BBC Question Time: factchecked

Published: 2nd Feb 2018

Question Time was in Grantham this week. The panelists were: former Education Secretary Justine Greening MP, Labour MP John Mann, Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, CEO of the New Economics Foundation Miatta Fahnbulleh and Telegraph journalist Tim Stanley. One of the main areas of debate from yesterday's programme focused on domestic and sexual violence against women. We’ve factchecked three claims. We’ve included links to helplines at the bottom of each piece.

Women killed by men

“Currently, there are at least two to three women per week who are killed by their ex-partners or current partners.”

BBC Question Time audience member, 1 February 2018

The Femicide Census, published by the charity Women’s Aid, and the official statistics published by the Office for National Statistics both show almost 80 women and girls killed by a partner or ex-partner in the latest year they cover.

The Femicide Census covers women aged 14 and over killed by men in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 2016. It’s compiled from public information such as freedom of information requests to police and press reports.

The ONS numbers cover offences against women aged 16 and over recorded by police in England and Wales only, and is updated with information from police and courts.  An offence is counted in the year it was recorded, which may not be the same as the year the offence took place.

Just under half of all women killed were killed by their partners or ex-partners, according to the latest official statistics for England and Wales in 2015/16 (44%).

These numbers seem sadly stable over time. Between the start of 2009 and end of 2015, the Femicide Census found 598 women in England and Wales who were killed by men who were their current or former partners—an average of 85 women per year.

Separate figures for Scotland dealing with solved cases show 14 female homicide victims, of whom four were killed by a partner or ex-partner in 2016/17.

Helplines

ITV have a list of helplines if you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article.

Reported rapes that reach trial

“Only a tiny proportion of women and indeed men who are raped in this country ever reaches trial in the first place. There is a huge problem of underreporting.”

Jo Swinson MP, 1 February 2018

Around one in ten rapes or attempted rapes reported to police in England and Wales are brought to trial. It’s more difficult to put an estimate on the number that aren’t even reported to the police. Research from 2013 estimated that between one in twenty and one in thirty rapes end up at trial.

These figures aren’t exact and there are a number of problems involved in trying to measure this.

Around one in ten cases recorded by the police are brought to trial

There were just over 3,700 cases of rape or attempted rape brought to trial in England and Wales in 2016—the latest figures we have available. In the same year police recorded around 39,000 offences of rape or attempted rape reported to them.

Those two numbers don’t link together neatly: not all alleged offences are brought to trial in the same year as they were recorded by the police, and some will have actually happened in a previous year.

But comparing the two figures does broadly suggest that around one in ten reported cases went to trial, a similar figure to the average for the previous three years.

There are newer figures from the police, showing there were around 49,000 offences of rape recorded by the police in the 12 months to September 2017.

The number of reports of rape to the police has increased in recent years, something the Office for National Statistics (ONS) puts down in part to improved recording by police and victims being more willing to come forward.

We don’t know how many rapes occur in the first place

Not everyone reports their experience of rape to the police. The Office for National Statistics runs a Crime Survey which aims to get more accurate figures than the police numbers through face-to-face interviews and a self-completion survey.

This means the survey may pick up a greater number of victims than the police figures can, although we still don’t have very reliable figures due to the relatively low number of victims that are surveyed.

Research by the ONS, Home Office and Ministry of Justice published in 2013 found that there was a high drop-off rate between the estimated number of rapes, the number reporting it to police and then the number going to court. It found that somewhere between one in twenty and one in thirty rapes ended up going to trial between 2009 and 2011. At the time the research estimated that around 0.2% of the population was the victim of a rape or attempted rape in the previous 12 months.

In terms of the proportion of the population that report rape, this was 0.3% in the year to March 2016. The ONS don’t put an exact number to this due to the unreliability of the estimate.

We’ve written more about sexual assault and domestic abuse here.

Helplines

ITV have a list of helplines if you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article.

Allegations of rape

“And I think also that the number of false accusations [of rape], of people who are making an accusation when it didn't actually happen, is very, very small.”

Jo Swinson MP, 1 February 2018

“I think that although picking up on your point, although it's important to look at when they are falsely accused, that is only about 3-4% of all cases.”

BBC Question Time audience member, 1 February 2018

According to the Crown Prosecution Service: "False allegations of sexual assault and rape are rare but, when made, they are serious as they undermine the credibility of genuine victims and the efforts of the CPS and police to see perpetrators brought to justice.”

It’s impossible to know the true extent of false rape allegations. Even if we did have a definite number, the circumstances behind these cases can be complex, and don’t always reflect malicious intent.

The evidence we do have shows that proven cases of false allegations are rare, and it’s reasonable to cite 3-4% of rape cases as an estimate.

Proven cases of ‘false allegations’ are rare

If a reported rape doesn’t result in a conviction, this isn’t evidence that the original allegation was false. Criminal charges must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

There are a small number of cases where people are convicted for deliberately perverting the course of justice or of wasting police time, depending on the seriousness of the case and whether there was a named perpetrator.

A study by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) found that, in cases between 2011 and 2012, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape. The CPS doesn’t prosecute if there’s not enough evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.

The view of the Director of Public Prosecutions at the time was that false allegations were “serious but rare”.

‘False allegations’ can cover a wide variety of circumstances

Beyond when people are prosecuted for false allegations, there’s been some research looking at police case files, to try and work out how common false allegations are more generally. Here, there isn’t actually a single definition of what constitutes a false allegation.

Research by the Ministry of Justice in 2012 estimated that around 3% of 1,149 rape cases they analysed were perceived to be malicious allegations. These are not proven cases of false or malicious allegations.

This echoes a study for the Home Office from 2005 which found that about 3% of cases they studied might be considered ‘probable’ or ‘possible’ false allegations.

Both studies emphasise the limitations of their data.

While false rape allegations do include people complaining maliciously, this isn’t always the case. Research has suggested that allegations can turn out to be false if the person who reported it to the police misremembered what happened, didn’t know what happened and wanted to find out, or misunderstood the law.

The CPS, for example, mentions cases where people report to the police because they thought they might have been raped, but can’t recall because they had been affected by drugs or alcohol.

Research by the Ministry of Justice in 2012 estimated that around 12% of reported rape cases in England and Wales may be based on a false allegation if you take a broad definition that might cover these kinds of cases. Again, this goes far beyond allegations that are malicious and false, very few of these cases amount to a proven false allegation.

Helplines

ITV have a list of helplines if you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article.


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