Why we should not sugar-coat rape conviction rates

Consciously deciding to use more favourable statistics, as Baroness Stern suggests, would mask the p

Baroness Stern's long-awaited review of the way rape cases are handled in England and Wales was published today. It criticises an excessive focus on "misleading" conviction rates, and recommends that victim support should be as much a priority as increasing convictions.

Stern said that what victims "felt was really important was not in the end if they could get a conviction. What they said was, 'We still feel we want to be believed.' "

It is certainly true that a victim should not be abandoned by the authorities because police feel that their case is unlikely to lead to a conviction.

However, Stern's comments about conviction rates and -- particularly -- the statistics, could be rather dangerous. This is shown by the Daily Mail's ranting, skewed coverage of the story today. It opens with this:

Harriet Harman was ordered to stop misleading the public about rape by an official inquiry report yesterday.

The Equalities Minister was accused of pumping out unreliable figures about the low number of rapists brought to justice, thus discouraging victims from reporting attacks.

The review by Baroness Stern appeared to put an end to years of claims by ministers that laws and criminal procedures for dealing with rape need radical reform because only 6 per cent of complaints end in a conviction.

While this implies that the real story is Harriet Harman spearheading a plot to mislead the public, it boils down to a dispute about which statistics should be used. The oft-cited figure (supposedly "misleading"), is that just 6 per cent of reported rape cases end with a conviction for rape.

Stern suggests that instead, we should look at the number of reported cases that end in a conviction not just for rape, but for other related crimes, which is 14 per cent. She adds that 58 per cent of those cases that get to court result in a conviction.

 

"Foul play" favours rapists

It is a complex matter. On the one hand, Stern's argument, that quoting the shockingly low 6 per cent conviction rate figure will deter people from reporting the crime, contains an element of sense. On the other hand, is it not more "misleading" to give victims an inaccurate picture of what they will be up against?

Yes, a conviction for a related crime is something, but it is not what many women (or men) are looking for. Moreover, the 58 per cent figure relates only to the small number of cases that actually make it to court.

"What she's proposing is to cover up what's happening in the criminal justice system just at the time when women are finally getting the truth out," Ruth Hall of Women Against Rape told the Guardian. I'm inclined to agree.

The unpleasant language of the Daily Mail article suggests that this report has finally laid to rest the Big Rape Conspiracy, proving once and for all that we don't need to interrogate and improve the way in which the justice system deals with rape.

Just reread that last sentence, which says that the review has "put an end to years of claims by ministers that laws and criminal procedures for dealing with rape need radical reform". This sense of foul play is enforced by a clipping that accompanies the online version of the piece, criticising Harman's "single-minded pursuit of an equality agenda", as though we can safely discredit the argument that there are serious problems with our attitudes to rape.

It has been slow, but there have been improvements in the way that rape is handled. The 6 per cent figure is shocking, but it is shocking because it is true. To sugar-coat it at this juncture would be to risk taking many steps backward.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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