The 58% campaign

What’s the conviction rate for rape? 6%? Some other figure? Don’t know but know it is incredibly low?

                            The conviction rate for rape is 58%.

Surprised? Would you be even more surprised if I tell you that the conviction rate for all crimes is 57%, therefore the rape conviction rate is on a par with other crimes tried?

I know you will have heard the 6% figure. Everyone has heard the 6% figure. But that figure is not a conviction rate; it is an attrition rate, and it is high time we stopped using it. Why? Because of this:

68% of women in that survey, which in that instance is 852 women, would hesitate to report a rape because of conviction rates. Because they have heard the 6% figure too.

And this:

So where does the 6% figure come from? The Stern Review puts it better than I can:

The first two images tell us why we need to stop using it – there is a perception that the conviction rate for rape is 6% therefore it is highly unlikely that a conviction will follow, therefore people do not want to report the crime. And who can blame them?

I want to see a campaign that yells loudly about the 58% figure. One that says ‘if there is evidence to take this to trial, you are more likely than not to see your offender convicted’ – but also one that is honest about the difficulties in getting a case to trial – not to put people off making a complaint, but to enable them to make a proper, informed and educated assessment of whether they want to make a complaint.

It is unfortunate that Mumsnet, in their We Believe You campaign, have used old research and data to perpetuate myths within the myths they want to see busted – if you look at the bottom of that page for instance, where they summarise their research, you see no mention of The Stern Review, or the very recent HMIC report, and in particular, they repeat the attrition rate without explanation.

So lets have a campaign, one that does shout ‘We believe you’. And not only that we do, but juries are likely to, too.

*Stats from The Stern Review here, and the MoJ



19 thoughts on “The 58% campaign

  1. Hi, i’m interested in your thoughts. I get from your article that you realise how hard it is going through the Criminal Justice System for a survivor of sexual violence. What ever the stats that are used, i hope that we can continue making the system better as at the moment even those who have achieved a conviction often feel re-victimised and have been retraumatised by getting to the finishing line. It will be useful for everyone to be thinking about the recommendations from the Law Commission and making submissions supporting change to occur. Then we may have the 58% or 6% or whatever it is having an easier time of it.

    • Hello.

      I have huge sympathy with any person going through the CJS, and more so with those who are survivors of traumatic offences against the person, and I agree that anecdotally, survivors do find the process in and of itself to be traumatic.

      Unfortunately, the adversarial process is, quite simply, brutal. However, I am unable to support any further changes to the trial process here in England beyond the special measure we already have. I think once we start taking one offence outside of the system, we run the risk of starting down the slippery slope of damaging the whole system. Either we change it for all offences, or we change it for none.

  2. “What ever the stats that are used, i hope that we can continue making the system better as at the moment even those who have achieved a conviction often feel re-victimised and have been retraumatised by getting to the finishing line.”


    But this concern applies to any criminal offence, particularly those involving physical assault.

    We already have extensive laws which provide comfort and assistance to those who report sexual offences. There are special procedures for taking evidence, special procedures for bringing that evidence before the court, limits on the questions which defence counsel can ask, limits on the ability of the defendant to ask questions him or herself, courses on which judges who try such cases must go, and a special body of CPS prosecutors and barristers who are allowed to conduct these cases. The law of rape has also been modified and adapted on a rolling basis: for example, to render sex with a very drunk person rape.

    In addition, the experience of Criminal barristers I’ve spoken to is that the CPS and the judge will not chuck cases which are plainly hopeless, as they would in other types of offence. They prefer instead to leave it to the jury to take the responsibility for a not guilty verdict.

    If you believe that there is an enormous problem with rape convictions, then of course it is proper that the criminal law and procedure has been reformed in this manner. Perhaps further reform is required. However, in relation to most other offences, civil libertarians usually raise concerns in relation to attempts to remove safeguards for the defendant or to tilt the scales in favour of conviction.

    I think that Julie Bindel’s latest suggestion is that the jury be done away with in sexual offences cases, because ordinary members of the public are too steeped in the patriarchy to convict a sufficient proportion of defendants. Instead, a specially trained tribunal of judges, who understand gender theory, should arbitrate in such cases.

    • I don’t believe there is a problem with rape convictions. I don’t believe a conviction rate at trial of 58% can be complained about, in that it is on par with other offences.

      I have a problem with the perception that there is a problem with rape convictions. While I accept that there may be a problem with getting rape cases to trial (and on that I think more evidence is required), the stats would suggest that once the CPS have decided to go forward, rape fairs as well in the courts as any other crime.

      • Well, I broadly agree with you.

