The ‘Independents’ fall from grace

Robert Whiston FRSA     16th Nov  2010

Nov 13th 2010 saw theIndependent  finally succumb when it became just another a tabloid newspaper. For as long as the newpaper had existed it had always seen itself as “distinct” – a cut above the rest.

But as it plumbed the depths of sensationalist journalism of the sort one can expect to accompany rape reform discussion the ‘ Independent’s’ attitude was deplorable and also badly informed. It declared:

“Britain needs to do much more to tackle the scourge of sexual violence against women – not merely the incidence of this vile crime but the shocking low level of convictions in court, which hovers around the level of 5 or 6 per cent of allegations.

A country in which juries let men off the hook for rape on the grounds that the victim appeared to “ask for it” has little right to call itself civilised.” – “Welcome reversal on the rape laws[1]

Wrong – Britan does not need to do much more becuse we do not have a conviction rate that hovers around 5% or 6%. What we do have is a conviction rate that hovers around 50%.

The blind ignorance and politically inspired bigotry in this leading article  could have come straight from the frenzied pages of a Pol Pot’s handbook.

If the  Independent wants to be righteous and condemn behavour that is uncivilised it can do no better than to campign for the Pakistani woman who was allegedly gang-raped on the orders of a local village council (April 2011).

Ironically, in the anonymously authored article it described the Coalition’s attempt to extend anonymity from complainant only (as at present), to both complinant and defendants as ‘wrong headed.’ Curiously, this is a phrase  repeated using by naysayers – notably by Yvette Cooper MP – but the only thing wrong headed is the Independents non-grasp of the facts.

The Independent persists in claiming that the conviction rate was a miserable 6% when both Stern (March 2010) and the Nov 2010 Review (Min of Justice) have already stated this to be untruthful.

Further, the Home Office’s methodolgy for arriving at 5% has been shown to be un-mathematical and an irrelevant way to measure crime that is not applied to any other criminal offence (see “Scaremongering over the rape conviction rate“). [2]  Previous articles in Straight Statistics (Sept 2009) have pointed to why this measure is incorrect; why it has always been erroneous, and how it is uniquely used for rape but not for any other crime reporting in the UK.

So The Independent’s shrill cry that, “Britain needs to do much more to tackle the scourge of sexual violence against women” isn’t even remotely connected to the facts and so cannot be used sensibly to base an article.

After the rape laws changed in 2003 forms of sexual assault which were formerly not rapes became rapes. Manslughter and rapes cases are grave offences and are heard in Crown Courts, yet from the table below we see some sex offences tried in Magistrates’ courts. The result ing conviction rates shown (at around 36% as opposed to 50%),  are for ‘all’ courts and one must suppose this reflects those  cases thrown out at ‘first instance’, i.e. at the Magistrates’ court stage.

If the anonymous author or authoress of the piece had read the Review [3] she/he would have seen that conviction rates for rape were 30% in 1999 and 36% in 2009 (see Table 1 below). Convictions rates of 36% are a far cry from the often cited 6% of cases and is hardly a “shocking low level of convictions”, especially when that figure includes attempted rapes and not purely actual rapes and also includes rapes with ‘instruments’ other than a penis (as the 2003 law now allows).

The above figures of 34% to 38% etc are the result of consrevative and judicial use of selected data. Other less restricted data suggests a conviction rate closer to 50%. For instance, in 2008, of the 1,871 completed trials for rape at the Crown Court, 1,080 persons were Found Guilty (58%), and 785, i.e. 42%, were found ‘Not Guilty.’  And hardly can it be said that it is a declining figure and getting worse whenatthatlevel it is comparable with other crimes involving violence ?             

Table 2 shows that rape is second only to murder for successful convictions at 55% (which is doubly remarkable given the ‘he said – she said’ nature of the offence).

Would the rate for murder fall – if, by some miracle, the victims were able to speak – to the levels for ‘attempted murder’ or ‘unlawful wounding’ where both sides can put their points across and be judged ? If that were the case it would leave rape as probably the most convicted serious crime in England & Wales.

The Independent’s next tabloid statement claimed Britain was,  ‘A country in which juries let men off the hook for rape on the grounds that the victim appeared to “ask for it” has little right to call itself civilised.’  Firstly, juries don’t think along those lines – they aren’t allowed to by strict court rules and  guidance. Secondly,  over the past 20 years one veil after another has systematicallybeen drawn over the evidence that a jury is entitled to hear from the defence – but not from the prosection.

