Only 3% of rape claims in London result in convictions, study says

Finding prompts call to end ‘excessive intrusion’ by police into victims’ personal data

Only 3% of rape allegations in London result in convictions, a study has found, prompting the capital’s victims’ commissioner to call for an end to the “excessive intrusion into personal data” demanded when a person makes an allegation.

The London rape review, conducted by the mayor’s office for policing and crime (MOPAC) and the University of West London, looked at 501 allegations of rape made across the city in April 2016.

It found that while 84% of allegations were classified as a crime by the police, in 58% of cases the victim withdrew the allegation. Only 6% of cases reached trial and 3% resulted in a conviction. The average length of time from the date of reporting to the trial outcome was 18 months.

Seven per cent of cases surveyed were perpetrated by a stranger. Almost three in five offences were alleged to have taken place in a private or domestic setting and 28% related to domestic abuse.

The London victims’ commissioner, Claire Waxman, said drastic improvements were needed in the way rape victims were treated. She called for police to be trained how to deal with trauma victims and for more funding for services from central government.

Waxman was appointed the capital’s first victim’s commissioner by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in June 2017. In 2011 she won a landmark case to overturn the decision not to prosecute her stalker and in 2013 founded the campaign group Voice4Victims to work for improved legislation for victims of crime.

Last week, a Guardian analysis of recent Home Office statistics revealed that only one in 65 rape cases reported to police across the country resulted in suspects being summonsed or charged, which represented a steep decline.

Four years ago one in seven, or 14%, of cases led to a suspect being charged or summonsed – a total of 4,908 in 2015-16. Last year just 1.5% of cases resulted in a charge or a summons, for a total of 886 in 2018-19.

The analysis followed controversy over “digital processing notices”, in which police can request to download the contents of victims’ mobile phones. They were rolled out across police forces in England and Wales in April.

Civil liberties organisations have said they amount to a “digital strip search”, are unlawful and are “highly likely to infringe victims’ data protection and privacy rights”.

The charge or summons rate for rape fell to one in 65, or 1.5%, of all cases reported to the police in England and Wales in 2018-19, according to the Home Office. The figure has dropped steeply since 2015-16, when one in seven, or 13.7%, of all cases resulted in a charge or summons. New figures from the CPS show the number of cases referred by the police for charging decisions fell again by 32% in the year to September 2019.

A recent report by the Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate concluded the service was not to blame for a precipitous drop in rape charges, but that the system – and in particular police-led investigations – was under-resourced to “breaking point”.

This is disputed by a coalition of women’s rights groups who launched a legal challenge against the CPS in September 2019.

Rape is a notoriously difficult crime to prosecute primarily because it comes down to the question of consent, often in a situation where there are only two people. In these cases evidence beyond the word of the victim or defendant is seen as central to building a strong case. Digital evidence requested from complainants, such as data, location information and texts from phones, is time-consuming to investigate. In 2018, more than half of all rape cases took more than 100 days to assign an outcome.

A charge or summons is one of the steps in proceeding to a trial. Even if a suspect is charged a case may be dropped; and if it proceeds to court a conviction is less likely than it was a decade ago.

Caelainn Barr and Alexandra Topping

Waxman called for an end to “excessive disclosure” of victims’ data, saying the Crown Prosecution Service should only request therapy notes to show the impact of the crime. She said the government should fully fund legal support to provide independent advice and legal representation seeing as victims were “having their credibility routinely investigated”.

One woman, who did not want to be named, was raped by a stranger who was identified eight years later by DNA evidence after raping again. Despite having strong DNA evidence from two attacks, the police still asked her for extensive records.

“Despite the fact I was raped by a stranger who was identified many years later by DNA evidence, I was then told that in order to charge him the police would need to go through my school and university records, medical records and around six years’ of therapy notes,” she said.

“This felt so invasive and disturbing, as if rather than assessing the evidence gathered at time of the rape, they were evaluating my character over my lifetime. I felt I had very little power to object to this as they warned me missing information could jeopardise the case.

“The extent to which I was expected to give my life over for inspection and judgment eventually led me to decide that were the case to go to trial I would withdraw from the process as I was terrified of being subjected to further scrutiny and my life experiences and private therapy notes being used to discredit me.”


Frances Perraudin

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Boris Johnson admits justice system and police serve rape victims badly
PM says he will ‘stop at nothing to make sure we get more rapists behind bars’ after Sarah Everard case

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

03, Oct, 2021 @10:16 AM

Article image
Campaigners say ministers ‘too quick’ to celebrate increased rape convictions
Justice secretary cites ‘significant progress’, but campaigners point out that vast majority of rape survivors still do not report to police

Rachel Hall

09, Jul, 2023 @11:01 PM

Article image
Radical change needed in handling of rape cases, says England and Wales police lead
Exclusive: NPCC lead for rape says specialist capability was damaged during austerity years

Caelainn Barr and Alexandra Topping

14, Feb, 2021 @1:29 PM

Article image
Metropolitan police's handling of rape allegations to be reviewed

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe announces review amid concerns about failure to bring sexual violence offenders to justice

Vikram Dodd

09, Jun, 2014 @7:27 PM

Article image
Government will take 18 years to reach rape charges target, data shows
Analysis reveals that at current pace ministers will fall far short of increase promised in England and Wales

Alexandra Topping, Tobi Thomas, Pamela Duncan and Brendan Matheson

21, Oct, 2021 @4:03 PM

Article image
109 women prosecuted for false rape claims in five years, say campaigners
Charity accuses authorities in the UK of pursuing cases against rape complainants more aggressively than other countries

Sandra Laville

01, Dec, 2014 @2:31 PM

Article image
Convictions for rapes in London less likely than in 2015, research shows
Concern over fall in convictions and growing delays in capital despite rise in reports of rapes and sexual offences

Caelainn Barr

26, Oct, 2020 @12:01 AM

Article image
Met police deny systemic failure in rape case disclosures
After collapse of two trials because of late disclosure, Scotland Yard says review of ongoing cases could run into hundreds

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

20, Dec, 2017 @1:22 PM

Article image
Nearly 70% of rape victims drop out of investigations in England and Wales
Exclusive: MoJ statistics unearthed by Labour as party presses Rishi Sunak to improve conviction rates

Rajeev Syal Home affairs editor

30, May, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
CPS unveils five-year blueprint to boost rape convictions
Overhaul comes after campaigners alleged secret policy to drop ‘weak’ cases

Alexandra Topping and Caelainn Barr

29, Jul, 2020 @11:01 PM