        I am surprised, though, to find that the conviction rape for cases which come to court is similar to other offences. I’ve just heard of so many cases in which absolutely hopeless cases which had no prospect of resulting in a conviction reaching court, and not being stopped at half time. I remember one case, for example, in which the complainant reported a rape, having agreed to participate in a threesome in a rented hotel room with a man and another woman. The case continued, even though the hotel’s CCTV showed the complainant and the defendant kissing and embracing some time after the rape had been said to have taken place. I would have thought that cases like that, which inevitably result in acquittals, might push the overall conviction rate down.

        Anyhow, you should pitch an article on this to Comment is Free. It is an important issue.

        I won’t discuss it myself, at all. I won’t even post this link of Facebook, because from experience, I know that a proportion of people who read it – my friends – will take the view that I have posted this because I am pro-rape, want men to rape more women, and don’t care about women.

        But I do worry that rape law reform is used as a trojan horse generally to attack safeguards for defendants in crimes, generally.

        • You highlight a problem that pervades the CJS – too many hopeless cases of all types end up before juries, although there can be many reasons for a not guilty verdict, not all of which are down to hopeless prosecutions which would never succeed.

          I wholly understand why you won’t talk about it – I get a fair old amount of abuse, and I am female. It seems that in some quarters, it is perceived that you are letting the sisterhood down by challenging perceptions.

          And yes, you are right, about rape reform being used in that way. A lot of the pressure groups treat it as a stand alone issue, without realising that when seeking reform, one has to consider the effects on the whole CJS – quite simply, we cannot treat rape as a stand alone offence.

          Re pitching Comment is Free, well, after some discussions last night, I now have the domain and it seems like a campaign might actually be born!

      • I know that once the CPS proceeds the odd are pretty good (and that it would be positive to promote that), but could you clarify how many of those successful verdicts were from a defendant pleading guilty or other charges being dropped?

        We’ve noticed a lot of cases where contributing charges such as false imprisonment and threats to kill alongside the rape are being dropped, presumably because the CPS feel that will help a conviction, but it’s leaving victims feeling shortchanged. There are also cases of rape being diluted down to sexual assault which leave victims feeling the same.

        I don’t think we need new rules or laws in rape cases. The legalities are there but the problem is that they aren’t being used properly (same with the police, which means that the CPS and police aren’t forming a united front) and without acknowledging this flaw and the fact that victims are still being penalised in court (sexual history is almost as standard) or having their wishes overruled (particularly over the video link), the rate of attrition is something you can’t avoid in any discussion about rape conviction rates.

        That 58% figure means very little when it’s a percentage of bugger all and most women know that the battle is mainly getting the case to court and being believed and valued before long before anyone dons a wig and that ultimately you’ve got more chance of growing a third leg than getting your day in court because of the failings of the system.

        I’ve been working with the CPS for years and everything I, and others , have suggested, including Baroness Stern, involves tightening up rules that already exist and changing attitudes in the police, CPS, juries and judges that stem from those rape myths Mumsnet mention. There has been some movement and I respect Keir Starmer for not avoiding the issue, but there’s still a long way to go before you can get victims to trust the system and dismissing their fears isn’t the way to do it.

        • I can have a look for those figures for you, yes, and will post them here once I have them.

          I agree you can’t ignore the rate of attrition, which all quarters I hope would agree is dreadfully low, but when quoting the attrition rate as the conviction rate is stopping people coming forward, I think it is time to stop using it in that context. It remains an issue, and should not be ignored.

          Although the very recent HMIC report highlights some bad practices, overall it is reasonably positive, certainly in terms of recording rates and numbers of cases going forward to trial. Changes are happening, but very slowly.

          Do you mind me asking in what context you work with the CPS – I am being nosy more than anything and totally understand if you don’t want to say!

          • I’ve been working with the CPS as a victim and as victim support. I’ve been involved in around 20 cases in London that have failed at CPS level and about another 40 failed at police level. I’ve met with two DPPs, Baroness Stern and two Solicitor Generals to try get those steps you mention moving quicker for everyone’s sake (esp as it would help balance out the attrition/conviction mistake!) My legal terminology is a bit rubbish though so apologies if I sound like I’ve just been watching too much Law and Order…

            Really interested in what you’re doing here and so pleased to see the legal profession being upfront and engaged and offering info as it can come across as impenetrable at times to those without legal knowledge. I think this campaign could be really effective and important!

          • Blimey.
            So far, campaigns have focused on what the police and CPS do wrong, and therefore alienate those on the ground. We’re hoping that by running a more positive campaign, while not ignoring the failures, we can properly engage the CJS and make things better. We also hope that by being open and honest about the process, which we accept is brutal, we help educate, so that informed decisions can be made. Rape reporting is increasing – we want to see that continue, and more rapists brought to justice.

