The UK justice system and police are forever being criticised for failing to obtain a higher level of convictions in rape cases. There’s a permanent queue of politicians in search of votes ready to discuss it on camera at every opportunity, as if the Police or Government are deliberately ignoring the ‘obvious solution’.
The obvious solution
A commitment to introducing a quota system that guarantees a 75% conviction rate in rape cases would make an excellent election pledge, a bit like promising to make student debt evaporate, even if tricky to put into practice.
Quota systems exist to dish out jobs, so why not justice too? We can’t think of a better way to bring about a guaranteed increase in conviction rates than a law that says 75% of the accused must be found guilty. It would even do away with the need for appeals.
But let’s be clear about this; the current system isn’t totally ineffective. Men accused of rape are already convicted in the minds of half the population as soon as the newspapers print their ‘local man accused of rape’ stories. As a minimum, it helps remove them from jobs where they might come into contact with women, and helps them prepare for a spell in prison by potentially separating them from partners and children, and acclimatising them to abuse from random thugs in the street.
But hang on…
It does appear, over the past couple of months, as if there has been an unspoken agreement among police and prosecutors to improve the conviction rates of rapists. It seems that someone realised that instead of messing about trying to find proof that the accused committed a crime, all they needed to do was to forget to investigate evidence that showed a rape didn’t occur, or just forget to hand it over to the defence until they had no chance at all of assessing it. A brilliant move!
If you think about it, it’s a stroke of genius. Instead of wasting lots of time and effort with old-school investigations, they realised that by doing less, the conviction rate would go up of its own accord, meaning nobody needed to be afraid of attending the annual crucifixion by statistics dinner and dance.
In fact, the only way I can see to improve this new method of investigating rape is to declare rape an issue too complex for dim-witted juries to make rational decisions on. Carefully select a panel of judges willing to work on a commission-only basis and pay them £10 per conviction. There’d be no more talk about rapists walking free, I can promise you.
Unfortunately, this genius ‘optional evidence’ policy employed by the Police and Prosecution services has hit a few speedbumps in the past few months. We’ve lost count of the number of rape trails that have been thrown out or convictions overturned recently.
Cases haven’t been properly investigated, the accused presumably having been judged ‘guilty as charged’. Evidence hasn’t been properly examined, or hasn’t been submitted in full or in time to the defence, and so on.
No matter what political peg you hang your coat on, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs. It’s a debate that leaves most people struggling to make sense of, other than militant feminists who believe men are guilty of rape by default and are therefore permanently outraged, as usual.
By not showing the level of professionalism, honesty and impartiality that justice in a civilised country demands, the justice system is letting everybody down; not just victims but also the accused and the people walking through the park at night, glancing over their shoulders.
In addition to ruining the lives of all involved, these recent failures provide welcome fuel to with axes to grind, and yet another bandwagon for compensation-chasing lawyers to jump on.
Like it or not, false allegations of rape are not new. Just as there are people who rape, there are people who lie, and try to hurt other people. People are downright spiteful and immoral, and will say absolutely anything if it suits their purposes.
We’ve seen people lying in order to win custody battles, no matter what damage it caused to ex-partners or even their own children. We’ve seen plenty of videos of people hurling themselves onto the front of cars in a desperate attempt to injure themselves and win compensation. We see politicians of all parties lying through their teeth in order to get or stay in office. Humans lie to and about each other, full stop.
There is no hiding from the fact that just as rape can cause immense damage to the victim, a malicious rape allegation can also do immense damage. Just as women deserve proper protection from rapists, men also deserve proper protection from false accusations of rape.
We know that rape is a horrendous crime and would be perfectly happy to cut off the penis of every confirmed rapist. On a personal level, when I was in my mid-20’s I discovered that a girlfriend had been raped shortly before we got together and saw the effects at first-hand. I have no sympathy for rapists.
But I have also seen the incredible spite that people harbour, and the depths to which some people will stoop in order to cause damage to others, often for next to no reason.
Rape is different
If someone is arrested by the police for using a stolen credit card, for drink-driving or fighting in the town centre, the story might make it into the local newspaper, and a few people might notice it. But even if the story gets read, most people will take the view ‘innocent until proven guilty’, or just not care.
If you believe in the concept of the Jury, you accept the underpinning principal that “the law holds that it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”
But rape is different. Rape is a very personal crime, one that brings out strong feelings in people totally unrelated to either complainant or accused. For many people, the man who lives down the road who was recently accused of rape is now a potential rapist, someone to avoid in the street and to warn all your friends about.
The man who works in your company who was recently accused of rape is someone you need to get rid of, before he rapes a staff member or the staff all walk out in protest. The same man might dread taking his kids to school or going out to bars at night for fear of violence. He might even find his marriage destroyed.
It absolutely won’t help if the allegation is proven to be totally fabricated 2 years down the line when he finally gets to court. The damage has already been done.
Kill the publicity
People have asked before about providing anonymity to those accused of rape unless they are found or plead guilty. The calls are discarded on the grounds that the publicity allows others to come forward and report similar abuse. The assumption is that the accused is not just guilty, but potentially a mass-rapist.
If we genuinely care about increasing the conviction rates, we need to remove one of the doubts that may make juries think twice about convicting the accused.
If we stop publishing the names of people accused of rape until such time (and only if) as they are convicted in a court of law, we remove the incentive to make malicious accusations. In removing malice as a motive, you remove a constantly present doubt from the Jury’s collective mind, which in turn makes fair judgements a little easier to reach.
Sack the incompetents
Once upon a time, if you were lazy, incompetent or simply crap at your job, you could be sacked overnight. It’s obviously a little harder these days, as everybody can claim unfair dismissal on the grounds of stress, discrimination, victimisation or some other fanciful excuse.
At least inside the Police, and in the name of improving the efficiency and fairness of justice, there needs to be a thorough investigation into the police and justice systems with wholesale sackings of those who simply aren’t good enough. No special cases, no exceptions, no debate. Even if it doesn’t impact rape conviction rates, it’ll make the rest of the population feel a little bit safer.