21/11/2018 08:13 GMT | Updated 21/11/2018 08:13 GMT

It's Time To Question Whether Jury Trials Are The Right Way To Deliver Justice In Rape Trials

Myths about how rape victims are expected to behave continue to pollute our society, and jurors are taking these attitudes with them into the court room

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There is a crisis engulfing the criminal justice system and its approach to rape cases.

Dramatic action may be needed to stop us going back to the dark days when rape victims dare not speak out.

Today, I will use a Commons adjournment debate to call for wide-ranging urgent independent inquiry into rape, including examining the controversial issue of whether juries are the best way to deliver justice in rape cases.

Juries may need to be scrapped in rape trials because of the dominance of rape myths and the shockingly low charging and conviction rates.

An inquiry should look into why the number of rapes charged by the Crown Prosecution Service has plummeted by 23 per cent, at the same time as reported rates have soared and why there are such low conviction rates especially for date and acquaintance rate.

The most common cause of unsuccessful prosecutions in rape cases is jury acquittal, which accounts for six in ten of all unsuccessful rape prosecutions.

Recent research revealed that nearly half of jurors in rape cases come to a guilty verdict before deliberation of the trial because they believe rape myths.

There is a greater willingness by survivors to come forward but the criminal justice system is failing to keep pace and deliver justice to women.

Rape myths about how victims are expected to behave continue to pollute our society, and jurors take these attitudes with them into the court room.

These include that a woman who has drunk a lot or is dressed a certain way cannot complain if she is raped; or that it is only rape if you have injuries or that real rapes are done by strangers in alleyways.

There is still a lack of understanding about why a woman might not report an assault immediately, or might not fight, or how a victim should behave straight after an attack.

Huge gaps remain in the public understanding about what sexual consent actually means.

I submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Crown Prosecution Service which revealed that less than one third of prosecutions brought against young men aged 18-24 resulted in a conviction, the lowest of any age group.

The conviction figures suggest a reluctance on the part of juries to find young men guilty of rape for fear of ‘ruining’ their lives and because of the prevalence of rape myths.

Disproportionate and intense media focus on the small number of false rape allegations perpetuates the public perception that lying about rape is common, when in fact the opposite is true.

The overwhelming majority of rape victims still do not report to the police for fear of not being believed.

In reality, only 17 per cent of those who experience sexual violence report it to the police according to the Office of National Statistics data for March 2017. The CPS estimated in 2012 that only 3 per cent of the 1,149 cases ‘may’ have been malicious.

A perfect storm is developing where juries are reluctant to convict young men charged with rape; the CPS are therefore reluctant to prosecute and the police are therefore reluctant to refer. The result of this is that the victims will stop coming forward and justice will be denied.

My concern is that conviction rates indicate that the scales of justice are tipped against the victim.

Ministers need to take strong action including a fundamental review of the whole system and by taking a lead to forge a better public understanding of rape myths and what constitutes consent.

Ann Coffey is the Labour MP for Stockport