Low conviction levels of young men tried for rape a ‘challenge for criminal justice system’

Prosecutors have described the low levels of convictions against young men who are tried for rape as “a challenge for the entire criminal justice system” after figures showed that a third are found guilty.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said rape allegations which were tried at court only led to 31.6% of men aged between 18 to 24 years old in England and Wales being convicted in 2017-2018.

Meanwhile, 45.6% of 25 to 59-year-old men were convicted during the same period.

The figures released after a freedom of information request by Labour MP Ann Coffey highlight there are clear difficulties in prosecuting these cases.

Of the 1,343 rape cases the CPS has taken against younger men, only 404 were convicted, an average of 30%, according to the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW).

Ms Coffey (pictured) suggested the figures showed a reluctance by juries to find young men guilty of date rape, adding: “The figures may reflect the prevailing attitudes of society and therefore of juries to women, who are often blamed for putting themselves in risky situations.

“There has been a strong media focus on the small number of false allegations of rape and this perpetuates the public perception that lying about rape is common when in fact the opposite is true. The vast majority of rapes are never reported because many young women fear they will not be believed.”

Ms Coffey said: “There is still a dominance of rape myths in our culture, including that a woman who has drunk a lot cannot complain if she ends up being raped or that it is only rape if someone has injuries or that most rapes are done by mad axemen in alleyways.”

Sarah Green, a co-director of EVAW, said: “These figures are shocking and, given that very few cases make it to court in the first place, they could be read as showing that there is near impunity in this country for young adult men who commit rape.”

A CPS spokesman said: “Rape and serious sexual offences can be some of the most complex cases prosecuted by the CPS.

“We have worked hard in recent years to improve how we deal with these cases.

“Addressing the low conviction after contest rate in cases involving young defendants represents a challenge for the entire criminal justice system.

“We are working on a number of different fronts to improve performance in this area.

“This includes early liaison with police prior to making charging decisions, and providing specialist training for prosecutors on consent, myths and stereotypes, and cases involving vulnerable witnesses and young people.”

Dr Dominic Willmott, of the University of Huddersfield, who has carried out extensive research into jury bias in sexual offence cases, said: “Scientific research shows us quite clearly that jurors are simply less willing to convict young defendants of rape for fear of the consequences such a ‘rapist’ label will have on their future.”

Nazir Afzal, a former north-west England chief crown prosecutor and adviser to the Welsh government on violence against women, told The Guardian: “Juries are told, rightfully, that you have to find not guilty if you are not sure and the perception is that the younger the victim is, the less believable you are.

“Also, in my experience, juries are more likely to make allowances for a defendant the younger he is, this idea that he may not have known what he was doing at 24, but if he was older than that he does.”

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