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