Improve victim care and end use of misleading conviction rate figures
International Centre for Prison Studies
15 March 2010
- Stern Review publishes 23 recommendations to improve treatment of rape victims -
ICPS Senior Research Associate Baroness Stern has today published her independent review into the way rape complaints are handled by public authorities. Key recommendations call for:
- A greater focus on victim care – with all victims having access to an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor if they want it
- A greater emphasis on intelligence-led policing to avoid failures like Worboys and Reid
- An end to the widespread use of misleading rape conviction data – in particular the ‘six per cent conviction rate’ figure
Victim care is central to the recommendations of the Stern Review. Independent Sexual Violence Advisors support victims through the process whether or not the case goes to trial. The review considers they are cost effective and should be an intrinsic part of the way rape complainants are dealt with. It recommends that funding should be provided in all areas where demand makes the post viable.
Following the Worboys and Reid cases which brought into sharp focus the failures by police in, amongst other things, sharing intelligence across boroughs, the Stern Review recommends all police forces consider the benefit of setting up a specialist rape unit. The National Policing Improvement Agency should also make sure all forces are aware of the computer technologies available to help them track intelligence on sex offenders on a local and national level.
The six per cent figure often attached to the ‘conviction rate’ for rape is not calculated in the same way as for other crimes – the figure for convictions of those charged with rape as the term is normally used is actually 58 per cent. In jury trials 47 per cent (of over 16s) are convicted – higher than for some other violent offences. There is concern that the six per cent figure can make victims feel it is not worth reporting. Baroness Stern recommends the Home Office and Ministry of Justice work with the National Statistician to find a way of presenting criminal justice data that allows comparisons to be made of the outcomes for various offences and makes clear what conclusions can and cannot be drawn from that data.
Other important recommendations from the Stern Review include:
- It is suggested that there are more false allegations of rape than of other offences. This provokes strong feelings and is surrounded by controversy, which in turn plays a part in the responses to rape complainants. The true number of false allegations is not known so to provide clarity the Ministry of Justice should commission a report to study the frequency of false allegations of rape compared with other offences and the nature of such allegations. (Ch 1)*
- There should be an end to the use of conflicting central performance targets for the police and the CPS. Joint targets are being considered by the cross government Rape Monitoring Group and the Stern Review recommends this work is completed quickly in order to remove what are seen as barriers to effective joint working between the CPS and police. (Ch 3)
- Every rape victim should have the choice of a male or female forensic physician for their medical examination. The Stern Review also supports the view that responsibility for forensic medical services should be transferred from the police to the NHS and endorses the view of Sir George Alberti that forensic physicians should also have better training, be part of the new NHS clinical governance framework and be commissioned in higher numbers. (Ch 2)
- In 2003 the government introduced ‘Achieving Best Evidence’ interviews which allowed victims of serious crime to give evidence via video. But recordings can be badly filmed and officers trained to interview children use the same technique with adults. There are strong views that this practice is a big hindrance to effective trials and action must be taken. This practice should be reviewed and a solution found that preserves the benefits for the victim but is more effective in the courtroom. (Ch 2)
- The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority should reconsider its eligibility requirements with the aim of providing clear guidance to case officers that rape victims should not normally get less compensation if they have a previous unspent conviction or if they have not reported the rape immediately (Ch 4)
- There are misunderstandings amongst the public about the current law on rape. The basic elements of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 should be given more publicity and information in simple language should be made available to young people and those who work them. (Ch 1)
Independent crossbench peer Baroness Stern said: “Much has changed for the better for rape victims in recent years. Attitudes have improved and new policies and practices have been introduced. But in some places there are failures in the implementation of these policies so much of my review focuses on turning policy into action on the ground.
“During my review I came across many examples of the very best practice – what we need is for this best practice to be found everywhere so that every man or woman who reports a rape is properly supported.
“We must also take a broader approach to measuring success in dealing with rape; a unique and very difficult crime to deal with. The conviction rate has taken over the debate to the detriment of other important outcomes for victims. Prosecuting and convicting is of course important but my view is that support and care for victims should be as high a priority. The obligations the state has to those who have suffered a violent crime, and a crime that strikes at the whole concept of human dignity and bodily integrity, are much wider than working for the conviction of a perpetrator.”
For a copy of the Stern Review report, relevant images or to bid for an interview with Baroness Stern please call 020 7478 7807 or email email@example.com
Notes to editors
* Indicates in which chapter in the review the recommendation may be found
The report is available on the Government Equalities Office website: