UK Report: Honest Information Harms Rape Victims

In the UK, a recent government review on how rape cases are handled has come to some surprising and controversial conclusions about how the statistic that only 6% of reported rapes result in a conviction has been used:

Baroness Stern’s independent report into how rape complaints are handled called for politicians and campaigners to stop quoting the 6% figure. Stern said the way it had been used was “extremely unhelpful” and misleading, because it suggested there was little chance of attackers being found guilty in court. The fact that 58% of cases that reached court resulted in a successful prosecution was more relevant, Stern said.

Campaigners accused her of missing the point that many rape complaints never get to court, often because of problems with the police and prosecution system. Baird said she too thought the reports-to-convictions rate remained important.

Baird said more needed to be made of the 58% figure, which had increased by more than half since 1997. The government’s interim response said it agreed with Stern that the way statistics were reported too often did not reflect the reality of what happened in the courtroom.

The Stern review was commissioned by the government last year in response to concerns over the conviction rate. Baird said at the time that the report should offer answers on how to drive the rate up.

The crossbench peer instead came back with a report that called for a broader measure of success to be adopted, with support to victims to be given equal priority. She criticised the focus on the 6% figure, saying it remained important but was “not the be all and end all”.

While she heavily implied it in her quotes above, she also specifically argued that use of the statistic was preventing victims from reporting their rapes to police:

The report called for an end to the use by politicians and campaigners of the much-quoted 6% conviction rate, which represents the proportion of reported rapes that end in a conviction for rape itself. It was misleading and may be putting victims off reporting attacks, Stern said.

Unsurprisingly, as the articles note, there are many who disagree with her.

It seems that two things are being conflated here by Baroness Stern: harm being done to victims, and victims deciding not to come forward and press charges.

If there’s evidence out there that the decision to not press charges is harmful to victims, I’d love someone to show it to me.

But until that’s the case, it’s a false equivalence being suggested. I do not support discouraging victims from reporting if they want to report, in any way shape or form. But I also do NOT support, have never supported, and never will support actively lying to or misleading victims in order to encourage them to report their rapes when doing so only lead them into a criminal justice system that is an absolute mess, and will, statistically, leave their attackers off the hook.

There’s a reason that the criminal justice process is so frequently referred to as “the second rape.” It’s because not being believed, having to relive the rape over and over and over again in front of strangers, having to sit in the same room as your attacker during court (if you’re lucky enough to make it that far), and then most likely watching your rapist walk free and vindicated at the end of it, is traumatizing as hell. I am frankly disgusted, purely nauseated, by the suggestion that purposely leading anyone into that without the full knowledge of what they’re up against is something morally required of us. As far as ethics go, I say that they require the exact opposite.

Since starting this blog, I can’t even begin to tell you the number of stories that have been told to me about awful, cruel, and fully unacceptable interactions with police and prosecutors. They’re left in the comments of this blog all the time. They’re sent to me in email. It gives me a deep sense of satisfaction that I’ve managed to create a space where so many feel comfortable doing that. It also gives me a deep sense of how entrenched and widespread the problem is.

It’s not mentioned in any news report I found that victims not “coming forward” means them not seeking medical care and/or not seeking counseling and/or other recovery-related services. If the study did show that, it would be something far worthier of consideration than what is being presented here. But what Baroness Stern seems to be arguing is that telling the truth about conviction rates and pressuring the criminal justice system to improve isn’t so much directly harming victims as it is preventing equally important issues from being addressed:

Providing specialist care for rape victims should be given as high a priority as the conviction of the rapists, a review said on Monday.

Crossbench peer Baroness Stern, urged for independent sexual violence advisers (ISVAs) to help victims recover after an attack and asked every police force to set up a specialist rape unit by next year.

The ironic thing is that I strongly agree with her in terms of victim care and the need for increased focus on it. I also agree with a significant portion of what she says in this audio interview. The problem is that addressing the low conviction rate for rapists, as well as the poor treatment of victims at the hands of police, need not be mutually exclusive with providing therapeutic care and ensuring that victims can access the tools they need to assist recovery. Indeed, if the only means through which a victim has access (or believes they have access) to such things is through the police, then that is your problem right there.

Providing better victim care, and realizing that a successful court case isn’t the end of the ordeal for a victim, doesn’t require minimizing the truth about conviction rates. It doesn’t require covering up the kind of treatment that previous victims have received at the hands of law enforcement. It doesn’t require using a far prettier though highly misleading statistic. It doesn’t require shifting resources from one area to another. It just requires more resources, a greater focus, and a more comprehensive and holistic look at sexual violence. Pretending that it’s an either/or choice and we must stop talking about the 6% conviction rate in order to talk about other things that matter to victims is frankly disingenuous at best.

I want to see more rapists convicted. I want more victims to have their day of justice. I was more victims to feel comfortable coming forward when that is what they want to do. I want the law to take rape seriously, in every single corner of the world that exists. I desperately, desperately want that.

But I don’t support a by any means necessary approach. The way to accomplish these goals is not to sacrifice victims to our alter of supposed good intentions. It’s not through lying. It’s not through further tearing apart lives. It’s not through saying “yes, you should report,” while not having anything available for those who follow the directive and do. And it’s not through fudging numbers so that victims feel better for a little while, before they learn the truth the hard way.

via Hoyden About Town

0 thoughts on “UK Report: Honest Information Harms Rape Victims

  1. EKSwitaj

    What I see here is the Baroness having pity for rape victims but not empathy. Pity moves her to want to see better care available, but it also makes it impossible for her to see that victims have the agency and ability to make the choice that is best for themselves based on the available evidence.

  2. Feminist Avatar

    Her comments came after a study among a large group of British women, which asked if they reported their rapes and if not why not. The survey said that many did not report their rapes as they didn’t think there was any point. They thought that as only 6% of rapes end in conviction that it was a lot of trauma for no gain. What she is trying to say is that we need to make women aware that if they get to court, their chances are much better than 6%.

    And surely, this is just about informed choice?

    I also think its a useful figure to know about as we now know that a lack of convictions is at least partly down to the justice system, rather than the public- and this might help put an end to the myth that rape is always he said/ she said in court and that is why the rape conviction is low.

    I don’t think Baroness Sterne meant to present this as an either/ or option; she is asking for wholesale change- help for the victims, better information on chances of conviction and better conviction rates.

    1. Cara Post author

      Yes, Feminist Avatar, but the fact is that clearly if only 6% of reported rapes result in conviction, and 58% that go to court result in conviction, that’s a huge number of rape cases that don’t make it to court in the first place. Which means to me that the 6% statistic is far more accurate and representative of what victims go through. 94% of victims who report their rapes aren’t going to see a conviction. That is a distressing figure. It doesn’t make one think there’s going to likely be a good outcome. That’s because it’s like that there won’t be a good outcome. Yes, it’s great that 58% of those that go to court end in convictions, but that stat, dandy though it may be, doesn’t even end up applying to most victims who report. The 6% statistic applies to them all. And while not as stressful as going through the entire judicial process, reporting at all is a hugely stressful, and quite frequently incredibly traumatic experience. I think the women who gave that answer were being perfectly rational. Because it’s a lot to go through for a 6% chance.

      Of course it’s about informed choice — I think we’re disagreeing on which statistic leaves one better informed.

      As for what she meant to present, I don’t know. But by encouraging the promotion of the 58% statistic as a way to help victims — and not just that, which would have been one thing because I’m not opposed to providing more information, but also to just stop using the 6% figure at all — that’s what she did.

      EKSwitaj, I love your comment. Excellent insight.

  3. SunlessNick

    Yes, it’s great that 58% of those that go to court end in convictions, but that stat, dandy though it may be, doesn’t even end up applying to most victims who report. The 6% statistic applies to them all.

    And if if it doesn’t go to court, the woman will be faced with those who take it as proof that she’s a lying slutbitchwhore, and demand that she summarily suffer the same penalty a convicted rapist would get.

  4. Anji

    As a Brit, I was glad to see this study had been done, but I have to admit I’m a bit disappointed. “Stern said the way it had been used was “extremely unhelpful” and misleading, because it suggested there was little chance of attackers being found guilty in court. The fact that 58% of cases that reached court resulted in a successful prosecution was more relevant, Stern said.”

    What she should be looking at instead is how many rapes are actually reported (I believe it’s somewhere around 5%) and asking WHY so few reported rapes are making their way to the courtroom in the first place. Having 58% of rapes that make it to court gain convictions is all well and good, but they have to get there first!

