Friday, 28 January 2011

The Stern Review (2010) - A Report by Baroness Vivien Stern CBE Of An Independant Review Into How Rape Complaints Are Handled By Public Authorities In England And Wales (Part 1 of 2).

(Because this is a big report, I have decided to summarize it in two parts. After that, I will publish a third part containing my thoughts on the report).

The first part explains what The Stern Review set out to achieve, and its main conclusions. In this part, I will also summarize the section of the report concerned with the 6% rape conviction rate myth.

In the second part in this series of blog posts, I will summarize the reports findings on 'The Sexual Offences Act 2003', and the section on false rape allegations.

In the report itself, important linked information is sometimes on different pages, or in different chapters. In this blog summary, I have tried to organize that information in a logical way for the reader, which means you may see a block of text from [p.26] followed by a block of text from [p.8].

This is a big 156 page report, and I've only had so much time (and space) to summarize it. There is a link to the official document (in .pdf format) at the end of the blog post should you wish to read it yourself.

Summarized foreword By Baroness Stern:

'I was privileged to be invited by the Government Equalities Office and the Home Office to carry out this independant review into the treatment of rape complaints by public authorities. For over forty years I have been involved in work to improve the way society responds to crime and criminals. During that time I have often voiced concern that we have failed to understand what a caring society should be doing to respond to those who have been harmed by crime. This review has allowed me to study at first hand how one particular group of victims, the victims of rape, are treated, and to recommend how we can do better.'

'It has been an extraordinary experience. In the course of collecting evidence I have met many people with an important story to tell. Sadly I have met some whose treatment by the authorities was appalling. Examples of such shockingly poor treatment are described in this report. John Worboys and Kirk Reid were men who managed to rape and assault many women before they were stopped, because the police in London did not take the victims seriously enough when they came to report what had happened to them and rape was not a sufficiently high priority for some of the police at the time. These cases must have done great damage to the confidence of victims in reporting what has happened to them and many lessons needed to be learnt.

But I have also come across a wide range of deeply dedicated men and women whose work has helped to bring a traumatised person through a most terrible experience. Across England and Wales there are examples to be found of the very best practice that can be envisaged in dealing with rape victims. Many in the police and the prosecution service are working hard to change the way they deal with this most difficult of crimes, and I have been impressed by their commitment and the quality of what many of them are doing.

The way rape is understood and delt with has changed considerably in recent years. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 brought in a new definition of rape. In all 43 police forces in England and Wales there are specially trained officers to deal with rape complaints. About a third of forces have special rape units. The Crown Prosecution Service has appointed specialist rape prosecutors. Only judges trained in sexual offences can hear rape cases. A new and very successful post of victims advisor has been created to offer support in some places to those who report rape.

My report looks broadly at these changes and assesses how far, when they are implemented everywhere, they will lead to a better resonse by society to rape victims. I hope my report will encourage those who have embarked on the path of change to do more, and convince others that this is an important priority. This report should make clear what anyone who has decided to report a rape, whether a man or a woman, can expect from a public authority

Baroness Vivien Stern, CBE.

[p.26]: 'This review began at the end of September 2009 and concluded in March 2010. In the six months available to carry out this review, we were able to carry out nine regional visits across England and Wales and meet and listen to over 200 people. The people we met included police officers, prosecutors, judges, lawyers, Independant Sexual Violence Advisors, staff from Sexual Assault Referral Centres, academics, those who provide counselling and support to victims of rape, court service staff, local authority representatives, victims of rape themselves and members of the public.'

[p.26]: 'In addition to meeting a large number of people to discuss the issues, as part of this review we carried out an online call for evidence to which 69 people responded. Over the course of the last six months the review has also recieved over 100 written submissions and correspondence from a variety of people interested in this issue. The findings from the regional visits, meetings and written evidence submitted to the review have been used to inform and support the findings of this report.'

[p.7]: 'They provided us with a picture of some outstandingly good treatment alongside appalling failure.'

[p.8]: Our Main Conclusions:

'The policies are right. In dealing with rape complaints a substantial amount of change has been introduced in recent years by the public authorities that carry responsibilty in this area. Attitudes, policies and practices have changed, fundamentally for the better. In England and Wales we now have a system with specialization in dealing with rape at the police, prosecution and judicial levels.'

[p.8]: 'We have a programme to provide state-of-the-art medical centres in every police force area, where vicitms of rape can be examined and assisted. The extensive research about rape makes a number of suggestions for ways to increase the number of rapes that are reported to the authorities and ensure more successful prosecutions. These suggestions have informed the new policies. Detailed guidence on an effective response to rape complaints has been issued to the police and CPS (Crown Prosecution Service).

