Sexual Assaults

October 3rd, 2009 at 11:01 am by David Farrar

I’ve finally discovered something useful done by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. They have published a study into why so few sexual assault complaints result in convictions, and it is full of interesting stats. The study is of 1,955 police files relating to upon an adult from July 2005 to Dec 2007.

68% of the files involved , 22% unlawful sexual connection, 7% attempted sexual violation and 3% other.

sexualassaultstats

So one third of complaints are not about a valid offence. We learn that 8% were classified as false complaints, so presumably the other 26% were complaints that were not deemed to involve illegal behaviour.

Of the remaining 66% of valid offences, one sixth did not have a suspect identified which brings it down to 55%. A surprisingly high 44% of cases with an identified suspect are not prosecuted meaning 31% of all complaints result in prosecution. And of those 42% resulted in a conviction.

This means overall only 13% of complaints lead to a conviction. However the more useful figure is that 20% of “valid” complaints lead to a conviction.

So let us first look at cases not deemed valid.

‘False complaints’ were defined as cases in which the complainant was charged or warned for making a false complaint. In ‘false complaint’ cases for which further information was noted in the summary data set, the two most common file notes were that the complainant had admitted the allegation was false and that the evidence did not support the complaint. The victim had an intellectual disability or a psychiatric condition or had made previous allegations in around a third of cases.

If 8% of 1,955 cases were “false” that is 156 cases.

So what about the other cases deemed not valid:

The ‘no offence’ category accounted for 34 percent of recorded cases (including the 8 percent designated ‘false complaints’), which was lower than the 45 percent ‘no offence’ rate found in a 1981 New Zealand study (Stace, 1983).

So the category has dropped in frequency.

At least one in five cases did not proceed due to victim withdrawal. That is, the investigating officer recorded that the victim did not want to proceed with the investigation or was uncooperative or could not be contacted. Withdrawn cases were more likely than other cases to involve an offender who was an ex-partner or boyfriend. The police files noted a variety of reasons for a victim not wanting to proceed, including that the victim wanted the offender warned or trespassed but not prosecuted; someone else reported the incident or the victim was pressured to report; the victim had limited recall of the incident; the victim wanted to report the incident or seek advice but take no further action; or the victim did not feel able to proceed, was not ready to proceed or felt threatened.

It is a shame so many victims withdraw, but I can understand why. Now why do one sixth of valid cases not have an identified suspect?

The most common factors in cases with no identified suspect were that the victim withdrew from the process, there was insufficient evidence to identify a suspect who was a stranger to the victim, or the victim had limited recall due to intoxication.

So why were there no charges in 44% of cases with an identified suspect?

The prosecution rate (percentage of cases with charges laid) was 31 percent based on all recorded cases or 46 percent if ‘no offence’ cases were excluded from the base. The prosecution rate for cases involving multiple offences was much higher than for single-offence cases and thus the prosecution rate based on recorded offences (49 percent) was higher than the prosecution rate for cases (31 percent).

Cases in which a known suspect was not charged tended to involve either victim withdrawal or insufficient and/or conflicting evidence.

What is interesting is that victim withdrawal is a common factor at almost every stage. It is a major factor in cases not being deemed valid, in no suspect being identified and in no prosecution being undertaken.

I wonder what the attrition rate at each stage would be, if there was no victim withdrawal? That would be a useful piece of data.

It seems clear that the most significant way to increase the prosecution rate of sexual assaults, would be to have fewer victims withdraw. But that is easier said that done. Many victims can have very valid reasons for not wanting the trauma of a court case.

Some interesting other factors:

  • Rape cases had higher attrition rates at almost every stage of the justice process, compared with other offences.
  • The 18 percent of cases that involved more than one offence were much more likely to proceed through all stages and result in a conviction than cases involving a single offence.
  • The majority of offenders were previously known to the victim, with stranger assaults accounting for just 16 percent of cases and offenders just met (within the last 24 hours) accounting for a further 15 percent of cases.
  • A third of cases involved victims and offenders with intimate relationships
  • Attacks by a stranger were more often associated with ‘false complaints’
  • However, if prosecuted, stranger attacks were much more likely to result in a conviction, giving these cases a relatively high overall conviction rate. (this is logical, as it is harder for the defendant to claim consent if they were strangers)
  • Current partners and boyfriends had a high prosecution rate but a very low conviction rate for sexual violation (also no surprise as issues of consent much harder to determine)
  • Offenders who were family members had high prosecution and conviction rates relative to other offenders (and again this is logical as few family members ever have consensual sex)
  • Cases were more likely to be classified as ‘no offence’ if the victim was uncertain whether violation had occurred. The victim was uncertain in about one in seven cases, and this factor was strongly linked to alcohol or other drug use. (that is a disturbing stat)

