Explain the discrepancy between number of recorded offences and actual incidence on sexual violence.
The aim of this essay is to explain the discrepancy between number of recorded sexual offences and actual incidence, and possible reasons for low reporting rate on sexual violence.
Sexual violence refers to “any unwanted sexual act or activity” (Rape Crisis, 2018). There are many different kinds of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, rape within marriage or relationships, forced marriage, so-called honour-based violence, female genital mutilation, trafficking, sexual exploitation, and ritual abuse. In addition, the overall definition of sexual or indecent assault refers to “an act of physical, psychological and emotional violation, in the form of a sexual act, inflicted upon someone without their consent” (Rape Crisis, 2018). It can involve forcing or manipulating someone to witness or participate in any sexual acts. Reporting is an important aspect of the Criminal Justice process but it is mostly influenced by micro characteristics, such as crime characteristics, victim and offender. There are few factors that have a significant impact on the low rate of reporting sexual assaults and conviction for them. For example, the attitudes to rape in the legal context, victim-blaming attitudes and limits to the recognition of consent.
According to the final report of an inspection of crime data integrity in police forces in England and Wales (2014), 26 % of all sexual offences, including rape, reported to police were not recorded as crimes. Even if crimes were correctly recorded, many were removed or cancelled as recorded crimes for no good reason (HMIC, 2014). Furthermore, Stanko (2011) also identified two wide gaps – the first one between rape that “happens to people” and the rape allegations reported to police, and the second one in which these allegations lead to conviction of perpetrator. Following this, 89 % of rapes are not reported and 38 % of the sexual assault victims over 16 years old inform no one about it (The Stern Review, 2010). In addition to this, the official statistics bulletin on sexual violence released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office (2013), stated that “nearly half a million adults are sexually assaulted in England and Wales each year” and “only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police”. This means that sexual offences are a very small proportion of all recorded crimes, as it is about 2 % of all offences and about 1.75 % of all persons found guilty of sexual violence. Moreover, conviction rates for rape are low comparing with other crimes, as only 5.7% of reported rape cases lead to conviction of the perpetrator (Kelly et al, 2005). It was also found that the reconviction for such offences is “comparatively low” (Hood et al., 2002). In consequence, the statistics for recorded crimes provide an incomplete picture because they represent only the crimes that were brought to the attention of the police. These numbers of unrecorded or wrongly designated no-crime incidents represent not a single event, but a lasting legacy – and above all, it also represents a miscarriage of justice, the failure of juridical system.
Firstly, the rape culture has a significant impact on almost all factors that causing to not report sexual offences by victims. This phenomenon manifests itself in societies through the acceptance of rapes as an everyday occurrence and can be increased by “police apathy in handling rape cases, as well as victim blaming, reluctance by authorities to go against patriarchal cultural norms, as well as fears of stigmatization suffered by rape victims and their families” (Parenti, 2005, p.73). Other factors, such as inconvenience of reporting incident, dealing with the incident privately or reporting it to other authorities also have an impact on sexual violence being unreported (British Crime Survey, 2007). For many survivors of sexual violence, especially within societies where rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes, the process of building courage to report a sexual offence can be terrifying. According to the 2014 HMIC report, only 15 % of survivors report the crime to the police.
Moreover, rape culture perpetuates particular rape myths that are codified into law – which means that rape culture encourage sexual violence and makes rape perceived as “rough sex”, for example, as well as, blaming victim for inviting sexual violence. Nicoletti (2005) stated that rape myths are social messages about assumed predefined female gender roles in terms of sexual behaviour. These descriptive or prescriptive beliefs about rape and its causes, context, consequences, perpetrators, victims and their interaction serve to “deny, downplay or justify sexual violence that men commit against women “(Bowling, 1998, p. 14). Rape myths may vary across cultures but there were four general types of rape myths identified, such as “only certain types of women get raped”, “blame the victim for their rape”, “exonerate perpetrators and express disbelief in claims of rape” (Bohner et al, 2009). According to this, these beliefs may have an impact on why the victim may be scared to report the incident to police due to fear of being judged, disbelieved and blamed for what happened. The 2014 HMIC report supports these statements; it was found that 7% of all failures to record crimes were due to police disbelieving the victim –which usually occurs in relation to particular types of crimes, including incidences of sexual violence (HMIC, 2014). However, due to inadequate supervision, which is one of the common reasons for crime wrongly unrecorded, the proportion of cases where victim is disbelieved may be higher in reality. Being disbelieved is devastating for the survivor of sexual abuse as it is not only denying the victim a justice, but also the access to the support and help he or she needs. This factor, according to the HMIC report (2014), usually made a victim to never try to report the incident again. It is also represents the failings of public faith in the police force in terms of protecting the vulnerable individuals in the communities, especially in those affected by different forms of institutional prejudice, such as LGBT people or sex workers. In consequence, it is hard to build their confidence and encourage victims to come forward and report the crime to the service that let them down by making them feel scared and disbelieved. The impact of failing like these is enormous.
