Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Retractions and repercussions

An acquaintance recently told me that a policeman friend of hers believes the number of false rape allegations made in the UK is actually very high because he has seen so many rape claims withdrawn before they come to court. He said although the police party line is that very few of the allegations turn out to be false, privately many officers think differently.

The high retraction rate of rape claims is one of the reasons for the high attrition rate - the number of reported cases that never result in a conviction for the crime. Only around 6% of all rapes reported to the police actually result in a conviction for rape.

It is perhaps understandable some police officers have formed the opinion that many rape claims are false when they see woman after woman refusing to participate in their investigations. But in fact, it's far more likely that women are withdrawing their allegations out of fear - fear of retribution or fear of what they will face in the courtroom.

One especially shocking case
happened last year when a woman who had reported being raped by her abusive husband withdrew her allegation and was jailed for eight months for perverting the course of justice. Her sentence was later overturned at the Court of Appeal, where it was accepted that her allegations had been withdrawn under coercion from her husband.

The Criminal Prosecution Service was criticised for its decision to prosecute her at all and as a result, a consultation is now underway to offer new guidance which it's hoped, will prevent women, who have already been the victims of rape and coercion, from then becoming a victim of a misguided criminal justice system.

But what about vulnerable and traumatised women whose courage crumbles when they are hit by the full reality of what they will likely experience at the hands of court barristers?

As The Guardian's Legal Affairs Correspondent, Afua Hirsch put it in an article published last December:
"an adversarial court system does not encourage vulnerable or traumatised people to come forward. Far from the stereotypical view of slighted women quick to make false accusations, the prospect of being forensically examined by doctors, then cross-examined by barristers, is enough to deter many genuine rape victims from the prospect of justice altogether."

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