Last week, the Inspectorate of Constabulary, which is responsible for monitoring the performance of police forces in England and Wales, published statistics showing significant variations between regions in the number of recorded rapes which are later dismissed, or ‘no crimed’. The figures showed that in Lincolnshire, 33 per cent of recorded cases of rapes were eventually dropped between 2012 and 2013, while in South Wales only six per cent were dismissed.
So what do these numbers tell us? Not very much at all. A report being ‘no crimed’ means that information additional to the report indicates that no crime has taken place. As the Inspectorate itself explained, there could be a variety of explanations for regional variations. That’s probably why the coverage of the statistics had to focus on what the statistics ‘may’ mean, rather than what they actually did mean. BBC Radio 4’s Today programme reported the statistics as a headline story on the basis that the statistics ‘may’ mean that some police forces are more reluctant to believe complainants than others. Going one step further, advocacy group End Violence Against Women argued that the figures showed a ‘culture of scepticism’ among some police forces dealing with rape complaints.
Slapping questionable interpretations on statistics is a common tactic for contemporary anti-rape campaigners. In August 2012, women’s advocacy groups argued that a fall in reported rapes in London reflected ‘crumbling confidence’ in Sapphire, the Metropolitan Police’s specialised rape-investigation unit. Of course, another possible interpretation of a fall in the number of reported rapes is a fall in the number of rapes actually occurring, but that interpretation would not suit the aim of contemporary campaigners, who seem hell-bent on fostering a climate of fear and panic.
We have allowed our cultural discussion on rape to denigrate into an absurd exchange of unprovable hypotheses about reams of statistics, steeped in misinformation. No one is served by these increasingly shrill exchanges, especially not those who have in fact been raped. As Baroness Stern argued in her 2010 report on the reporting of rape, misreading statistics feeds the very climate that these advocates purport to take aim at by propagating the idea that the police are reluctant to believe rape complainants. The more rape campaigners tell the public that the police will disbelieve them, the less likely people are to go to the police in the first place.
Of course, rape can be a difficult crime to investigate. Cases often turn on one person’s word against another. It is certainly believable that the police could be dilatory in their approach to investigating, which may mean that some offenders are not prosecuted. But the reality is more straightforward than many advocacy groups would have us believe: people get raped, rape gets reported, rape gets investigated, rape gets prosecuted, and people get convicted. The longer we spend exchanging possible interpretations of numbers, which have no meaning whatsoever in and of themselves, the more we distort perceptions of this sensitive crime and the social institutions we have to respond to it.