Trigger warning for discussion of rape
A while back, I wrote about how for many women, not reporting a rape to the police can seem like the best possible option. Information which has arisen in the last week has changed nothing in this thesis: if anything, it is worse than I had previously thought.
A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorates of the Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service on rape investigations has found some pretty worrying facts, but also some good news. More survivors feel able to report rapes to the police, and the police response has improved. On the other hand, police are failing to identify patterns of repeat offences and were using intelligence poorly.
Most worrying of all, though, is the incidence of “no crimes”. According to guidelines, a no crime should be:
Where following the report of an incident, which has subsequently been recorded as a crime, additional verifiable information is available which determines that no notifiable crime has been committed.
The two crucial constructs here are that the evidence the crime did not happen can be proven, and that whatever happened was not a crime. In rape cases, this sounds like it might be pretty difficult to prove, yet the report found that 12% of reported rapes were consigned to the no crime pile. These statistics often involve women withdrawing their complaint, which can be seen in this FOI request to South Yorkshire Police. There are obvious problems with this approach, and these are so apparent that even the police have noticed this:
In reality a rape that has been reported and then recorded as a crime, should only be “no crimed” if for example, the victim states that the crime did not occur. Even in these circumstances it should be anticipated that there would be further verifiable information available to support this, because our experience shows that victims may withdraw allegations because they cannot face the criminal justice process. In other words if there is any doubt the crime remains recorded. There is a key difference between a victim who retracts their allegation and one who withdraws from the investigative process.
Given the high prevalence of no crimes, it seems that the verification that no crime occurred is not being followed through adequately. In some forces, it was found that only 40% of the no crime decisions were actually correct.
This is a fucking travesty. Thousands of people who have shown the courage to enter the agonising process of rape reporting are being let down, and their complaints dismissed away to nothing. When even the police think it is a problem, it is a serious problem indeed. This has very serious implications. For the survivor, this must be a thoroughly horrific experience: he or she will be unable to access the support provided by the system, and will experience doubt and guilt over what has happened. More broadly, it will make it harder to identify repeat rapists if a crime is not investigated or recorded.
It gets worse. Former police officer, politician and rather irritating public figure Brian Paddick recently testified at the Leveson enquiry regarding his time in the Met. He said that he had been asked to “tone down the criticisms and water-down the recommendations” in a previous report on rape reporting and investigation. In the light of this, what has been identified in the recent report may well be downplaying the problem rather than reporting it accurately.
Certainly, in my reading of the report, it was difficult to find some crucial data. For example, the statistic that some police forces have very low levels of correctly no criming rape allegations was fairly well-hidden and no attention was drawn to it. The problem of burying bad news remains in a desperate attempt to maintain a good reputation.
This PR exercise has major ramifications and can ultimately only make things worse, rather than better. Rather than frantically flapping around to cover their arses, the police need to admit honestly to their failings to create real solutions. Trust in the police is low. Most rape survivors do not report their rapes to an institution that should, theoretically, be on their side and help amend what has happened to them. This is not happening: it is merely an illusion of aid.
People are being failed due to severe problems which may be worse than imagined. Lives may be destroyed. This needs to change.