?'.

    Posted by: SteveG | Jun 8, 2006 8:24:36 PM

    People here are missing the wider point. If the conviction rate here is 5%, then that means that either 95% of people raped are lying (unlikely), or that huge numbers of people are raping and getting away with it. The reason for the conviction rate dropping since 95 is not weaker cases but DIFFERENT cases. How can rape be weak? Rape isn't always when a scary man jumps out of the bushes, but the criminal justice system doesn't understand this. There is nowhere near enough support for women in this difficult time, and you arguing that this behaviour is acceptable is shocking.

    Posted by: Me | May 15, 2008 9:25:31 PM