  3. “We’ve noticed a lot of cases where contributing charges such as false imprisonment and threats to kill alongside the rape are being dropped, presumably because the CPS feel that will help a conviction, but it’s leaving victims feeling shortchanged. There are also cases of rape being diluted down to sexual assault which leave victims feeling the same.”

    There is a need to compare like with like – which is difficult.

    For example, how many times is somebody charged with a section 18 wounding but pleads guilty to a section 20 wounding? Or where defendants agree to plead guilty to certain specific incidents, on the basis that others are dropped?

    Do we regard these plea bargains as problematic?

    I’d also be interested to know if there are statistics on how often other crimes are reported. For example, what is the percentage of general assaults that are reported to the police, and result in successful prosecutions? Similarly, what is the position with thefts.

    We have traditionally treated rape as falling into a separate category from these other offences: many years ago, because it despoiled women; and now because of the particular significance of rape within gender politics analysis.

    Should we?

    • Attrition rates are not usually calculated for other crimes, but we are going to undertake that exercise too. If we are going to compare figures, we have to compare like with like.

      • Attrition rates are not generally published for other crimes. However sanction detection rates are. The sanction detection rate is the percentage of reports made to the police that result in a charge, or summons, or caution, or some other formal warning*

        These are available at**

        In 2009/10 the sanction detection rate for rape of a female was 24%. For all crime it was only slightly higher 28%.

        So there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason to suppose that attrition rates for other crimes, if they were calculated, would be that different to those for rape.

        It could, of course be argued that the sanction detection rate for all crime is not a good comparator, because it lumps together different crimes with strikingly different sanction detection rates. When you compare the SDR for rape with those for individual crimes you find that it is greater than that for some, and less than that for others. However by and large the the crimes with lower SDRs than rape are the ones that you would expect to have lowed SDRs (burglary for example) and the ones with higher SDRs are also the ones you would expect (for example ABH).

        * Clarification
        (1) Charge and summons are two different ways of instigating a prosecution. The summons process is only used for minor offences where the police have no power of arrest.

        (2) Cautions and other formal warnings (e.g. cannabis warnings) can be issued by the police without recourse to the courts.

        (3) I am not a lawyer, and I hope wiggy will correct me if I’ve got this wrong!

        ** The SDRs start at the page numbered 157 (which is actually page 177 in the PDF).

  4. This is from the Fawcett Society’s briefing on rape: “Around half of convictions were due to a guilty plea, and where a full trial took place, an acquittal was the most likely outcome (Kelly, Lovett, and Regan, 2005).”

    I think this is an issue of vocabulary. If I were considering reporting, I would want to know what proportion of reports make it through to a conviction for rape. I wouldn’t care what it was called, or where I thought its causes were (police, CPS, juries) – it’s the 6% I’d want to know about.

    • The Fawcett Society are not terribly reliable, and the briefing you quote is wrong.

      Professor Cheryl Thomas has examined all jury rape verdicts in all courts between 2006 and 2008 and found that 55% resulted in a conviction. The source is here

      She adds that “A previous Home Office study stating that jury acquittals were more common than convictions was based on a small number of verdicts (181) in a few courts. Current findings cover all jury rape verdicts in all courts in 2006–08 (4,310).”

      I suspect that the Home Office study she mentions is the Kelly Lovett and Regan paper to which you are referring.

    • No i doubt we will ever agree QRG. but i think it is important to quote a mix of sitdues and anecdotal evidence when talking about certain issues because otherwise people go where’s your stats!’ or when you quote stats you can’t trust statistics you know!’you can never win! Although i think personal experiences, stories and feelings are important to be talked about too. But i just find those sitdues are quite interesting and say a lot about how young women are experiencing the world, something that we, as a different generation, might not be so aware of. the experiences of teen girls with the media and representation etc is very different to my teen years 10 years ago. these sitdues can help us try and understand that.

  5. No, I don’t equate men’s elauxsity with rape either Polly. As for going on about this , isn’t that what blogging is all about? I could just as well ask QRG why she goes on’ about all the stuff she goes on’ about on her blog. But I’m guessing our answers would be pretty similar we go on’ about things to raise awareness of an issue or to provide others with a space where they can discuss an issue; we go on’ about things because we’re interested in hearing other people’s opinions on them, or we go on’ about things because we feel strongly about them. And yes, sometimes we even go on’ about things because we just feel a need to vent is that a crime now?Do you object to us going on’ about things QRG? Are you the Internet police now? I suspect not. Because actually if we didn’t go on’ about things it would leave you with pretty much fuck all to go on’ about yourself.

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