Disparities in rape crime figures
Posted on September 9, 2011
I know I’ve linked to this 2007 joint report by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMPSI) and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) before, not just on this blog but on Comment is Free and other places as well. But that’s because it’s an important report, one I think everyone should read (yes, all 178 pages of it!). I think I’ve also got a naive hope that one day a police officer will stumble across this blog, and not just read the report, but actually take on board some of the lessons from it. Yeah I know, dream on Cath…
So anyway, without any further ado, here it is – Without Consent: A report on the joint review of the investigation and prosecution of rape offences
And here are some of the key points that came out of the review:
“The review revisited police crime recording practice in light of the huge disparities that were identified during the 2002 inspection in the way in which forces recorded and subsequently classified reports of rape. These variations had made levels of crime and comparisons across forces difficult to measure accurately.
Despite tightening up of standards under the Home Office Counting Rules (HOCR) and the introduction of the NCRS, high levels of variation across the review sites were found to persist, which reflects the national picture. The high level of ‘no criming’ was identified as a particular concern, with 31.8 per cent of ‘no crimes’ examined during the review being found to be non-compliant with the HOCR. It was concluded that inappropriate recording practices resulted from a lack of knowledge of, or misinterpretation of, the HOCR.
As ‘no crimes’ include those designated ‘false allegations’, which also fall under the ‘verifiable information that no crime was committed’ criterion, there is a danger that dilution of this criterion, which is inflating levels of ‘no criming’, is also inflating perceptions of the scale of false allegations among police officers. (Pages 9/10)
“The 2002 report concluded that inappropriate recording practices resulted from a “lack of knowledge or misinterpretation of the HOCR, as opposed to wilful manipulation of the data”, and this is echoed by the findings of this review. However, it is also the conclusion of this review that the “culture of scepticism” highlighted within A gap or a chasm? is playing a part, as evidenced by the reports resulting in a ‘no crime’ where subjective judgements had been made about the complainant’s credibility.” (Page 45)
I could go on and quote even more extensively from the report about the implications of forces wrongly categorising so many rape cases, or ‘no criming‘ them, but I’m sure you get the picture by now.
So why am I banging on about this particular issue again today? Because according to data supplied to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act, this nonsense is still going on. In fact according to the data, the proportion of rapes dismissed as “no crime” varies between 2% and 30% depending on which police force you’re looking at:
“While Gloucestershire Police recorded 2.4% of rapes as “no crime”, the figure for Kent was 30%, three times the rate in 2009. Surrey Police’s “no crime” figure was over 20%.”
Without Consent was published in 2007, but even before that, in 2005, Liz Kelly and others had done their own review into attrition in reported rape cases – A gap or a chasm? – and come to similar conclusions:
“Analysis of the data for this study revealed that around one-quarter of reported cases were ‘no crimed’; in a proportion of detected cases no proceedings were brought. There was inconsistency in the police classification of case outcomes, particularly among those that were ‘no crimed’.” (page xi)
“The ‘no crime’ category comprises a complex layering of different kinds of cases and circumstances, many of which are not ‘false’ in the literal meaning of this term. Clearly, neither victim withdrawals nor cases where there is insufficient evidence should be included as ‘no crimes’.” (page 39)
And so on.
So why is this still happening? Why is it that six years on from A gap or a chasm? and four years on from Without Consent some police forces still appear unable to categorise rape cases appropriately? Why is there still such a huge discrepancy between forces in how their rape crime figures are recorded?
I honestly don’t know the answer to this. I could make some suggestions, mainly to do with the fact that I firmly believe far too many police officers continue to make sexist and entirely subjective judgements about the women who report rape to them – as evidenced by the disgraceful comments on the (now deleted) Inspector Gadget blog post that I quoted from in this piece – The rape debate; and because I firmly believe that we continue to live in a rape culture, where male sexual aggression is encouraged and even rewarded. But I’m not sure that’s the complete answer. It could be that there is still a lack of training around this issue for individual police officers, or a variation in the levels of training and support officers get between different police forces. Or it could be a great big mishmash of all of that and more. What I do know is that it’s time this stopped, and that it’s time the lessons from both A gap or a chasm? and No Consent were learned.
Rape Crisis England and Wales have now issued a statement on their site about this:
“The ongoing issue is about the lack of standardisation area by area, regarding police recording. It is accepted by the government, the police and opinion formers that rape is already under reported. The creation, throughout the country of specialist police teams over the last decade has led to some improvements in localised areas but has not led to significant changes for women and girls who have experienced sexual violence.
We firmly believe that the way to tackle this situation is not through the reclassification or ‘downgrading’ of sexual crimes but in an ongoing and consistent effort to ensure those throughout the criminal justice system recognise all rape as a serious, violent offence and work appropriately with women and girls who report it.”
The Rape Crisis National Freephone Helpline is open from 12-2.30pm & 7-9.30pm every day of the year: you can call them on 0808 802 9999