[p.103]: 'When we come to dealing with the interaction between the victim, the criminal justice system and all the other essential agencies (such as Rape Crisis Centers, which provide help and support, a major contribution can be made by the provision of Independant Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs).'

[p.103]: 'The Home Office which has taken the lead in developing the ISVA service, describes the ISVA role as 'A pro-active service to victims of sexual violence though risk assessment and safety planning; enabling victims to access those statutory and other services they need; and ensuring victims are kept informed and supported as their case progresses through the criminal justice system.'

[p.103]: We found in every part of the country, and from every organisation, unanimous praise for the work done by ISVAs. These men and women support complainants through the process, wether or not the case goes to trial (and indeed their support is particularly welcomed when dealing with the reactions when it is decided that the case is not going to trial), and afterwards. We found ISVAs based in Sexual Assault Referral Centres, Rape Crisis Centres, and local police stations. There is an accredited training program for them.'

[p.104]: 'We heard that ISVAs reassure victims that they have been believed when a case is not taken to court. ISVAs stay with the victim throughout the trial, take them home afterwards.'

[p.105]: 'ISVAs can deal with a whole range of matters that no one organisation would be able to do. For example:

  • Arrange home security checks on properties, seeing to lock changes and incorporating spy holes;
  • Sorting out housing problems with the local authority or housing association;
  • Meeting the social care agencies to establish how to provide adults with learning disabilities with appropriate support; and
  • liaising with police forces out of the area when the details of a case span more than one police force.

[p.106]: 'We have heard nothing but support for the work of ISVAs. It is clear to us that its been a successful pilot. They have had a substantial impact on the experience of the victims they have supported to date. It is equally clear that such a successful pilot should merit continued funding. We are operating in times of financial constraint, but this is an area of funding which, above all other forms of support, should not be constrained to the detriment of victims reporting rape.'

Important Stats:

[p.8 & p.85 BOX 11]: Data from the CPS:

12,129 recorded rapes in 2008/9 - 3,495 prosecutions - 2,021 convictions. (58 per cent conviction rate)

[p.85]: 'Where a defendant has been charged with an offense of rape but convicted of another (including a less serious offence) CPS data counts that conviction as a conviction of someone charged with rape.'

[p.85]: 'Convictions rose from 55 per cent in 2006/7 to 58 per cent in 2007/8 and remained at the same level in 2008/9.'

[p.25]: 'It was suggested to us that changes in the criminal law have been taken almost as far as they can go in regulating this most complex area of human behaviour. Further more, whilst all those who spoke to us who worked in the criminal justice system felt that the number of cases which were taken to court and ended in a conviction could be increased, no one argued that the increase could be substantial.

[p.17]: 'The data on convictions by juries in rape cases do not suggest that juries are particularly unlikely to convict rape defendants. Analysis of all 4,310 jury verdicts for rape from October 2006 to March 2008 across all courts in England and Wales finds that rape does not have one of the lowest jury conviction rates. With an overall jury conviction rate of 55 per cent, juries actually convict more often than they acquit in rape cases. Other serious offences such as attempted murder have lower jury conviction rates than rape.'

[p.9]: The Conviction Rate Has Taken Over The Debate:

'Conviction rates for rape are the subject of considerable political and media attention. Much is said about the conviction rate for rape being six (6) per cent in England and Wales. The six per cent figure is widely quoted. We found in carrying out this review that it was known and used by almost everyone in the field. Some have found it helpful as a campaigning tool in arguing for an improvement in the way rape cases are dealt with. Others found it misleading and deeply unhelpful in building confidence in victims and increasing the number of cases reported to the police that could possibly go forward to a prosecution. Many expressed concern at the widespread use of this figure without analysis or explaination.

'The way this conviction rate figure (6%) is calculated is unusual. Conviction rates are not published or even measured in this way for any other crime so its very difficult to make a comparison. The term 'conviction rate' usually describes the percentage of all the cases brought to court that end with the defendant being convicted. When dealing with rape the term has come to be used in a different way and describes the percentage of all the cases recorded by the police as a rape that end up with someone being convicted of rape.

We have looked closely at the information about conviction for rape and it 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 cases of rape initially reported do not proceed, perhaps because the complainant decides not to take the case 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.

[p.46): 'It is clear to us that the way the six per cent conviction rate figure has been able to dominate the public discourse on rape, without explaination, analysis and context, is extremely unhelpful. There is anecdotal evidence that it may well have discouraged some victims from reporting.'

(The Stern Review Part 2: 'The Sexual Offences Act 2003', and false rape allegations.)

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