One only has to look at the numbers (Table 3), to realise that the claim that juries “let men off the hook for rape” is a fiction – an urban myth. Between 47% and 77% are convicted.

The Ministry of Justice’s review has examined jury verdicts and found that rape of a female incur a jury conviction rate of between 47% and 62% depending on age (see Table 3). Were the defence allowed to present all their available evidence this conviction figure might fall by, a). a  few percentage points, or b). greater than 10%. We will never know.

What Table 3 tell us (and it comes as no surprise)  is that many girls in the age groups ‘+/-16’  are sexually active – some-times the experience is an unpleasant  one  e.g.  1,674 rapes were reported by girls under 16. The figure of 2,136 rapes should not be supposed to apply to middle-aged women or those in their 30s (or spread evenly across the age ranges), but in the main to be teenagers over the age of 16. For more age related data on this point search this blog site.

  • “About 80% of rape victims were under age 30 -about half of these were under age 18.”  ttp://  (“Investigating and detecting recorded offences of rape,” quote: ‘the single most common age at which victims [i.e. reported being] assaulted was 16 years old”  p.8 ) .

The graph (right) actually depicts the age of complainants reporting a rape or unpleasant sexual encounter yet it is headed “victim age” and, given the forgoing text in the HO report gives the impression that these reports of rapes / assault are true – which they are not in many cases.

 Thirdly, the “asking for it” (an assertion sometimes heard) is more anecdotal  than based on erious empirical evidence.

One suspects the article’s author has become confused with a particular sample survey of young members of the public. One also has to bear in mind that, as cited above, well over 70% of ‘reported’ rapes are made by young people under the age of 25 and that most of them blow away in the wind when scrutinised by the police. Sampling these young men and women – who may not have had a very thorough education –  then rationalising it by citing ‘sexily dressed’ and “asking for it” are assertions and a mentality that should not be unexpected since they have given it no deep thought and are unlikely you have rigorously examined the raw data before being responding. 

Nonetheless that was their view, which they are entitled to hold and though older members of the public and MPs might be shocked, arguably, young people are better placed than 60-year-olds to understand the younger generation with more modern percceptions and behaviour.

Fourthly, the Independent asks totally the wrong question. Increasing the numbers prosecuted is not ‘civilisation.’ Just as it is not a measure of civilisation by “letting men off the hook for rape” and counting their number, so ‘civilisation’ cannot be measured by how many men are put on the hook for rape simply to satisfy a craving a bloodlust.

The Independent should disassociate itself from the feminist frenzy that is prepared to sacrifice principles to increase numbers, knowing full well that no women will suffer as a result of such agitation. The Independent should be reprimanded – a responsible organ should not be uttering such bigotry nor sponsoring it. It has no place in a civilised society.

True civilisation’, the Independent should be reminded is where is an effective justice system worthy of the name, and that, no matter who is accused and what the crime the defendant has:

  1. a right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise and
  2. the right to robustly defend himself and
  3. to present all the evidence that will clear his name. 

The Independent knows but chooses not say that the British judicial system fails all of the above 3 tests. Special rules apply to rape cases which impinge on items 1 – 3 above curtailing due process. If the newspaper wanted to render a service to its readers it might it might begin by explaining some of these ‘anomalies.’

It might start by explaining the importance of the data shown in Table 4 (left). Why are “stranger’ rapes and ‘intimate’ rapes in England so different from the USA?

Is it because of definitions or the categories used ? Could it relate to the 2003 changes in the law (England & Wales, Section 1, Sexual Offences Act 2003), ‘a person commits an offence if he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person’, where “he” does not mean ‘he or she’ as in other Acts but only ‘males’ because for the offence of rape, a woman is still not deemed capable of committing rape – the ‘penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person’ by use of bottle, carrot, parsnip or similar shaped instrument ? The offence can only be committed by a man.

Since Sexual Offences Act 2003 victims of ‘serious sexual assault’ – presumably excluding rape but including attempted rape – break down as follows (Table 5). The number in the sample (i.e. unweighted base) is not equal with far more female victims included yet the proportion and the category into which they fit are similar, e.g. Family member 7 for men and 5 for women.

If ‘civilised’ is defined as the state being prepared to act and prosecute on the uncorroborated word of a possibly spiteful and malicious person then, yes, Britain is indeed, uncivilised. NB. Corroborating evidence is no longer needed for rape cases in England.