They also list factors that do not affect attrition:

  • Region (except Akl City has lower level of no offence cases)
  • Victim Gender
  • Victim Ethnicity
  • Victim Origin
  • Victim Criminal History
  • Victim is a sex worker
  • Offender Gender
  • Offender Age
  • Offender Ethnicity
  • Offender Origin
  • Incident Timing

This is actually very pleasing. It would be a concern if the demographics of either the victim or offender caused a lower or higher attrition rate in terms of prosecution or conviction.

Also some interesting stats on the 31% of cases that had charges laid:

  • 16% plead guilty
  • 30% had the case withdrawn or discharged
  • 52% went to trial
  • Of those that went to trial 50.5% were acquitted and 49.5% found guilty

This is a really invaluable report, full of data. It has certainly given me a much better understanding of how the justice system deals with sexual assault complaints, and should be very useful for policy makers as they seek to improve the system.

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23 Responses to “Sexual Assaults”

  1. Johnboy (16,483 comments) says:

    “I’ve finally discovered something useful done by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. They have published a study ”

    Is there any data included as to how many tens of millions it has cost us from the inception of this joke of a government department to them finally producing something that might be useful and could the same study not have been produced by some undergraduates searching government databases at negligible expense to the taxpayer?

    [DPF: [WRT to the study they used six former police officers to go through the files. While some info is computerised, they actually manually checked all 2,000 or so files so no undergrads could not do that]

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  2. Steve (4,559 comments) says:

    So now we await a study done by the Ministry of Men’s Affairs?
    Just so we have a fair and unbiased study.

    [DPF: Actually what impressed me was that the study appears to be very robust in its methodology]

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  3. F E Smith (3,305 comments) says:

    I heard about that report yesterday but haven’t got around to reading it yet. I will make a few comments on it briefly:

    “‘False complaints’ were defined as cases in which the complainant was charged or warned for making a false complaint.”

    This is quite a narrow definition as the Police are generally reluctant to warn or charge a person even if the Police don’t believe them. The actual number of false complaints, based on anecdotal evidence from police officers that I deal with, is higher than that. A detective at a fairly busy local station told me last year that they considered about one in five complaints at the station to be false. And don’t forget that some of the cases in which men have been acquitted at trial the complaint is also false, notwithstanding the fact that it went to a jury. The state of evidence in NZ means that there is no corroborating evidence required for a man to be convicted of rape. It simply requires a convincing performance in the witness box by the complainant.

    I find the concept of ‘complainant withdrawal’ is an interesting one because in many occasions the Police will press ahead even when the complainant wants to withdraw their complaint. My understanding is this is dependent upon the practice of the investigating officers involved and of their district, so is not uniform in NZ.

    “the victim had limited recall due to intoxication.”

    My experience is this is an increasingly large factor in cases. It is becoming more frequent to have complaints after heavy drinking sessions where the complainant assumes they were raped because they either cannot remember intercourse or feel they wouldn’t have consented to having intercourse with the person they had intercourse with. You then have the jury having to make a decision when the complainant is not saying “I said no” but saying “I am sure I would have said no”. Unfortunately, the difference there is quite large. We need to remember that regretting intercourse after the event does not void consent given prior to the event.

    I am surprised that 30% had cases withdrawn or were discharged. That is a pretty large group of men who are arrested, charged, released on usually very strict bail conditions or held in custody, named as a rapist by their local newspaper and put through the court process only for the Police to withdraw or a Judge to find insufficient evidence to proceed. Of all offences, I think this is the most traumatic one to be charged with and it really takes a toll on the defendant.

    The conviction rate is slightly higher than in the UK, but slightly lower than the general conviction rate, which is normal in this area.

    Two further points: Don’t make the mistake that a recorded offence means there actually was an offence. That is why the 13% figure is somewhat misleading, seeing as how that is what the media is reporting as the conviction rate. It isn’t, the conviction rate is 49.5%.

    The second one is the often quoted comment on the lawyers being able to have a go at the complainant through the case. It is not true. The first time a complainant in sexual offence case will give evidence is at the trial itself, and at that trial they are well protected by both judge and crown counsel.

