In one year in Scotland, 1878 rapes were reported to the police. But how many do you think led to convictions ?
Recently we’ve heard the police rightly crowing about their clean-up rate for murder cases, which is an astonishing 100 per cent. Every single murder case in Scotland for the past five years has been solved. Amazing. But the story for rape is rather different.
The answer to my question is 98. That’s less than five per cent of all reported rapes in 2016-17.
The chances of getting a conviction increase if the case gets to court but that so often relies on the victim testifying i.e. giving evidence to court.
Can you imagine how intimidating and horrendous an experience that must be?
Organisations such as Rape Crisis Scotland have been helping and advocating on behalf of rape victims for more than 40 years. They are the experts and when they speak we should all listen.
Right now, they are angry, and it is an anger fuelled by a new policy from the Crown Office to pursue what they call “reluctant complainers”. These are rape victims so scared of giving evidence they would sooner the case collapsed than walk into a courtroom.
When I say “pursue”, I mean potentially compel them to give evidence by issuing warrants for their arrest and then making them give evidence.
When challenged on this, the solicitor-general said it wouldn’t happen and that it never has – only for a newspaper to reveal a very clear example the next day. The reassurances just don’t stack up.
The Scottish Government recently conducted a study of how victims feel about going through the court system and the findings were astonishing.
The report revealed that some people find the court process more distressing and horrific than the actual rape they had experienced. It’s utterly horrendous.
The intentions of the Crown are good – they want to see more people convicted of rape. Yet the consequences of this new policy could have the opposite effect.
If women think they could be compelled to give evidence in court, they might never report the rape in the first place. If they don’t report it, then they are less likely to find and access the support services available to help them rebuild their lives.
Today in the Scottish Parliament we’ll be debating this new policy and highlighting the different things courts could do to improve the system for victims. Things like reducing the amount of time it takes cases to get to trial, or breaking the cycle of delays every time the defence change lawyers.
We hope the Crown will pause and think again before they send this message out.
There’s no need to worry about saving face. There will be no celebrating U-turns. There are just countless people who have devoted their lives to delivering justice for victims desperately hoping the Crown will think again.
If we are serious about driving up these conviction rates and delivering justice, can we please, just this one time, shine the spotlight on a broken system rather than the broken and traumatised victims it currently so poorly serves?
This article was first published in the Daily Record newspaper on th 1st of May 2018.