In recently published The end-to-end rape review report on findings and actions the responsible minister admitted that “victims of rape [are] being failed”. This stark admission is based on data that indicates that the current situation on dealing with rape is far worst than 5 years ago. The ministers are “ashamed” of the data but luckily in their report they offer some suggestions on how to improve things; what to do to bring the conviction rates to the 2016 level and to move more cases forward for trial, leading to successful convictions. At that point, the report presents the Criminal Justice System [CJS] as a singular entity that needs to address the issue collectively. This, in part, is a fair assessment although it ignores the cultural differences of the constituent parts of the system. Nonetheless, the government has identified a problem, commissioned a report and has a clear “ambitious” plan of how to address it.
The report indeed presents some interesting findings and I urge people to review it whenever they can (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/end-to-end-rape-review-report-on-findings-and-actions). We know for example already that the number of cases that went into prosecution were low; in the last years this has become even lower. That despite the prevalence rate remaining more or less the same. Victims report that they are treated poorly, not believed arguing that the investigative model needs changing. No wonder the ministers appear apologetic of the situation. A headline crime category that is likely to cause an uproar and whilst thinking of the political fallout they come out in support of the victims! Who wouldn’t? Supporting a victim of crime, any crime is one of the main objectives of the CJS; once they have handed out retribution and prioritised on making an example of specific crimes and focusing on particular criminals, then their focus is on the victims! The findings were expected, but even so when reading about the higher vulnerability of disabled women to rape and sexual abuse, underscores the systemic failure to deal with this crime. It does not read like care!
If I was an agitator, I would say that a criminal committing rape has less chance (statistically) to be convicted than someone who commits theft; but then I will be making a criminological cardinal sin; conflating criminalities and confusing the data. In our profession we deal with data all the time. Many of them come in the form of metrics looking at the way different crimes are reported, recorded etc. We also know that context gives a perspective to these data. Numbers may look the same, but that is arguably part of the problem. It does not take into account the source of the data and their circumstances. Not all numbers are the same and most importantly they do not measure similar trends. The way the success rates are to be measured is not dissimilar from before and without owning a magic ball, it can be foreseen that rape will remain as is. Of course, the metrics may change colour to signal improvement, but that will not alter the fundamental issues.
On the day, one may have their car broken into, to report the incident can be a requirement from their insurance if they are to cover the cost. On the day, the said person got raped by a current/former partner the matter is not about insurance. These acts are not similar and to treat criminality as a singularity draws up uneven comparisons. In this case we have a list of recommendations trying to ameliorate the bad metrics. What are the recommendations? The focus is again on the police and the Crime Prosecution Service [CPS] and the court experience the victims will have. Again, indicates that these institutions have been criticised before for similar failings. The change of practices in the police does not go as far as exploring the institutional culture. The CPS’s requirement to do more is tied with the successful cases they will prosecute. The need for the two organisations to work together more closely has been a discussion point for the last 20 years; as for the better experience in courts, it is definitely welcomed but in recent years, Victim Support as an organisation was stripped bare, the additional services cut and the domestic violence shelters disappearing. The call for more services was continuously met with the offer of voluntary organisations stepping in, into such a complex area to provide help and support. One may think that if we are to prioritise on victim experience these services may need to become professional and even expand the current ones.
Lastly in this document the tone is clear; the focus yet again is reactionary. We have some bad data that we need to change somehow; we have got some clear action plans and we can measure them (as the report intimates) at regular times. This approach is the main problem on dealing with rape! It does not offer any interventions prior to the crime. There is nothing to deal say with rape culture, the degradation of women, the inequality and the rape myths that women are still subjected to. Interestingly there are mention of empathy toward the rape victim but there is not a plan to instil empathy for people more widely. No plan to engage the educational system with respect for the other (whoever the other is; a woman, a person of colour, disability, different origin) regarding sexual behaviours. The report tenuously mentions consent (or lack of understanding it) instead of making plans how it can be understood across. Unfortunately, this crime reveals the challenges we face in the discipline but also the challenges we face as a society that has traded care for metrics and the tyranny of managerialism.