Monday, 27 June 2011

An ineffectual response for the scale of the problem.

[trigger warning]

Last month I asked the Government Equalities Office what the government was doing to prevent rape.

For reference, I asked them:

  • what campaigns to prevent rape and/or to discourage people from choosing to rape has the Equalities Office recently run or have planned?
  • what other government departments have or will soon run campaigns with similar aims?
  • what recent studies the Equalities Office has commissioned or is aware of concerning the motivations, psychology and methodology of rapists in the UK, and what, if any, future studies you intend to commission?

The relevant(ish) bit of the reply is as follows:

Turning to the issues you have raised in relation to public awareness about the severity of the offence of rape, the Home Office takes the lead within government on communications campaigns on rape and sexual violence. The last campaign was run in 2006 and concentrated on the issue of consent in the context of the Sexual Offences Act (2003), which was introduced in 2004. Further campaigns have been run more recently by individual police forces; a current example of this is the joint Thames Valley Police and Hampshire Constabulary campaign: `Don't Cross the Line' - The Home Office is planning a new campaign which will raise awareness of elements of the Sexual Offences Act as recommended by Baroness Stern in her recent review of the statutory response to rape in England and Wales.

The Home Office does not currently have any plans to commission any specific research on the taxonomy of perpetrators of rape. However, officials are in regular contact with the academic community and are always prepared to engage in active consultation on issues which relate to sexual violence policy.

Not unsurprisingly, the answer is "very little". I can't help feeling that if most other crimes with a potential life sentence - and a substantial average sentence - were being perpetrated by around 5% of the population, there might be a greater sense of urgency around dealing with them than a few rare awareness campaigns mostly reliant on the initiative of individual police forces1.

For a rough numeric comparision, using an offence of equivalent sentencing, imagine that the government was aware of a plot by the residents of Wales - yes, all of them - to drop a nuclear bomb on London. An awareness campaign that civilian possession of nuclear weapons is illegal and carries a potential life sentence might be considered to be a little ineffectual as the response.

The question of what recent studies they are aware of regarding perpetrators appears to have been ignored, too. I'm hoping that's just an oversight in replying to my questions, rather than an intentional omission because they aren't aware of any, but on previous form I'm not hopeful.

I'm going to send a few follow-up letters - to the departments named in my previous post to see what they're doing and suggest that they start; to the Home Office to find out more about this planned campaign; and to the Equalities Office to see if they are aware of existing research. As usual, I'll post the letters here after I've sent them.


1 While some police forces are definitely trying to deal with rapists as effectively as possible, others are ultimately siding with the rapists through inaction. The best-performing forces have a report:conviction ratio over ten times better than the worst-performing forces.

As Baroness Stern said (in far more academic and Parliamentary language than my paraphrase, of course): "If you actually paid any attention to the existing recommendations it would be a big help."