Labour MP, Ann Coffey, has called for an urgent inquiry into whether juries should be allowed to determine the outcomes of rape cases, arguing they may be failing to deliver justice and deterring survivors from coming forward.
Coffey told the House of Commons that the dominance of “rape myths” in our culture means juries are denying justice to young women.
Less than a third of rape cases brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) result in a conviction, a rate the Stockport MP described as “shockingly low.”
“Perfect Storm” Leading to Low Conviction Rates
In a debate on 21 November, Coffey suggested that internalised sexism means juries are reluctant to convict young men – even in cases where they believe a rape has taken place.
Coffey recently uncovered a particular problem in cases where the defendant is a young man. According to a freedom of information request she made to the CPS, men aged 18 to 24 in England and Wales are significantly less likely to be found guilty than older men.
More than a quarter of defendants in rape cases are young men.
The danger is we will be thrown back to the dark days where victims of abuse were silenced and dared not speak out.
Coffey told MPs: “There is still a dominance of rape myths in our culture including that a woman who has drunk a lot cannot complain if she is raped, that it is only rape if someone has injuries, and that real rapes are done by strangers in alleyways or it’s a crime of passion or women invite rape by what they wear.”
She said a “perfect storm” was developing, with juries reluctant to convict young men charged with rape, the CPS therefore reluctant to press charges and the police reluctant to refer.
“The result of this is that victims will stop coming forward and justice in the criminal justice system will be denied to young women,” she said.
“The danger is we will be thrown back to the dark days where victims of abuse were silenced and dared not speak out.”
Is the Justice System Failing Victims of Sexual Violence?
A powerful argument from @anncoffey_mp on the myths surrounding rape . Juries are only convicting 32% of 18-24 year old men charged with rape – she says women are being failed as a result and it’s time to change. @GranadaReports @EverydaySexism pic.twitter.com/dt5SmchmQo
— Alison Mackenzie (@Alison1mackITV) November 21, 2018
According to Rape Crisis’ 2017 – 2018 report at least 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales every year – that is roughly 11 people every hour.
Meanwhile nearly half-a-million adults are sexually assaulted in England and Wales each year.
But CPS figures show that, although reports of rape have surged, the number of alleged rapists being prosecuted is at its lowest in a decade.
The CPS report Violence Against Women and Girls records how, in 2017-18, the public prosecutions agency charged 849 fewer defendants than in the previous year – a drop of 23.1 per cent.
Currently, only 17 per cent of those who experience sexual assault report it to the police, according to Office of National Statistics data. This is likely because the system is so stacked against survivors.
With statistics like this, it’s not hard to see why Coffey believes there is a “crisis engulfing the criminal justice system’s approach to rape cases”.
What Could Make Things Better for Rape Survivors?
Upcoming research by @EVAWuk and @YouGov will reveal that one-third of those surveyed think it’s not rape if a woman had flirted on a date but had not wanted sex. Juries take these attitudes to the courtroom.
— Ann Coffey (@anncoffey_mp) November 21, 2018
According to Coffey: “Ministers need to take strong action including a fundamental review of the whole system and by taking a lead to forge a better public understanding of rape myths and what constitutes consent.”
In Northern Ireland, a retired senior judge has also called for major changes to the way rape cases are dealt with.
In a recent report, Sir John Gillen called for a series of measures including limiting public access to the court in rape trials and providing the victims of serious sexual assault with legal representation.
Gillen also said juries should undergo training before the start of a trial to make sure they are aware of pervasive rape myths.