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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Divide

The Guardian tells us today that there is a postcode lottery in the success of convictions for rape. At face value it's fairly outrageous that in Dorset the conviction rate is 1 in 60, as opposed to almost 1 in 5 in Cleveland. But this statistic means nothing unless we know the conviction rate for all other crimes in those areas. Perhaps Dorset's Crown Prosection Service or police force is rubbish in general. If the people of Dorset have lost faith in their criminal justice system, perhaps the rate of victims unwilling to go to court is higher than in other areas.

Either way, as usual the statistic is being used as an indicator of how effectively the police are dealing with rape. It would perhaps be far more telling to provide statistics on how many people reporting rape in those areas felt they got a good service from the police. There's little comfort in convicting a rapist if his victim finishes the process in a worse state than after he raped her (leaving aside the obvious point that he will hopefully be in jail for a few years).

I'd like to know where the cases in Dorset are failing: are they dropped pre-court, is it that the victim doesn't show up, is there an "abuse of process", is "bad character" being allowed as evidence on both sides, etc? If the problem is with a lack of depth of the investigation, how is Dorset Police resourced at the moment? Are they strapped on the front-line, so the initial attending officers are over-worked and missing vital evidence? Is it a particularly young/inexperienced workforce? Do they have a high turnover in CID?

Every month or so I attend court for a case I may have had a fleeting contact with at some point in the last two years. About half of the cases fail on the day, because of one or other of the above reasons. That's not rape, that's ALL crime. The criminal justice system demands such perfection of the police and prosecution that it's bloody hard even to put together a drink-drive file without missing out something that the offender will use to get off.

That's the court system we have in this country, and if you find yourself in court for something you didn't do, you'll be glad of it too. If you find yourself in court for something you did do, you'll be equally glad. Reaching a balance between those two facts is where the difficulty lies.




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17 Comments:

Blogger Inspector Leviathan Hobbes said...

Very well put PC Bloggs, I had considered writing something similar but sometimes it just doesn't sit well coming from a male officer. I am still convinced that if rape, in fact any crime, didn't have to go through the CPS first we may get more cases at court and we may even get actual justice for the victims. All too often the police get blamed for investigations not succeeding, but the fact is we have put in the work but the CPS bottle it in case, just in case, in the slightest remotest possibility, the defendant may get found not guilty. I'd rather go back to the old days where we lost a stone-bonker case due to the whim of the jury, or even won one that was flimsy to say the least. It was fun then. Now its just crap, no satisfaction whatsoever, and I can't give any assurances to victims that their case will even get as far as court. One day I shall a Police Generalissimo or Admiral or whatever, THEN things will get done properly.

10 June, 2009 21:16

 
Blogger Inspector Leviathan Hobbes said...

Oh, and I hate The Guardian and it's twat readers (not you of course, you're lovely and wonderful). Still, I can't help read it just so I can get an idea of how many of the population I will have to kill when Police Generalissimo.

10 June, 2009 21:18

 
Blogger blueknight said...

Places like Bournemouth and Weymouth have a lot of visitors.
How many offenders might have come from other areas and are not known in the Dorset area?

10 June, 2009 21:45

 
Anonymous Antipodean said...

It's interesting that the blame is being pointed squarely at the Police "due to failures and prejudices from the initial complaint right up to trial".
This raises two issues.
Firstly, how are the Police responsible for 'failures and prejudices' once the matter has left their hands?
The CPS do the prosecuting, doesn't the blame lie with them as well?
Secondly, why is there no criticism about what happens during part AFTER "right up to trial" ie the trial itself?
Is that because the Police cannot be blamed?
Is it because no one wants to blame Judges?
Is it because victims fall apart under cross-examination?
Or is it because defence "play the man and not the ball" and paint the victim out as some sort of whore, who deserved what she got and the jury/Judge bought it?
I also find it somewhat odd that the victim complains about being made to tell the investigating officers "five or six times ... as if they doubted my story". I'm sorry, but, what do you think will happen when any victim tells their story in Court? Do you think their story will be told only once and everyone will believe it? Of course not, their version will be tested and tested and tested again in the crucible of cross-examination. Better to find out early that the victim won't come up to proof than later.
As to drink-spiking, at least one report (in Australia, where I am) is suggesting that it's more an urban myth than an "epidemic" and that some (not all) women are claiming "drink spiking" rather than voluntarily drinking too much as an excuse to "explain behaviour they are not happy with". (http://www.aifs.gov.au/acssa/pubs/briefing/b2.html#media)
I've seen plenty of young, drunk women, staggering down the street then vomiting into the gutter, the bin, or their own lap or handbag on a Saturday night. Yet they didn't blame drink spiking as the reason for their state when I've asked them how they were.
One COULD make the argument, based on the figures that the incidents of false reporting of Rape has decreased in Cleveland and increased in Dorset. But, of course, there's no political influence to be gained in that.
This is not to denigrate rape; a horrible crime that makes me feel ashamed to be a man. But to blame the Police solely for a lack of convictions? Sounds like someone's just taking cheap, political shots to me.

11 June, 2009 02:57

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These figures are pretty meaning less - the sample size of convictions is too small to make comparisons meaningful. You only need a few guilty pleas in Kent to make Dorset (tricky alcohol-fuelled date rape accusations)look terrible.

Zac

11 June, 2009 10:37

 
Anonymous D said...

Why is rape any different to any other crime where it is one person's word against another's?