    Edit: Just for clarity, rape is a subset of unlawful sexual connection. The lesser figure of 22% for unlawful sexual connection in the report is for oral or anal violation.

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  4. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “I’ve finally discovered something useful done by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs”

    That’s only because you like statistics.

    [DPF: Heh, yes, but in this case they are statistics that explain a lot about how sexual assaults are dealt with by the justice system. Having fewer criminals get away with their crimes is a good thing, if this can help lead to it]

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  5. Repton (769 comments) says:

    @F E Smith:

    The state of evidence in NZ means that there is no corroborating evidence required for a man to be convicted of rape. It simply requires a convincing performance in the witness box by the complainant.

    Is the situation different in other first-world countries? Do you think the New Zealand law should be changed in this respect?

    Edit: Just for clarity, rape is a subset of unlawful sexual connection. The lesser figure of 22% for unlawful sexual connection in the report is for oral or anal violation.

    Does that mean that if a man rapes a man, it is not legally considered “rape”?

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  6. Kimble (4,438 comments) says:

    @F E Smith:

    Nice contribution.

    @Repton:

    “Does that mean that if a man rapes a man, it is not legally considered “rape”?”

    Interestingly, this concern is the reason the term “mangina” gained legal recognition.

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  7. Repton (769 comments) says:

    @Steve:

    So now we await a study done by the Ministry of Men’s Affairs?
    Just so we have a fair and unbiased study.

    In what respect do you think this study is biased?

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  8. F E Smith (3,305 comments) says:

    Repton: In fact it was the case in NZ until just over 20 years ago. My understanding is that there does need to be some corroborating evidence in overseas jurisdictions, but I haven’t looked to see exactly what. Most of my more senior colleagues are very much in favour of returning to the old rules.

    With regard the issue of rape: Rape is specifically limited to the male genitalia penetrating the female genitalia, even slightly. Anything else is defined as sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection. That includes female on female and male on male sexual offending.

    Kimble: Thanks. Not sure about the ‘mangina’ comment, though!

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  9. Chuck Bird (4,880 comments) says:

    I have told this story before but I will never forget my time as a juror on a rape trial. It was obvious that the complainant had perjured herself. I am sure there can be borderline cases that are based on what constitutes consent but this was not one of them. Towards the end of the trail the defence lawyer asked for the case to be thrown out but the judge declined. However, in the summing up the judge made it clear what he thought the verdict should be. He said, “the prosecution asked why would the complainant lie? I do not think I need to quote Shakespeare”.

    The verdict took less than 30 minutes maximum after I explained in simple terms what the judge meant to someone who quickly put himself forward to be foreman.

    After the trial I called the police prosecutor. I asked him why the case went to trial. He told me it was police policy to proceed to trial if the complainant stuck to her story. I also asked him why she was not charged with perjury as there was prima facie case. He did not say it would be very hard to prove but that charging her would discourage genuine complainants from coming forward. In other words he inferred she was not a genuine complainant. This was 15 to 20 years ago but sadly I do not things have changed much.

    This is why we either need a Ministry of Men’s Affairs or preferably get rid of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Don Brash did this but it looks like we are now stuck with it for a very long time now.

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  10. tvb (4,415 comments) says:

    Most of those acquitted are those in the date rape situation. I have a reform that could change that by having an offence of sexual assault, with a much lower penalty but placing the onus on the accused to show there was consent.

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  11. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    All very interesting.

    However for the life of me I cant see why – from the states point of view – sexual assault should be treated any differently to any other assault. Sexual assault involves emotion – but that only serves to make the whole thing far more complicated and impossible to get fairness.
    A lot of people would say that your house being robbed is actually emotionally worse – family treasures, personal treasures, records, etc, being lost are far worse for many than a ‘sexual’ assault.

    I hope the review being currently undertaken has a look at the weird aspects of the whole sexual assault thing and puts it straight.
    At least we see last week some tightening of the ACC rules – in that you now have to show some actual damage reather than just rock on up, claim sexual assault without any police action – and get a payout – and almost certainly lay a false allegation against someone.

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  12. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    DPF: …they used six former police officers to go through the files.

    Ah, there’s the reason there’s no category for “prosecutions withdrawn after the complainant rebelled against Police pressure to sustain a dubious claim because they know if they can get a ‘she said / he said’ case to court, the likelihood is the balance of sympathy will fall on the side of the female ‘victim’ and they’ll get a conviction regardless of guilt”.

