10:33, December 20 68 0 theguardian.com

2017-12-20 10:33:04
Yes, there’s a major problem with rape prosecutions. But it’s not that women are lying

I once wrote, in an article about how damn near impossible it is to convict a sex offender, that rape might as well be legal. I think we live in a climate where those who make complaints of rape are generally disbelieved, and the men guilty of it are generally excused, or assumed to be innocent.

Nothing has happened since then to change my mind, not least the news that the police are to review all current rape cases after the collapse of a second trial within a week because of police failure to disclose evidence which might have undermined the prosecution.

Jerry Hayes, prosecution barrister in the case of Liam Allan , whose rape trial was halted last week, claimed in a BBC interview on Wednesday that late disclosure of evidence by police was endemic across the force. Hayes is certainly right – there are serious problems in the way that police, even those trained within specialist sex crime units, investigate sex crimes. The decision has led to suggestions that there is also an epidemic of false rape allegations and that police, desperate to improve lamentable conviction rates in rape or sex abuse cases, are making basic errors with evidence. Angela Rafferty, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, suggested that “unconscious bias” against alleged rapists was stopping the CPS from thoroughly investigating allegations.

Yet the concerns about the handful of false allegations, often known as women “crying rape”, are not just disproportionate to the tiny percentage of rapes that end in a conviction, but represent wilful propaganda when we are in fact dealing with rape culture.

Why are more people not up in arms about the huge numbers of false allegations of men’s innocence; false allegations of women’s complicity; and false allegations of how women deserve or enjoy non-consensual sex? After all, significant numbers of women, and some men, are raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, and sexually violated, and we know that it is more likely that the actual rape victim will end up in prison (as a result of the damage done to her and the knock-on effects throughout her life) than her rapist.

Where is the outrage about the women who never get justice? How much media coverage is devoted to the tiny number of false allegations of rape compared to the coverage of the crisis in the criminal justice system in terms of convicting those guilty of heinous sex crimes?

We also need to ask what is “disclosable evidence” in rape cases and why. I have heard countless examples of how a complainant’s counselling records have been requested by the defence team, in order that her words can be picked over so that inconsistencies and holes in her story can be found. This is outrageous, as the trauma experienced by rape victims usually leads to confusion about memory. Knowing that the intimate details that a complainant shares with her counsellor immediately following disclosure of rape might be read out in court would put even the strongest and most determined woman off seeking that help.

Similarly, the “lack of resources” that Hayes said could lead to poor police practice disproportionately affects the victims of crime rather than the accused. Rape crisis centres and other support services for women who have been sexually assaulted are either grossly underfunded, or have closed down. Without this vital support and advocacy from those who understand the complex intricacies of sexual assault, convictions are even harder to come by.

Late disclosure of evidence, which led to the collapse of the Allan case, is clearly a problem, as is general police competence in investigating rape. I have monitored a number of rape trials and have seen the despair on the faces of the prosecution team when police admit that they didn’t gather important evidence at the scene, or failed to interview key witnesses. In the vast majority of cases when the police get it wrong, it has a negative impact on the complainant, not the defendant.

Ten years ago I interviewed a young woman who, while still in her teens, was gang raped in a park in London. One of the rapists filmed her abuse to make his own personal pornography. She called 999 when the men ran away and reported the rapes. She had been raped before, and once she told police this, their attitude changed; it became clear that they considered her a “loose woman” and accused her of being “mentally unsound”. Police bungled the investigation from the beginning, not even bothering to arrest one of the men. They considered the footage to be evidence that she had consented to sex with the men, despite the fact that it was a record of her rape.

A month after the rapes, officers from the Sapphire team arrested her for perverting the course of justice, having decided that she was lying. She was initially cautioned but subseqently launched a legal challenge and the caution was wiped. The men were never convicted.

I have heard countless stories like this. Every time a case like the Allan one comes up, it would be easy to assume that scores of women are falsely reporting rape as some sort of revenge or leisure activity, and that the prisons are full of men who are innocent of crimes against women and girls. Bearing in mind that only 6% of rape cases end up with a rape conviction, that would mean a vast number of women are lying.

If the same amount of fuss was made about every bungled police investigation and criminal trial involving sexual assault where the accused walked free, it would be impossible for the press and social media to keep up.

Some male commentators have accused the CPS of “political correctness” for believing women who report rape. I personally am glad that all pending rape prosecutions are now being investigated by the Met. Perhaps we might address the abomination of such a low conviction rate for rape? This could be a very welcome outcome for the thousands of women and girls who have been dismally let down by the system.

Julie Bindel is a freelance journalist and political activist, and a founder of Justice for Women