Juries reluctant to convict men of rape if woman was drunk - 6th December 2006


Juries are reluctant to convict men of rape if the woman who brings the allegation was drunk, research has found.


It said that when jurors believe a woman was intoxicated, it is reasonable for a man to take her silence as consent to sex.


The findings are compelling fresh evidence that juries composed of ordinary people are unwilling to comply with Government demands to deliver more convictions for rape.


Ministers say there are too few convictions and have been altering the rape laws in order to try to get more men jailed after rape trials. Barely five per cent of allegations end in conviction. But the way they have changed the law appears to breach the rights of any man accused to a fair trial - that is after they removed the normal safeguards to the high number of false allegations, by forcing judges not to give the normal warning about convicting on just the say so of a claimant. 


A key element of the controversy over rape has been the question of when a man who has sex with a drunken woman can claim that he thought she consented. If a woman is drunk the man is usually drunk as well, but the police don't take urine samples from men in the normal course of events - thus denying them the evidence to prove what the social situation was at the time. Many women are not taking advantage of the change in the law to get revenge on men for the smallest thing. It sound far fetched but it is true.


Three years ago the Government brought in new laws to try to get more guilty verdicts. The 2003 Sexual Offences Act changed the rules so that a defendant in a rape trial could no longer defend himself by claiming he honestly believed the woman consented.


Since the Act came into force, a defendant has had to pass a tougher test and show it was reasonable for him to believe she consented.


The Government-sponsored research found that juries are not sympathetic to the idea that drunken sex should end in a rape conviction more often - and a long jail sentence for the man.


Academics Vanessa Munro and Emily Finch asked mock jurors to consider seven different scripted sets of rape trial evidence. Each trial was considered by three different 'juries' recruited through local newspaper and radio adverts.


They found that jurors regularly took the view that it was reasonable for a man to assume that silence meant consent, even if the woman was too drunk to speak.


The juries also held a woman responsible for her actions if she had accepted drinks from the defendant, failed to resist pressure to drink more, or did not take care to make sure her drink was not spiked by more alcohol or drugs.


Juries were reluctant to convict a defendant who had doctored a woman's drinks unless he had specifically intended to commit sexual assault - as opposed to just loosening her inhibitions.


Juries, the researchers said, were also less inclined to convict a man for rape of a drunken woman if she regularly drank heavily in the company of men.


The findings, published by the Government's Economic and Social Research Council, brought calls from both the academics involved and the Home Office for more efforts to 'tackly myths' about rape and make juries more willing to convict.


Dr Munro said: "The findings reflect the hold that gender stereotypes still have. They suggest that rape myths can have a profound influence on jurors. More needs to be done to secure justice for victims of rape."


But some judges, lawyers and criminologists believe that the Home Office is leaning on juries to convict innocent men and that jurors are right to resist pressure.


Dr David Green of the Civitas think tank said: "The whole point of a jury is that it allows the opinions of wider society to be heard in the justice system.


"This study appears to show that juries are reflecting public opinion, which broadly is that people have a personal responsibility for their behaviour. If a woman gets drunk and loses control, that is something for which she is responsible and must take the consequences.


"A man who has sex with her in that state may be acting in an ungentlemanly way, but that is not a crime."


Dr Green added: "A jury is there to bring elites crashing down - especially in areas like rape law which has been subject to a sectarian campaign by extreme feminists."


Earlier this year Solicitor General Mike O'Brien said rape conviction rates were "unacceptably low", with only 751 convictions from more than 14,000 rape allegations in 2004.


He announced plans to allow "expert" witnesses to explain to juries the damaging impact of rape, and video evidence showing distraught women in police stations within hours of alleged rapes.


But the plans have not yet been pushed through, partly because of concern amont judges and lawyers that high numbers of rape allegations prove groundless and that juries should not be manipulated.


The Home Office said that ministers are considering a new legal definition of "capacity to consent" in rape trials.


A spokesman said: "We need to tackle the myths, particularly the view that victims are either partially or fully responsible for the assault they have experienced if they have been drinking.