Rape myths have a significant impact on policing as it involves the use of discretion and decision-making based on common sense understandings of law, victims and offenders. These values are heavily influenced by personal views and beliefs about gender, which means that there may be a problem with investigating rape and treatment of victims, due to these stereotypical beliefs. They aim to undermine credibility of the victim and make her or him blameworthy in terms of sexual behaviour and their communication of consent (Adler, 1987). This also means that those who embrace such stereotypes may interview victims in some aggressive style of questioning that communicates this mistrust. In consequence, this may also be a reason why a survivor would not decide to report sexual violence to avoid humiliation.
Another problem is the limit to recognize consent. The stereotypical belief that consent must be communicated in a certain way, for example, by behaviour before the rape (including style of dress or intimacy with the perpetrator) has a significant impact on the early stages of the investigation, as the victim may be disbelieved and crime would not be recorded. Unlike any other offences, the victim of rape has a special status in the definition of the offence. It means that the absence of consent by the victim and the absence of communication of that consent to the offender define the crime of rape. According to this, one line of investigation should always pay attention to whether the victim consented or not. However, the problem is that the victim is traumatized and she or he has to undergone an ordeal. In consequence, “the challenge is how do you treat them, how do you receive their claim to truth and how do you challenge the victim’s account in order to test its evidential strength in a court of law” (Rape Crisis, 2015). Furthermore, the vulnerabilities of the victims, such as their age or mental health, also play role in terms of recognising consent, as they lead to reduced capacity to say “no” and may result in the stereotypical view of consent. In addition to this, if the victim is under the influence of drugs or alcohol – she may have diminished ability to say “no”. However, the stereotypical understanding about the sexual behaviour of females who get so drunk as to not be able to say “no” may also occur. The law protects the victim to some extent from this by stating that it may not be reasonable for the suspect to assume consent if the victim was so drunk. On the other hand, the suspect cannot rely on his drunkenness as a defence. If he was so drunk as not to be able to form reasonable view on whether consent had been given that is no reason to protect them from the consequences. Moreover, The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act. 1999 restricts use of sexual history evidence but if defence wish to question complainant about their sexual history, they have to apply for the access to it. Kelly et al. (2006) found that these applications are not being made often and judges do not stop unauthorised questioning, as well as barristers who also prefer to avoid requesting sexual history of victim to use stereotypical beliefs of rape instead. These findings support the statement that rape myths are used regularly and are deeply codified into law and criminal justice system.
In addition to arguments above, rape refers to hidden crime because, in most circumstances, it takes place in a private setting or a setting that is hidden from view. Therefore, it is unlikely that there will be any witnesses of the act itself. In consequence, unless the rape victim reports the offence, no one will know that it has been committed. Moreover, until 1994 the offence of rape protected female victims only. Even if the position of the male victim of rape has changed since then, it has to be noted that this kind of sexual offence is still perceived as an offence that can only be committed against female. As result, the wrong perception of a victim could affect not only the early stage of investigation but also the service provided for all victims of rape. For example, most of the campaigns against sexual violence are focused on female victims and, in consequence, they are more encouraged to report the sexual offence. Following this, it is likely that some of the Sexual Referral Centres do not meet the need of male victims of rape.
It has to be noted that trauma of the attack and events may also play a role in not reporting the sexual offence to the police. There may be personal or cultural reasons why victim may be unwilling to come forward immediately; sometimes the offence does not get reported for several years, not only due to vulnerabilities of the victim but also because of shame and other negative feelings. In consequence, one of the impacts of the delay in reporting sexual offence is that the forensic evidence may not be present anymore – such as bodily fluids, hair of clothes. This is a particular concern mostly in the cases of child sexual abuse.
In conclusion, the official reports published by Ministry of Justice and other agencies suggest that only a small proportion of sexual offences are being recorded. It was found that the rape culture has an enormous impact on whether sexual offence would be recorded or not, as it creates rape myths. These stereotypical beliefs play an important role in how the criminal justice system receives and investigates these types of offences. Rape myths also heavily affect individuals who work in the criminal justice settings, such as police officers or barristers, and in consequence they lead to sexual offence being unreported. They also have a big impact on the attitudes of the victims as they could not report sexual violence due to fear of being judged or disbelieved, for example. In consequence, the rape culture may be the reason for discrepancy between the number of recorded offences and actual incidence. Following this, the official statistics for recorded crimes provide an incomplete picture; they represent only the crimes that were brought to the attention of the police. These numbers of unrecorded or wrongly designated no-crime incidents are a good but scary example of miscarriage of justice. Each perpetrator left uninvestigated is not only a pure example of the failure of the juridical system, but also a danger to the society– as he or she has a potential for further sexual offences that could have been prevented if the first victim has been believed. These prejudiced and false beliefs about rape and other sexual offences could have less influence on the society if there would be more training and informative campaigns aim to destroy misconceptions and misunderstanding of rape offences and sexual violence. It would also help if the society would not be that fuelled by unbalanced media reporting of sexual violence-related stories, instead of trying to break a taboo over these types of crimes.