“Police Sapphire teams strongly encourage women to drop rape cases... Police failed to believe victims”, reported the BBC news at the end of February.
The report was linked to the case of a woman who reported a rape to Southwark police but was encouraged to drop the charges, the man later went on to murder his two children.
A truly shocking case, but the many other times rape cases get dropped and police fail to believe victims do not make it into the mainstream news.
It is a reality which won’t be unfamiliar to many women who have experienced reporting rape cases to the police, or who have supported those who have. It is well documented that only about a third of reported rape cases are considered by the Crown Prosecution Service, only 20% make it to court and of only 6% of all reported cases end in a guilty verdict.
These statistics have been the subject of feminist attention for a long time.
In the Southwark case the media concentrated on the second crime, even though as we know the odds were against the rape case getting to court anyway. It was as if there ere no other issues involved apart from police efficiency.
However, the case also raised some worrying trends in police attitudes to detection. The Independent Police Complaints Commission looking into the case claimed that “Southwark Sapphire unit in south London ‘encouraged’ victims to withdraw allegations to boost detection rates”.
The implied scenario is that the police select the cases most likely to get to court and get a conviction in a bid to apparently improve detection statistics.
Already women face probing and unnecessary questions at all stages of the process; a victim-blaming culture means women are questioned on their clothing, how much they had to drink, their sexuality, behaviour, past relationships and many other things.
As socialists we have many reasons to distrust the bourgeois courts, and given the accounts of the experience many women reporting rape have had at the hands of the police, it is understandable why many choose not to report it. Reporting rape to the police should always be the choice of the person involved. However we can’t stand aside from the issues involved here. We should have something to say. We recognise that the treatment of rape cases in the criminal justice system affects those who have suffered from rape and reflect broader issues.
The questions that have been put to complainants in rape cases reflect a very deeply ingrained vein of discrimination, not only against women but of class, race and sexuality.
I have been unable to find data about rape broken down by ethnicity but the CPS data on violence against women shows that of domestic violence cases that made it to court 92.7% of these involved white women, with 7.1% being Black and Minority Ethnic women.
We do know that when women have spoken out about their experience about police attitudes to rape reports they say that if they didn’t fit the category of a white, middle class woman their claims are dismissed.
• Editor’s note. The CPS have recently produced a report that shows false allegations of rape are very rare. Another already well-known but undereported reality.
The CPS are now indicating that they will become more robust at prosecuting rape cases. But will they? We welcome discussion on this issue.