Last Friday, a 28-year-old mother from Powys in Wales was jailed for eight months after alleging that she had been repeatedly raped by her husband and then attempting to get the charges dropped.
The woman is today spending her third day in a cell. Her case lays out in full how little our legal system appreciates the immense pressures on women embroiled in domestic violence and abuse.
Throughout the progression of the court case, she alleged that she been “emotionally blackmailed” by her husband and his family to drop the charges because he could face a long jail sentence.
The details are as follows. The woman first contacted police in November last year, claiming that she had been raped six times by her husband on three occasions. A few months later in January, she told police that she wanted to drop the charges against him – but stated that the claims remained true.
In February, the wife went to police to say the allegations of rape were false and so officers from Dyfed-Powys Police arrested her and charged her with perverting the course of justice. In July this year, the woman changed her mind again, saying the rapes had actually taken place.
Relatives of the woman shouted at Judge John Rogers, QC as she was jailed at Mold Crown Court. She was convicted for perverting the course of justice and causing “a substantial amount of wastage for the Crown Prosecution Service and police”, in the words of the judge.
The verdict highlights many of the judicial scotomata that are pervasive throughout rape cases. This judgment overlooks, for example, the pressures brought to bear on the woman from her husband, her husband’s family (and thus, her own), and the thought of putting the father of her children in jail. And all of this overlooks the basic fact that, if the allegations are true, the woman has been the victim of a horrendously brutal act.
It beggars belief that this so obviously traumatised and terrified woman now faces eight months languishing in a prison cell.
The case also besmirches the work of the Crown Prosecution in Wales, which has actually managed to steer a rise is rape convictions, up from 46.6 per cent in 2006-2007 to 59.3 per cent in 2009-2010, by tackling, albeit slowly, the staggering levels of non-conviction in rape cases. Overall, between 2006 and 2010, the CPS in Wales pursued 796 rape cases, with 57 per cent resulting in a conviction.
Much of the debate surrounding rape cases focuses on the often-quoted figure of a 6 per cent conviction rate in rape cases in England and Wales. The figure, used with good intention but inaccurately, is actually based on a confusion.
As Baroness Stern wrote in her 2009 review of UK rape law:
[I]t is clear to us that the figure for convictions of people of all ages charged with rape (as the term is normally used in relation to crime) is 58 per cent. The confusion arises from mixing up the conviction rate with the process of attrition. “Attrition” is the process by which a number of the cases of rape initially reported do not proceed, perhaps because the complainant decides not to take the case any further, there is not enough evidence to prosecute, or the case is taken to court and the suspect is acquitted. The attrition rate figure has been the cause of considerable concern, and attempts to reduce it are behind many of the reforms that have been introduced in recent years.
What the case of the mother in Wales means is that the process of “attrition” – roughly, cases “dropping out” – can only get worse as victims of rape are less likely to confront those who have attacked them, for fear either of not being believed or of being jailed themselves.
Our legal system must shake off this lazy myopia that does not recognise the pressures faced by those in abusive relationships. This woman should not be in jail.
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