"Rape is never the responsibility of the victim, whatever the circumstances."







Girl Confesses to Making False Rape Claim
Friday, July 21, 2006

A report on This is Wiltshire says that police wasted more than 120 hours' work when a team of 14 officers was set up to find a rapist who never existed. 

A 17-year-old girl, who claimed to have been attacked in Faringdon Road Park late on Monday night, confessed yesterday to having made the story up. She could now be taken to court for wasting police time, just as a 20-year-old Liden woman was in May.

Det Insp Mark Garrett, who was leading the investigation, has moved to reassure the public that there is no sex attacker on the loose.

People in the park yesterday said they were horrified at the actions of the girl. A team of seven detectives and seven uniformed officers was assembled to catch the man who allegedly carried out the attack. But officers noted a number of inconsistencies in her story and yesterday she withdrew her allegation.

Det Insp Garrett said: "There is no sex attacker for this alleged incident as the man never existed so I want to put the local community's fears at rest. "I identified a number of inconsistencies throughout the investigation which did concern me but I continue to investigate with an open mind until she withdrew her allegation. "It is very frustrating when crimes are falsely reported to the police.

"A great deal of time and resources are put into investigating serious crimes such as this alleged rape, which also, understandably, generates fear within the community." 

Det Insp Garrett also said genuine victims of sexual assaults should not hesitate to come forward.

"I would like to reassure genuine rape victims that they will receive complete victim care and encourage them to contact the police," he said.

"False reporting is a serious matter and each case is considered for wasting police time."

Dr Michael Berry, a chartered clinical forensic psychologist who practises in Manchester, said there were a number of possible explanations for the girl's behaviour, including attention seeking, regretting consensual sex with someone or suffering post traumatic stress disorder from a past rape. "Those are the most common reasons," he said. "It does tend to be younger women in the sense that you are unlikely to have a 50 plus woman making a false allegation of rape....."





Simon Hall

David Watkins

Katie Davis

Leon Benjamin Forde

Warren Blackwell

Darryl Gee



F.A.C.T. (Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers)
PO Box 3074
Cardiff CF3 3WZ
Tel: 029 2077 7499
E-mail: info@factuk.org
Website: www.factuk.org
Campaigning organisation and support group which provides help and advice to falsely accused and wrongly convicted carers and teachers throughout the UK. The website contains a range of information, leaflets, books and links.


Guidance for education staff and volunteers in schools
Website: www.lg-employers.gov.uk/conditions/education/allegations
This website has guidance on: 1) staff facing an allegation of abuse; 2) preventing 'abuse of trust' for education staff; and 3) the conduct of education staff working with young people.







The scales of injustice

Miscarriages of justice are an everyday occurence. As the government plans a thorough overhaul of criminal justice, it needs to ask why so many unsafe convictions are overturned. The wrongly convicted are victims too.

The Observer Crime and Justice debate

Sunday July 28, 2002

The government's criminal justice reforms, proposed in the recently published White Paper, are based on a 'single clear priority' to 'rebalance' the criminal justice system 'in favour of the victims of crime' and to 'bring more offenders to justice'. The explicit goal is to make it easier for the prosecution to secure guilty verdicts and to convict more people. This would seem to be at odds with the reality of criminal justice in England and Wales. The prison population stands at an all time high of over 70 thousand and the prosecution already achieves the conviction of over 95 per cent of defendants at magistrates' courts and 87 per cent of defendants in the Crown Court.


The White Paper seems to be to forget that that not all of those brought to trial will be guilty. A reform agenda framed in a language of 'putting the victim first' overlooks the fact that there are many victims of the present criminal justice system. Any human system can make mistakes, and that miscarriages of justice can and do occur. But, just how many miscarriages of justice victims of the present system are there?