I would be very interested to see what the conviction rates are in one-on-one assaults, where man A says man B hit him, and man B says man A hit him first.

I suspect that the truth is in these cases either both would be prosecuted or neither would (and convictions, in the former case, would be by no means certain).

This is absolutely not either a) to equate rape with a minor punch-up or b) to celebrate the fact that rapists get off (as they undoubtedly must).

It is, however, just a fact that in his-word-against-hers cases, which many of these are, it is almost impossible to convict.

But something odd happens to people when discussing rape.

All of a sudden, the very people who normally want to understand the motivations behind crime, and want to understand the criminal, and are dead against jail, and believe the police are all a bunch of fit-up merchants, are screaming out for convictions.

11 June, 2009 17:03

 
OpenID inspectorgadget said...

It's because they are all related in Dorset, and nobody likes to grass on their own family do they?

11 June, 2009 17:44

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Dorset officer who is merely a front line bobby I can say that yes, we are understaffed (who'd have thought?!?)on the front line, undervalued, overextended and underappreciated. But then there's nothing new there is there? That's endemic, not just to Dorset. As a force I believe we are the second worst funded county force in the country, but that was several years ago, it's possible today we are the worst (I don't see how that's improved!)

As for your comment on families Gadget, well, that's an outrageous slur! If I could find you I'd smack you with my banjo!

11 June, 2009 20:35

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prior to joining the job a very close friend of mine was a victim of rape in Dorset. We were visiting as part of a large group, for a week.

In counties like Dorset (or Cornwall, Devon, Sussex, Kent, Essex etc) large numbers of people are transitory and on holiday. MUCH harder to prove Rape or identify and then apprehend a suspect for any sexual offence.

11 June, 2009 20:45

 
Anonymous R/T said...

Ellie - when's the "Woman's Hour" thingy going out please? Ta

12 June, 2009 10:19

 
Blogger PC Bloggs said...

It will be aired on R4 10.45am and 7.45pm every day 15th-19th June.

12 June, 2009 16:19

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

D @ 17:03 11 June:

Rape is much trickier to prosecute than assault. Generally speaking when we can trace suspects (which is fairly often) assault cases are as easy to prove as it is that two people had sex.

The problem come when we have to prove what is going on in people's heads. For assault we can show that there were injuries and everyone pretty much accepts that the victim didn't consent to them. In most rape cases there is little or no injury and it genuinely is down to his word against hers - this does not amount to proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Smarter men than me have been trying to solve this problem for a long time. I doubt it really is solvable.

12 June, 2009 17:41

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely the difference is down to crime recording.

If a force has enough backbone to make a sensible interpretation of the National Crime Recording Standards (NCRS) then spurious reports of rape will not be recorded. If on the other hand, the force in question follows NCRS (which states that if a member of the public feels they have been a victim of crime then a crime WILL be recored) blindly then *every single phone call alleging rape* will be recorded as a rape without any consideration as to whether or not a rape has taken place. The result is more recorded rapes that will never be proven.

Martin

12 June, 2009 19:54

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read back the above. I do not think that women regularly report rape maliciously, but I have first hand experience of cases where women have been so drunk they did not know what happened. What they feel was a rape on Sunday morning has become described as "not sure, may have been a drunken mistake" by Wednesday.

Martin

12 June, 2009 19:57

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A drink drive file is relatively straightforward. It only gets complicated when post incident consumption is alleged. Then it's more forms really.
Rape is far more complex, although alcohol is a common denominator in both. Mostly.
Pirellibelli. X.

12 June, 2009 21:44

 
Anonymous NerdinessIsNotACrime said...

I don't know how often conversation in the police canteen touches on the great French mathematician Siméon-Denis Poisson (1781–1840), or whether the station has many well thumbed copies of his 1838 masterwork "Recherches sur la probabilité des jugements en matière criminelle et en matière civile" (Research on the probability of judgements in criminal and civil matters).

However M. Poisson work demonstrated, nearly two centuries ago, that situations like this will inevitably give the appearance of "postcode lottery" even if there is no real difference in the performance of the forces involved, or the difficulty of the crimes reported to them.

If all forces were equally good then on average they would get the same conviction rates. However in any given year the rate may depart from the average purely by chance. The extent by which it is likely to differ from the average can be calculated using a formula known as the "Poisson distribution" after our man Monsieur P.

The lower the actual number of convictions, the greater the departure from the average you can expect to find.

Now looking at the population it serves, I would guess that rape convictions in Dorset will be in single figures in most years, and I think the same can be said for some other forces. This means that you can expect absolutely huge differences in conviction rate, from year to year and between forces, and that these differences can be attributed to nothing more significant than dumb luck. It is worth noting that the conviction rate for Dorset in 2006 was, at 7%, slightly higher than the national average.

17 June, 2009 11:16

 
Anonymous el4levva said...

I'm pleased to read Martin's comment as I'd been wondering if the "low" level of cases reaching court might be partly because some allegations are later withdrawn by the woman or the evidence works against her.

Don't get me wrong - I'm female and my gut response is to support the woman. However, some men do get caught up in someone else's story and are, actually, innocent.

Insufficient evidence to prosecute is not enough to mend a man's injured reputation. There seems to be nothing short of a "not guilty" verdict or a successful claim for defamation that will stop tongues wagging. It can put young men and families under almost unbearable strain.

17 June, 2009 12:01

 

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