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In Britain, Rape Cases Seldom Result in a Conviction

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In England and Wales, only 5.7% of reported rape cases result in a conviction. Women's rights groups say this stems from a "blame the victim" culture and perpetuates the cycle of repeat offenders. Video by Mary Jordan/The Washington Post Editor: Francine Uenuma/washingtonpost.com

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"I was constantly fighting to get someone to believe me," said West, who has a young daughter. She said a female officer flatly told her that she believed no crime had been committed and that West had simply gotten "drunk and had a shag," a British term for sex.

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"I couldn't believe it," West said. "If you had told me this was modern-day Kabul, okay. But London?"

She has since hired a lawyer to file a formal complaint against the police. A police spokesman said it was "inappropriate" to comment on West's case because an investigation into her complaint was ongoing.

Debaleena Dasgupta, a lawyer who represents West, said another client filed a complaint against an officer who allowed a man accused of rape to go on vacation before police took his statement. In yet another case, a 38-year-old woman from Cornwall said police interviewed, weeks apart, two men whom she accused of raping her one night, giving them time to coordinate their stories.

Improving Investigations

"We have got to do better," said John Yates, assistant commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police. He described the rape conviction rate as "appalling" and said police had "to build better cases."

Rape cases are particularly challenging, he said, because women often delay reporting, there are no eyewitnesses and alcohol blurs the victim's recollection of details.

"Every crime requires good first steps," he said, such as interviewing witnesses immediately and grabbing footage off the millions of closed-circuit security cameras in Britain. "If you get the first steps wrong, it's hard to re-create it."

About 25 percent of reports of assault and 75 percent of homicides lead to someone being found guilty. In the 1970s, the rape conviction rate ran at more than 30 percent. The difference now is that there are far more "date rape" cases -- like the one depicted in the Manchester police ad.

Kerim Fuad, a barrister who has defended more than 100 men accused of rape, including the defendant in the Davies case, said most of the time the defendant and the accuser know each other and the jury must decide whom to believe.

A woman always has a right to say no, he said, but when she goes into a man's bedroom late at night after they have both been drinking, juries may have a hard time voting to send a man to prison.

Fuad declined to speak about specific cases, but he said he has been surprised by some "not guilty" verdicts. He said jurors have been shown compelling evidence -- such as blood at the scene or internal injury to the woman -- and still not returned a guilty verdict.

It is illegal in Britain to interview jurors -- even after a verdict. But public opinion polls show that a sizable proportion -- a quarter to a third -- of Britons say a rape victim is responsible for the attack if she is drunk or wearing "sexy" clothes.


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