1 in 20 British women say they’ve been raped, but only 1 in 100 cases results in a conviction. How can we get better justice for victims and the accused?


1 in 20 women say they’ve been raped or seriously sexually assaulted at some point in their life. Is this a full scale breakdown in society or do these numbers reveal something else?

Hi. I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about sexual offences against women, why the numbers are so high and what can be done about it.

Next to murder and torture, rape is probably the worst crime that can be committed. It is a form of torture that can leave physical and mental scars on women for life.

Official figures from the UK Ministry of Justice are revealing and appalling. They show:

1 in 40 (2.5%) women say they were the victim of a sexual assault or attempted sexual asaault in the past year. Although that number includes some lesser categories like indecent exposure and unwanted touching.

1 in 200 (0.5%) women say they are victims of rape or sexual assault by penetration in the past year. This amounts to 85,000 women.

Only 15% of THOSE women report the attack to police.

1 in 4 of the cases reported to police lead to a successful detection, such as someone being charged.

And fewer than one third of those lead to a perpetrator being convicted.

Overall, there’s a 1 in 100 chance of a man being convicted for each woman who claims to have been raped. However, those convicted of rape are getting longer prison sentences, an average of 8.5 years.

But there’s no doubt many men get away with it.

So, what can be done?

Well, when you say the word “rapist”, most people tend to think of a man in a balaclava jumping out of the woods and holding a knife to a woman’s throat. But those kinds of stranger rapes are very rare – and when they do happen, the conviction rate is much higher.

What we’re talking about is something else.

90% of women who claim to have been raped say they knew the perpetrator before the incident. It tends to be a current or ex partner; or a ‘date rape’ scenario with an acquaintance.

Often there’s no dispute that sexual intercourse took place. The issue is consent.

Now, you probably think rape depends on whether the woman actually gives consent. Wrong. Rape depends on whether the man reasonably believes the woman gave consent.

Her reality and his perception are not always the same thing; so a man can be acquitted of rape if he reasonably misunderstood what the woman was communicating.

Ignore sex and gender politics for a moment. If we were talking about any bog standard crime where it’s one person’s word against another, this would not reach the threshold of “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Whilst rape is not a bog standard crime, we cannot abandon the basic principles of a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.

Unfortunately, if it boils down to: he said, she said, the man’s gonna walk.

Unless there are witnesses in the room, a videotape, or the woman is beaten up, juries are going to be reluctant to convict.

So, the rape laws are in serious need of reform. As they stand, they don’t work for the victims and they are also grossly unfair on the accused.

Since the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act of 1976, women who allege rape are given anonymity, whereas the man is named by police when he is charged.

In my opinion, the same terms should applied to both parties prior to conviction. My preference is both should be named, as is the case with any other crime.

But the evidence required before a man is arrested should be much higher than merely an unsupported accusation from a complainant. There has to be other credible evidence.

Next, alcohol. There have been a number of high profile rape cases where the woman says she can’t remember what happened, she must have been too drunk to have consented to sex.

Short of walking around with a breathalyser, how do men know what is too drunk to consent? Lying unconscious? Obviously. But a few too many cocktails???

I dare say many, if not most, sexual encounters involve some use of alcohol by both parties. So, if the woman can be too drunk to have the legal capacity to consent, why can’t the man argue he was too drunk to be legally responsible for his actions?

I think in the absence of some overt act of bad faith on the man’s part, such cases cannot constitute a crime.

And my final point. Homicide is the worst crime and yet no-one has a problem splitting homicide into categories, from murder to manslaughter to death by dangerous driving.

So, why can’t we do the same for rape. Violent rape and stranger rape are clearly the worst and should continue to be called ‘rape’. But cases of so-called date-rape, not involving violence should be called something else.

Removing the word ‘rape’, perhaps focussing on ‘reckless behaviour’ or ‘negligence’, would result in a higher conviction rate. And it’s better that these men are convicted of something, rather than belligerently insisting on the word ‘rape’ and seeing so many guilty men walk free.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

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Journalist, broadcaster, media executive, academic, author.