Leader comment: Rapists should get criminal, not civil, justice

Scotland has a low conviction rate for rape, Picture posed by model. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.
Scotland has a low conviction rate for rape, Picture posed by model. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.
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It is an indictment of the appallingly low conviction for rape in Scotland that women are turning to the civil courts in search of justice.

Sir Stephen House, the former chief constable of Police Scotland, once said there was “nothing to suggest, either anecdotally or evidentially, that false reporting of rape is prevalent, in fact such cases are very rare”. And yet in 2015-16, there were 1,692 complaints of rape and 117 of attempted rape made to police, but this produced just 216 prosecutions and 104 convictions.

So if Sir Stephen is correct, it would appear the vast majority of rapists go unpunished.

And the situation is likely to be worse than these figures suggest. A report published in November by the Scottish Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland found rape victims were refusing to take part in prosecutions because the experience was so traumatising. One victim even said it was “worse than being raped”. How many are simply not reporting sexual assaults to police? However, there are problems with trying to get justice in the civil courts.

READ MORE: Scots rape victims ‘traumatised’ by court experience

For instance, the anonymity of complainants in criminal cases is guaranteed by law, whereas this is not the case in civil courts. Victims would need to be wealthy enough to afford to bring a case personally or be successful in an application for legal aid. Victims could also find themselves being cross-examined by their attacker in court.

Rape is also an extremely serious matter to be decided on the “balance of probabilities”.

A legal ruling that someone is “probably a rapist” may very well be a life-ruining event. So it would be better for all concerned if the criminal justice system was able to dramatically improve its ability to prosecute the guilty.

The authorities need to redouble their efforts to ensure the process does not discourage victims. If all of the complaints to the police in 2015-16 had made it to court, more than 800 rapists would have been convicted, based on the current rate.

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That would be a dramatic improvement. But if anyone thinks a conviction rate of below 50 per cent reflects reality, they are deluding themselves.

The #MeToo campaign has shed new light on the extent of sexual violence and harassment faced by women across society. If this hideous culture is ever to be wiped out, rapists must be made to fear they will be caught – and sent to prison.