What has been described as “sickeningly low” conviction rates in rape trials – in the UK at least, and there are similar statistics in most other common law jurisdictions – has lead a British MP to say it is time juries were dispensed with in such cases.
Journalist and ‘Justice for Women’ co-founder Julie Bindel wrote the opinion piece in the Guardian which pointed out the staggering low conviction rates for such crimes, much of which can be laid at the feet of the juries – or perhaps the jurors who listen to such cases and for various reasons feel incapable of coming to a decision to convict.
She took up the point regarding dispensing with jury trials for rape cases that was made by Labour MP Ann Coffey.
She refers to one CPS study that found that in a 17-month period there were just under 6,000 prosecutions for rape, but only 35 for making false allegations of rape.
Prevailing rape myths, such as “she was asking for it”, “he’s handsome, and does not ‘need’ to rape”, and “if she didn’t want it she would close her legs”, can poison the mind of a juror against the complainant, whatever the evidence against the defendant.
Bindel was originally motivated to set up her Justice for Women group following the Yorkshire Ripper murders by Peter Sutcliffe.
Her anger about the Sutcliffe murders that drove her to campaign to end sexual violence against women, writing that she was angry that the police investigation had, in her view, become more focused when the first “non-prostitute” was murdered.
Her Guardian article lays out the case to have such trials using panellists who can assist a judge in relevant issues.
For example, she writes, those experienced in sexual violence issue could help explain how people of all ages, from babies to elderly women are raped (sexual attraction has nothing to do with it); not shouting “no” does not mean consent; and the idea that alcohol is the new short skirt – that a drunk woman is signalling she’s “up for it”.
Dumping juries in such cases should not be done lightly and non-jury rape trials should be ‘rigorously evaluation.” But it is not just juries that is the problem, she says, but the “rape myth ideology.”