In a survey covering false rape allegation cases reported in newspaper running from 1999 – 2010 the most common defence offered for perverting the course of justice and being prepared to commit perjury were:

1. Boy friend troubles                      2. Spite / revenge                3. Too much to drink

4. Suffering from depression          5 Seeking attention / unhappy childhood

6. Substance abuse                        7 Low IQ / educational attainment

8. Mentally ill, e.g. bi-polar or fantasists (and any permutations of the above).

False allegations aren’t occasional adorations that happen as few times a year – they occur hundreds maybe thousands of times every year. No one truly knows because the data is not collected.  Even on the most pessimistic (and misleading) of police and Home Office estimates (i.e. 2%), the implication is that it happened 280 times last year (false becaue they can be traced back to Brownmiller’s mere assertion). At the more realistic levels of 15% and 25% the false accused turn into thousands. If we rely on  Harris & Grace  (HORS 196, 1999)  false and unsustainable allegaion account for about 80% of all rape reports, but no one is eager to publicly air and use these findings.

Simply by extrapolating the known data of ‘reported rapes’, circa 10,000 pa, and rapes that do not go to trial, circa 8,000, could result in thousands upon thousands of false allegations of rape, of which only a handful are reported in newspapers. The question of ‘retractions’ and now a new concept the ‘double  retraction’ has sent the CPS into a frenzy not to be seen to discriminate agsint women. (If only they could act that rapidly for men falsely accsued !).

The Independent claims, women’s groups (and some Labour MPs), like to point to what they see as the most likely result of the change in favour of anonymity – that of being fewer rape victims coming forward. But where is the hard evidence to support the theory ?

Quite the contrary, only much repeated anecdotal evidence promotes this opinion whereas empirical research, in HO papers, police research papers and elsewhere, point to other factors as more likely to deter. One of the prime fears  is being ‘found out’ to have lied, ie made a false allegation.

Putting this aspect in an unfavorable light, in 55% of ‘reported rape’ cases the accuser admits to having fabricated the evidence. This very much undermines the position of women’s groups and vocal women Labour MPs. From this same quarter we don’t we hear very much about the reasons why fabricating false evidence occurs or the quantities involved.

The 2010 Ministry of Justice Review while it is disappointing on many fronts did at least highlight aspects that have, hitherto, been swept under the carpet. For instance, it states that:

  • The increase in recorded numbers of rapes does not necessarily mean the prevalence of rape has increased.

It explains that the underlying number of rapes may have remained constant but thatit is the “encouraging” of women to report rapes to the police which has led to the greater numbers (at 0.4%) . The Review cites the 2009/10 BCS, where:

  • Victimisation statistics confirm that women are much more likely to have been a victim of rape then men; in the 2009 – 2010 BCS, 0.4% of women aged from 16 to 59 reported being raped in the year prior to interview compared to less than 0.05% of men.

‘Under-reporting’ of rape remains a problem if only because it is used to excuse other actions and changes.

Still citing the BCS, the Review founds thata ’comparable sub-set’ has been compiled 

  • In 2009 – 2010, 43% of incidents in this sub-set were reported to the police (or the police came to know about them in another way) although the likelihood of reporting varied considerably by the type of offence (Flatley et al., 2010):

By comparison, figures for serious sexual assault (which included rape and attempted rape), indicated thatonly 11% of victims of serious sexual assault, had reported the most recent assault to police (see 2007/08 BCS , Povey et al., 2009). [4]

“Providing anonymity to those accused of rape: An assessment of evidence”, the 2010 Ministry of Justice review points out, on page 7, that:

  • Rape is reported by both men and women, but the overwhelming majority of complainants are female. Over 90% of the 15,165 reports of rape recorded by the police in 2009/10 were rapes of a female.

It can be argued that male victims of rape number more than the apparent 10% the above statement would indicate since men (not women) are more likely not to come forward to report the offence. But no one is arguing that male complainants be given special anonymity.

We leave the final word to the Report itself which arrives at the following opinion and simply draw your attention to the 0.4% and 0.5% figures cited:

  •  The increase in recorded numbers of rapes does not necessarily mean the prevalence of rape has increased. In recent years attempts have been made to encourage greater reporting of rape to the police, and these are likely to have contributed to the increases observed. Indeed, figures from the BCS suggest the likelihood of being a victim of rape has remained relatively stable for the past five years (Flatley et al., 2010). Victimisation statistics confirm that women are much more likely to have been a victim of rape then men; in the 2009/10 BCS, 0.4% of women aged from 16 to 59 reported being raped in the year prior to interview compared to less than 0.05% of men.


[4] These were not annual totals but lifelong i.e. since they reached the age of 16)


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