When Baroness Stern reported on her five month review regarding rape allegations I was moved to wade in with a response but held back to consider further. Having done so, I will now try and give a more measured response. I don't quite see it in the terms that Ellie Bloggs does but nor do I consider myself a chauvinistic ignoramus.
There is no doubt that rape is a very serious offence and has enormous ramifications for and effects upon victims. It is quite right that we treat all rape allegations seriously and proportionate resources are given to the investigation, the victim is treated appropriately and offenders are pursued rigorously. I have no doubt that we have failed to do this in a small number of cases and that more can be done to address this.
It is always difficult to gain convictions as the question of consent is always the issue. The focus on rape appears to be centred around the low conviction rate. I do not accept that we regularly disbelieve those that make rape allegations. I am pleased to hear that more focus is now being placed on how we deal with victims regardless of charging.
If all allegations consisted of a woman walking down the street and a man grabbing her, dragging her into some woods, battering and raping her and she scratches his face, his DNA is recovered from her nails; a conviction is very likely. Likewise, an offender that is a serial date rapist can be caught by using evidence from a number of victims that they met and dated and were raped. Unfortunately most allegations not so straightforward and generally reflect the lack of moral fibre in this country.
I think I can best describe this by outlining the last three rape allegations that have occurred in my area. The last one came from a young woman of 20 who met a 17 year old boy in a pub. They had been drinking and had been acquainted for an hour when they went outside into the pub car park to have consensual sex. The young woman wanted the boy to use a condom but he didn't have one and they had sex without. She then reported the rape. I fully understand that at any point this woman can say no and she was quite sensible insisting that he wore a condom. The problem is that what jury is going to convict a 17 year old boy of rape in these circumstances?
The second case was a University student who got very drunk at a University function and woke up in bed with another student in the morning. She believed that she had had sex with him but could not remember. She reported this two days later. The boy was arrested and claimed consensual sex had taken place. He was by no means a sexual predator and was in fact pretty meek and mild.
The third case was an estranged husband and wife. The husband would come round the house to visit the children and then the couple regularly had a drink and smoked cannabis. They also regularly had sex. On one occasion the woman claimed that she was raped as they had had sex and she had not consented to it on that occasion. The husband was arrested and claimed they had had consensual sex with his wife at least 20 times since he had left the marital home and he had never had sex with her against her will.
None of these cases resulted in a charge. I believe that in every case a thorough and proportionate investigation took place and in every case the woman's allegation was accepted and that she was treated appropriately as a victim. I would ask though, have we really failed any of these women? Should any of these men have been charged with rape in these circumstances? In my experience these types of allegation are the majority and extremely difficult to deal with. We generally do a pretty good job even though a charge has not been preferred.
I am very concerned that there is growing pressure to reduce the standard of proof required to convict more suspects of rape allegations. I hope this does not happen as I believe it will result in wrongful convictions. We need to ensure that we always do our utmost to convict rapists but we need to be careful not to allow the low conviction rate to result in changes to the law that might see innocent people being imprisoned.