Sunday, 1 June 2008

Report: Rapes in Victoria 2000-2003: 97.75% of perpetrators not charged

A summary report has been released of comprehensive research of rapes in Victoria. Some key findings:

- Offenders were charged in only 15 per cent of reported rapes examined.
This suggests the attrition rate for rape may have increased, despite reforms designed to improve the numbers of investigations proceeding to prosecution.
Police did not proceed with more than 60 per cent of investigations.
15.1 per cent of rape complaints were withdrawn.
46.4 per cent of rape complaints resulted in No Further Police Action.
21.3 per cent of rape complaints were ‘still ongoing’ or could not be determined on the basis
of the information in the case records.
Only 2.1 per cent of reports were designated by police as false.
The belief that false allegations of rape are rife, is therefore challenged by the evidence.
• 26 per cent of cases in this study involved victims with a psychiatric disability or mental health issue.
They were among those least likely to result in charges being laid against the offender and twice as likely to be determined as false.
• Where complaints were withdrawn, no statistically reliable profile of the characteristics of cases could be established.
These cases did, however, involve slightly older victims, who were more likely to have used alcohol and/or other drugs around the time of the offence.
• Offenders were proportionally more likely to be current or former partners in cases where the complaint was subsequently withdrawn compared to cases where charges were laid.
Some of these allegations were made against offenders who were, at the time of the rape, under family violence intervention orders.
• Characteristically rape victims who were most likely to see charges laid were:
male; physically injured; medically examined; not influenced by alcohol or drugs at the time of the offence; subject to other offences alongside the rape; and, raped by offenders well known to police for previous sexual offending. This is despite the overwhelming majority of rape victims (92.5 per cent) being female.
• Cases that resulted in No Further Police Action were typically more likely to involve:
younger victims; victims who were acquainted or who had a cursory relationship with the offender; and, victims who had consumed alcohol or other drugs around the time of the offence.

Victim characteristics

Victims were overwhelmingly female (92.5 per cent). Nearly half of the victims were aged between 15 and 24 years at the time of the assault, with 13.3 per cent of the total sample aged less than 15 years. The median age for both males and females was
21 years. When comparisons are made with age groups across the general population, 15 to 24 year olds are clearly over-represented as victims of rape (ABS 2002).


Some offenders' characteristics

The overwhelming majority of offenders in this study were male (99.4 per cent). Whilst their median age was 33 years, there were 13 (2.6 per cent) alleged offenders under 15 years of age. The age of 359 alleged offenders (42.2 per cent) could not be established.

More than one third of offenders (39.8 per cent) were ‘known’ to police. Among those known, 72 (27.6 per cent) were known due to prior allegations of sex offences made against them. At least 30 (11.5 per cent) had been defendants of intervention orders at some time but not necessarily in relation to the victim. Of this latter group, 17 allegedly committed the offence while being the subject of active intervention orders against the victim.

Assault characteristics

Most victims knew the offender in some way, with strangers accounting for just
16 per cent (133) of those reported. Most commonly the assault involved acquaintances or people that the victim had met on the night (222 or 26.7 per cent), current or former partners (160 or 19.2 per cent), friends of the victim (8.3 per cent) or family members (7.9 per cent). Five victims had been or were in a same-sex intimate relationship with the offender.

How long they took to be reported

Almost half of the offences (401 or 47.7 per cent) were reported to police within
24 hours of the assault. A further 145 assaults (17.3 per cent) were reported to police within a week and 66 (7.8 per cent) were reported two or more years later.
In more than half of the cases (449 or 55.2 per cent) the victims reported the rape to police themselves. Reports were also initiated by relatives (124 or 15.2 per cent), counsellors or other support services (65 or 8 per cent) and doctors or other health workers (47 or 5.8 per cent).

More than half of victims (441 or 66.4 per cent) were medically examined after reporting the rape. However, more than 300 victims reported the rape more than a week after the assault, which is generally considered to be outside the timeframe in which most forensic evidence can reliably be collected.

(T)he most common relationship category for cases that were withdrawn involved victims who reported being raped by their current or former partners (31.4 per cent).
Most of the victims who were medically examined.

Male victims were more likely to see charges laid (27.1 per cent compared with 14 per cent for females). No male victims (n=64) were charged with false reporting or were involved in cases where police doubted their credibility. Male victims were also less likely to withdraw their complaints (8.5 per cent compared with 15.7 per cent of female victims).

Reasons that cases did not proceed varied widely. However, three main themes emerged as likely to have had a strong influence on case outcome including: police views and attitudes towards the victim; victims feeling unable to proceed themselves; and, the impact of the process itself on discouraging victims from participating any further in the investigation.

Links between sexual assault and family violence

In this study there were 113 rapes alleged against current or former intimate partners, a proportion of which occurred in the context of ongoing violence and during active intervention orders against the offender (17 cases).

It is of grave concern that intervention orders, and the policing of them, failed to adequately protect women and children in these cases. Given the levels of pre-existing violence in some of these relationships, it is of particular concern that further serious physical assaults and other sexual violence was able to occur, with so few cases resulting in the offender being charged with rape offences. Even though in some of these cases, victims expressed their preference not to continue with the rape complaint (at least partly because the offender was being charged with other offences), decisions made against instituting rape charges in these cases rest with Victoria Police.

It is recognised that this study was conducted prior to the wave of reform that has taken place in Victoria with family violence, including the introduction of a new Code of Practice for the Investigation for Family Violence. Where criminal offences are involved, the Code includes a pro-arrest policy, where any decision not to pursue criminal charges must be justified by recording the reasons on LEAP (2004: 29). Whilst the Code recognises that sexual offences may occur in family violence situations, it is important that policies and procedures are established to ensure that police provide an appropriate response to women who are raped by their intimate partners.

Comment

These figures are depressing and appalling. In 1996 at the behest of the then Keating Government Minister Carmen Lawrence, the Australian Bureau of Statistics undertook the first and only Women's Safety Survey. This showed that only 15% of sexual assault victims complained to police. They were much more likely to tell family or friends.

Of the 15% who complained in Victoria, only 15% of those matters proceeded. To put it another way, only 2.25% were proceeded with so that the perpetrator was charged. The reverse figure is that in 97.75% of rapes, the perpetrator was not charged. This overreports the number proceeded with, as some of those prosecuted would have had the charges withdrawn or been acquitted.

Similarly, failure to fully enforce protection orders is depressingly familiar. For survivors of family violence, it is essential that they undertake a risk assessment and also engage in safety planning, and not rely solely on a protection order, which in turn might be reliant on less than enthusiastic police.

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