Monday, March 15, 2010

Major news: The Stern Review calls for "independent" research on the frequency of false rape claims and for possible anonymity for the presumed innocent accused of rape

That's an excerpt from the Stern Review, which was released today.  It contains a very interesting discussion about the frequency of false rape claims. We'll have much to say on this in the weeks ahead, but the Review calls for an independent study into the frequency of false rape claims, given the intense controversy surrounding this issue, and an examination into the propriety of granting anonymity to men accused of rape. 

As for the "independent" research into false rape claims: by "independent," we assume that persons who have a vested or financial interest in rape claims, including sexual assault counselors, should be excluded since their livelihood depends on the notion that rape is a frequent and serious problem. In addition, persons who previously publicly opined with certainty on the frequency of false rape claims, or the that rape is rampant, should also be excluded, since is a natural tendency to reach conclusions that don't undermine one's previous scholarship.  By "independent," we assume the Review means persons who come to the issue without preconceived notions or political or ideological agendas. 

As to the freqnency of false rape claims, the Review off-handedly, and for reasons that aren't clear, cites some anecdotal evidence that false claims are not at all common, but it prudently concludes that we just don't know how common false rape claims are.  It is for this reason it is calling for a fresh look at the issue. 

The Review commendably cites the damage a false rape claim can do, and although it takes no position on anonymity for the presumed innocent accused of rape, it seems somewhat sympathetic to the idea.

One of the points we truly need to emphasize to all those interested in the Stern Review and any follow-up is the following, which is of vital importance: it is one thing to say that we "know" 8 to 10 percent of all rape claims are false; it is quite another, and grossly incorrect, to assert that "only" 8 to 10 percent of all rape claims are false.  Why are semantics so important here?  Because we cannot, and never will be able to, say with any degree of certainty how many rape claims were actual rapes, so it is dishonest in the exreme to say that "only" 8 to 10 percent are false since that characterization suggests that we DO know that all of the rest of the rape claims -- 90 to 92 percent of all rape claims -- were actual rapes.  That latter proposition would be a lie.  Even if we only "know" that 8 to 10 percent are false, we may also only "know" that a similar relatively small percentage of the claims were actual rapes.  The prudent thing to do is to talk only about those claims we actually do know about, one way or the other -- those that were either false claims or actual rapes.  Bottom line: We must insist that the public discourse stop assuming that every rape claim was an actual rape unless we can prove with certainty that it was false.

The Stern Review makes innumerable other important points about rape, and we will have much more to say on it in the days ahead. 

Below is one newspaper's take on it.

Harriet Harman's 'unreliable statistics on rape scare off victims'

Harriet Harman was ordered to stop misleading the public about rape by an official inquiry report yesterday.

The Equalities Minister was accused of pumping out unreliable figures about the low number of rapists brought to justice, thus discouraging victims from reporting attacks.
The review by Baroness Stern appeared to put an end to years of claims by ministers that laws and criminal procedures for dealing with rape need radical reform because only six per cent of complaints end in a conviction.

The claim was even made by Miss Harman last September on the day she set up the Stern review.

But Lady Stern, a prison reform campaigner and human rights activist, called in her report for 'an end to the widespread use of misleading rape conviction data - in particular the six per cent conviction rate figure'.

The six per cent figure relates to reported cases. In fact, the conviction rate for those actually charged with rape is nearly two out of three, higher than comparable figures for other violent crime.

The report's view is doubly humiliating for Miss Harman because it was she who set up the review.

Instead of condemning low conviction rates and demanding legal reforms - as ministers have repeatedly done over the past six years - Lady Stern said there should be more help for victims and greater use of police intelligence to track down men who serially attack and rape strangers.

Her report said: 'The figure for convictions of those charged with rape as the term is normally used is actually 58 per cent.

'There is concern that the six per cent figure can make victims feel it is not worth reporting.'

Lady Stern added: '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.'

It was the second high-level slap on the wrist Labour's deputy leader has received within a year over use of statistics to further her favoured political causes.

Last summer the watchdog UK Statistics Authority accused Miss Harman of 'undermining public trust' by exaggerating the pay gap between men and women.

Baroness Stern's report criticised 'sharp failures' by police in the cases of John Worboys, a taxi driver who was convicted of 12 attacks on women and may have committed more than 100, and Kirk Reid, suspected of 71 offences.

It called for sharing of police intelligence across London boroughs and for forces to consider specialist rape units.

Lady Stern also said the Ministry of Justice should study numbers of false rape accusations. Because the alleged victim's anonymity is guaranteed by law, critics say false claims can be made with impunity.