    I’m sure you’re right and that a percentage of women withdraw due to “not wanting the trauma of a court case”.

    But there’s also a percentage hidden in those statistics — and who will forever remain hidden due to the complementary political agendas of the Ministry and the Police — who made a rash error in accusing someone through a desire for revenge; as a result of mental illness; as a result of mistaken identity which they later realise; or any number of other factors. When they later try to clean up the mess by withdrawing the complaint they are met with hostility and often outright refusal by Police and prosecutors. And who have to fight, and fight hard, to see justice properly done.

    These women — especially if they have suffered a sexual assault, just not at the hands of the accused — are to be commended for their honesty and courage.

    And while we’re talking of statistics, I’d like to see a study done on “potentially unsafe convictions which were allowed to occur despite Police and prosecutors knowing full well there was reasonable doubt”. David Doughtery is one… anyone who thinks there aren’t others languishing in our prisons is a fool.

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  13. Steve (4,559 comments) says:

    Repton,
    You could ask the Ministry of Men’s Affairs if the study done by the Ministry of Woman’s Affairs is unbiased.
    Let me know how you get on with your enquiry.

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  14. Dirty Rat (504 comments) says:

    DPF: …they used six former police officers to go through the files.

    he he he, some things never change

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  15. Brian Harmer (687 comments) says:

    Dirty Rat (38) Vote: 0 0 Says:
    October 3rd, 2009 at 4:16 pm
    DPF: …they used six former police officers to go through the files.

    he he he, some things never change
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Optirectomy

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  16. Dirty Rat (504 comments) says:

    Brian

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=tosser

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  17. Repton (769 comments) says:

    Repton,
    You could ask the Ministry of Men’s Affairs if the study done by the Ministry of Woman’s Affairs is unbiased.
    Let me know how you get on with your enquiry.

    Steve, you’re the one implying that it’s biased, so I’m asking you.

    I know you’re trying to make a political point, but if you want to use this study to attack the idea of a Ministry of Women’s Affairs, you need to actually explain what’s wrong with the study.

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  18. Steve (4,559 comments) says:

    Repton,
    I am making a point, sexual discrimination.
    I am not attacking Ministry of Women’s Affairs, I just wonder why there was no Ministry of Men’s Affairs created at the same time that Ministry of Women’s Affairs was?
    So if there is no Ministry of Men’s Affairs then Ministry of Women’s Affairs could be a bit one sided?
    When the Govt has a Men’s Affairs Minister then it will be equal, or you don’t think so?

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  19. dad4justice (8,208 comments) says:

    I do often wonder why we got NO Ministry of Men’s Affairs?
    But who cares as false allegations are a women’s best weapon.

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  20. dad4justice (8,208 comments) says:

    “Disadvantaged” is not a strong enough word to describe the decline of manhood Chris. Try being a heterosexual father in a gender bias system then you might understand the phrase; unfair demonization. The catch phrase for the new Minister of police is “deadbeat dads” so you get my drift.

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  21. ross (1,437 comments) says:

    This report is very poor, and that’s putting it mildly.

    The authors come up with a rate of 8% for false complaints, and guess what? The authors refer to these people as “victims”. In fact, they’re included in the statistics as genuine victims of sexual assault! Since when did offenders, which is what these people are, become victims? I strongly doubt that the authors would refer to rapists as victims, so why be so kind to those who make false complaints?

    The 34% of non-offences (to use the term applied by police) are also included in the statistics for genuine sexual assaults. If so many victims of sexual assault do not come forward, one wonders why the researchers needed to bolster the figures by including cases where it was deemed that no assault took place.

    What is also interesting is that only 55% of alleged victims could identify the alleged offender. Yet the authors repeatedly comment that rapes are seldom carried out by strangers. If that’s true, why are so many alleged victims unable to idenitfy their alleged attacker? Alas, the authors don’t explain this conundrum. But the authors seem to have it in for the criminal justice system. They infer it’s all the system’s fault. But when nearly half of all “victims” are unable (or unwilling) to identify their attacker, I am not sure that can be blamed on the system.

    One final point: the researchers say that the true incidence of sexual assault is unknown but then claim that 9 out of 10 rapes go unreported. If they go unreported, that means we do not know how many rapes there are. So the 9 out of 10 claim is essentially bogus and possibly reflects the biases of the authors.

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