  5. Jennifer Drew

    The Crown Prosecution Service claims rape cases which proceed to court result in 58% convictions. But the CPS omits to state precisely how they decide which case is likely to result in conviction and which case will be discarded because the female rape survivor is judged to be ‘non-credible’ or fails the ‘real rape victim test.’

    The CPS only prosecute males charged with rape when the case passes a very high qualification standard and this standard is far higher than for other so-called ‘mundane crimes’ such as murder, burglery or even theft.

    The standard the CPS sets for proceeding with prosecuting a male charged with rape is whether or not the jury will be likely to convict; the character of the female rape survivor; whether the female rape survivor imbibed alcohol prior to her charging a male(s) with raping her; whether the female rape survivor had previously charged a male(s) with rape; whether the female rape survivor has mental health issues; whether the male charged with rape knows the female rape survivor; whether the female rape survivor and male charged with rape had engaged in sexual activity on previous occasions/were/had been in a partnership.

    Oh the list is endless and the result is only those cases deemed ‘real rapes’ proceed to court. Hidden within the 58% conviction rate is the fact there is a high percentage of male defendants who admit guilt, resulting in conviction.

    The true facts are that only 3,495 rape cases were prosecuted by the CPS for period 2008/09. This compares with the continuing appalling figure that less than 7% reported rapes are successfully prosecuted. 99% defendants were male and 88% victims were female. (

    It is well known the numbers of males committing rape against females is far, far higher than the 3,495 rape convictions and large numbers of males are routinely committing rape and sexual violence against women because the figures have not reduced dramatically. Instead between 80,000 and 100,000 women each and every year are subjected to male sexual violence.

    But quoting the deliberately misleading statistic that 58% rape cases result in convictions is designed to make the UK government look as though they are actually reducing male sexual violence against women. Nothing could be further from the truth – reality is any woman/girl who courageously reports to police a male(s) has/have raped her and if she is fortunate to have her case proceed to court – she not the male defendant will be on trial. The female rape survivor’s sexual history – not the male defendant’s sexual history will be subjected to minute examination for any evidence of ‘non-creditability and non-respectability.’

    The Stern Report had very strict guidelines and this is why the emphasis was on improving expert support to female rape survivors, rather than taking an all encompassing perspective. But Rape Crisis Centres in the UK continue to close because the UK government issues innumerable platitudes and promises but adequate funding continues to be a myth not reality! Likewise real radical changes within the UK’s legal system continue not to materialise because such changes would effectively reduce the bias and advantage male defendants receive and instead rightly, switch attention away from the female rape survivor’s character etc. and on to the behaviour/actions/beliefs of the male defendant.

  6. Anna

    The report hurt me. Reading it made me want to cry, frankly.
    The idea that the 58% statistic should be pushed – what happens to my rape report, then? I didn’t make it to court with either of them – police dropped one, CPS dropped the other. What does it mean for me? That really, I wasn’t raped – that since there wasn’t a concrete case, it doesn’t matter in any way? The report totally misses the point.

  7. SunlessNick

    What does it mean for me? That really, I wasn’t raped – that since there wasn’t a concrete case, it doesn’t matter in any way?

    If the 6% is reports-to-conviction, and the 58% is courts-to-conviction, then that means that nearly 90% of rape reports (89.67% to be a bit more precise) are dropped before court. How can such a figure be unimportant? If an unsympathetic investigation or punitive court case can be described as a second rape, then can dismissing the relevance of dropped cases, or the pain it inflicts on victims be considered a third?

  8. Pingback: SCOTUS Rules Congress Can Confine Sex Offenders Indefinitely | GlobalShift

  9. Social Worker

    As horrible as that 6% stat sounds, it’s actually fairly in line with the reports-conviction rate of most crimes. It’s an accepted standard in the American judiciary that approximately 10% of anything reported actually makes it to trial. When you go to conviction, you see that next drop. Which DOESN’T mean people are getting away with the crime necessarily, as it doesn’t include plea bargains that prevent the case from going to trial at all and do result in punishment.
    That would consequently drive the 6% figure up.
    Not saying it’s great news, but better than I think most of us in the field usually consider.


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