Conviction Rate for Rape Falls Precipitously in Great Britain

A report about rape prosecutions in Great Britain recently found that the rate of conviction had fallen from 1 conviction for every 3 cases brought to trial in 1977 to just 1 conviction for every 13 cases brought to trial in 1999. Why has the conviction rate fallen so sharply?

One explanation, of course, is that police and prosecutors are simply bungling the job. The report blames police for not being thorough enough in collecting evidence and prosecutors for not empathizing with rape victims enough.

But it is difficult to believe that police and prosecutorial actions visa vis rape cases have declined that much since 1977, especially given the enormous publicity in the United Kingdom (as in the United States) about the horrors of rape.

An alternative explanation, which the report apparntly did not examine, is that police and prosecutors in the UK are under pressure from groups and are bringing to trial weak cases today that would not have been prosecuted or would have led to a plea bargain in the 1970s.

It would be interesting to see researchers take a random sample of 1977 cases and 1999 cases that went to trial and compare the strength of the evidence in those respective samples. I suspect they would find that marginal, difficult to prove cases were not brought to trial in 1977 whereas they are being brought to trial today, and naturally the conviction rate is going to decline.


Rape conviction rate has dropped to just one in 13, inquiry reveals. Ian Burrell, The Independent (UK), April 1, 2002.

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