There is finally some real evidence about attrition in the criminal justice system for allegations of sexual violence in New Zealand.
The research, commissioned by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, looked at all 1,955 police files of sexual violation offences between 1 July 2005 and 31 December 2007. This misses the 9 out of 10 experiences of sexual violence which are never reported, but still is an impressive enough body of data to provide real value.
Burning Question 1: So of the 1,955 reported cases, how many were successfully convicted?
Answer: 254 or 13%
That means if we accept the police only hear about 10% of sexual violence crimes, adults have a 1.3% chance of seeing their rapist convicted in New Zealand.
Just one in three complaints made resulted in charges being laid. Of these, 42% were successfully convicted, and 27% resulted in an acquittal.
This attrition is shocking. Can you imagine the uproar if just 13% of reported burglaries resulted in punishment for those responsible? Thankfully, for those of us who value property more highly than the sanctity of the human body, our conviction rates for property crimes hovered between 50% and 60% last year.
95% of the victims reporting sexual violence to the police were women. 99% of the alleged offenders were men, in fact just 11 women were accused of sexual violence over the 2 and a half years the study covered.
It seems sexual violence continues to be overwhelmingly a crime of male violence against women.
Trainee journalists are told false complaints are often made regarding sexual offences, and cautioned to report carefully. Many in the public also tell this story, and the blogosphere is full of those concerned about false rape claims.
Burning Question 2: How many of these complaints were false?
Answer: 156 or 8%
The researchers describe complaints as “false” when the Police had noted that, usually when the complainant claimed they had made a false complaint, or when the Police said evidence did not support the complaint. Given historical and ongoing scandals around Police behaviour with allegations of sexual violence, this figure may therefore be a little inflated.
The researchers note one third of “false” complaints were made by people with intellectual disability or psychiatric conditions, and young women alleging sexual violence by a stranger were also more likely to be coded as “false”.
Hardly the overwhelming data you’d think, given our typical media response to rape and sexual violence.
Which reminds me, this ground-breaking research, hot news, providing the opportunity for debate, discussion, conflict, about crime, and just begging a response from media darlings the Sensitive Sentencing Trust – where did our media put it?
The Dominion Post, down the road from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs who commissioned the research, buried a tiny article, nicked from the Press, knee deep in the middle of the paper. Other media sources no better.
I wonder if the research would have graced the front page if it proved 87% of rape allegations were false? Hazard a guess anyone?
Instead we are left with knowing most people – who are overwhelmingly men – accused of sexual violence walk free. In our communities.
It’s time to consider how we might change this frightening fact.
*Regular readers may remember I promised to eat the Intro to journalism book if this research proved women routinely lied about rape.
Of course, it continues to sit on my shelf, unharmed.