Oh Joy, The Guardian’s New Series On Rape


Looks like we’re in for a truly joyous time as The Guardian launches a new series on the subject of rape. The problem being not that rape itself isn’t an heinous crime which should be properly investigated and punished, but that we’re going to end up with a series of assertions not all of which turn out to be entirely and totally true. Take this:

Coffey, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group for runaway and missing children and adults,..(..)…An intense media focus on the small number of false allegations of rape “perpetuates the public perception that lying about rape is common when in fact the opposite is true”, she added.

Well, we need to define “common” here. The best data we’ve got was an investigation in the UK which properly ran through the funnel from reported incident all the way to conviction. Showing that report to conviction was about 6% – better than burglary but then it damn well should be for a crime of violence against the person. But also a false claim or report rate of about 6%.

Which is common?

But today’s particular complaint is that young men seem to be convicted less than older:

The crisis engulfing the criminal justice system over its approach to rape cases is revealed by startling figures that show less than a third of prosecutions brought against young men result in a conviction.

According to statistics, men aged 18 to 24 in England and Wales are consistently less likely to be found guilty than older men on trial. Young men accounted for more than a quarter of defendants in rape-only cases in the five years to 2017-18.

The findings are the first in the Guardian’s series focusing on rape, which is consistently one of the most contentious and sensitive issues facing the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Senior CPS staff believe the failure to secure convictions reflects a desperate need to educate jurors, who appear particularly reluctant to punish young men at the start of their adult life for serious sexual assaults.

The figures highlighting the disparities are set out in a freedom of information request released by the CPS to the Labour MP Ann Coffey.

They cover a five-year period and highlight how difficult it is to secure successful prosecutions of men under the age of 25.

Can we think of anything which might explain this? Possibly even more information that we’d like to see presented before we decide?

Well, yes. A postulate – a postulate only. Young men are more likely to be accused of date rape rather than Whoopi Goldberg’s rape rape. Date rape is always going to be a more difficult allegation to secure a conviction upon dependent as it obviously is going to be upon a he said she said believability.

To decide upon this we’d like to see rather more classification of the cases underlying those statistics, wouldn’t we? Not that we’re going to of course because that’s not suited to the narrative – as with our definition of “common” above.

There is also a fairly obvious point to make. The lower the conviction rate at trial the more it must be true that marginal cases are being tried, rather than dropped during the investigation phase. A lower – at trial that is – conviction rate is evidence that the earlier parts of the system are taking allegations more seriously, isn’t it.