Sandy Brindley: Attitudes to rape must change

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IT IS widely recognised that rape is a particularly under-reported crime. The reasons that survivors of rape give us at Rape Crisis for not reporting include fear of not being believed or being blamed, and fear of the court process. In this context, new figures showing further significant rises in reporting of rape and other sexual offences are welcome.

The fact that a high proportion of these cases are historic suggests that at least part of the rise is due to increased confidence in the police. It is not unusual for someone to contact Rape Crisis ten, 20 or 30 years after something has happened, and it may be the first time they have ever told anyone what they have been through. It is important people in these circumstances know that if they approach the police, they will be treated seriously and with respect, no matter how long ago the incident/s happened. With a few exceptions, the feedback we get from survivors about their experience with the police is overwhelmingly positive. Survivors tell us that the police were sympathetic, took them seriously and responded sensitively.

Since Police Scotland was established, there has been a transformation in how the police respond to complaints of sexual offences, not least the move to using specially trained officers.

What we still hear, however, is that survivors feel let down by the justice system. More and more survivors are reporting rape, but the number of convictions is still tiny – last year the police recorded 1808 rapes and attempted rapes but the number of convictions was only 87. The majority of cases never make it as far as court, which can be devastating for someone who has found the courage to report what has happened to them. The requirement in Scots law for corroboration has a significant impact on the ability of the justice system to respond to rape, as this is a crime which most often takes place in private, and often without significant physical injury.

Last week the Scottish Government announced it was postponing its plans to remove the corroboration requirement. It may be prudent to take more time to consider fully what other changes should happen if corroboration goes, however it is crucial that the Government maintains its commitment to removing corroboration, otherwise too many survivors of rape and domestic abuse will continue to see their cases dropped.

We also need to change attitudes – members of the public continue to blame women for rape, particularly when they have been drinking. These are the people who will be sitting on juries in rape trials. If rape survivors in Scotland are to be able to access justice, we need to make a sustained commitment to changing public attitudes to this very serious crime.

Sandy Brindley is national co-ordinator of Raper Crisis Scotland