We tend to think about miscarriages of justice as rare and exceptional occurrences. Prominent cases such as the Birmingham six, Guildford Four, Bridgewater four, M25 three, Cardiff three, Stephen Downing, and so on create the impression that miscarriages of justice are seen as very much an intermittent, high profile and small scale problem; that there are very few victims in the context of the statistics of all criminal convictions. But there are many more cases than those which receive prominent coverage in the media. Those cases of criminal conviction that are routinely quashed by the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division), or by the Crown Court for convictions previously obtained in the magistrates' court have received no attention at all.


If we pay more attention to these routinely quashed convictions, we find a scale of miscarriage of justice to fundamentally challenges any notion that the current system of criminal justice is weighted too much in favour of the defendant. The Lord Chancellor's Department's statistics on successful appeals against criminal conviction show that in the decade 1989-1999 the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) abated over 8,470 criminal convictions - a yearly average of 770. In addition, there are around 3,500 quashed criminal convictions a year at the Crown Court for convictions obtained at the magistrates' courts. Contrary to popular perceptions, then, wrongful criminal convictions are a normal, everyday feature of the criminal justice system - the system doesn't just sometimes get it wrong, it gets it wrong everyday, of every week, of every month of every year. With the result that thousands of innocent people experience a whole variety of harmful consequences that wrongful criminal convictions engender.


Justice for All also states that there is an 'absolute determination to create a system that meets the needs of society', 'wins the trust of citizens' and 'acquits the innocent'. Accordingly, the government might think about proposing reforms that would counter the causes of the thousands of routine wrongful criminal convictions that occur each year under the present criminal justice system. These (still) include misdirection by judges which is the most common cause of routine successful appeals; unreliable confessions such as in the cases of Robert Downing, the Cardiff Newsagent three, Andrew Evans, and King and Waugh who between them spent almost a century of wrongful imprisonment based on the unreliable confessions of the vulnerable.


Financial and other incentives which created unreliable 'cell confession evidence' that featured most recently in the case of Reg Dudley and Robert Maynard who each served over 20 years of wrongful imprisonment as a consequence of a 'bargain' between the police and an informant who received a reduced sentence for his part in a robbery in exchange for the necessary evidence for conviction; non-disclosure of vital evidence as in the case of John Kamara who also spent 20 years of wrongful imprisonment because over 200 statements were withheld from his defence team; malicious accusations such as in the case of Roy Burnett who spent 15 years of wrongful imprisonment for a rape that the Court of Appeal said 'almost certainly never happened', or Roger Beardmore who spent three years in prison (of a nine year sentence) for the paedophile rape of a young girl who later admitted that she had lied to get her mother's attention; badly conducted defences such as in the case of Mark Day who was convicted for murder with two others despite the fact that he did not know his co-defendants, a fact that his defence failed to bring to the court's attention; and, 'racism' such as in the case of the M25 three, the case in which three black men were wrongly imprisoned for 10 years despite the fact that witnesses had claimed that two of the offenders were white and four of six victims had referred to at least one of the offenders as white. And this is by no means exhaustive list of the causes of injustice.


When thinking about proposing reforms of the criminal justice system to reduce the conviction of the innocent it might also be pertinent to include some of the possible causes of miscarriages of justice that might never feature in the official statistics of successful appeals. Likely candidates include the 'time loss rule', under which when the wrongly imprisoned apply for an appeal they are advised that if their appeal is ultimately unsuccessful it could result in substantial increases to their sentence. The effect of this is to transform what was intended as a minor check on groundless applications into a major barrier in some meritorious cases. There are also the miscarriages of justice that can result from charge, plea and sentence 'bargaining' and the 'parole deal'. All of these induce innocent people to plead guilty to criminal offences that they have not committed and present a 'dark figure' of miscarriages of justice that can never be fully quantified.


It is clear that the present system of criminal justice is, indeed, in urgent need of reform. But this should not be in the direction of a relaxation of the system in favour of obtaining more guilty verdicts and convicting more people. Rather, the present system needs to a reformed in the direction of 're-balancing' it with its stated aims, namely, to safeguard against convicting of the innocent. The present system makes far too many mistakes. Convicting more of those brought to trial will undoubtedly mean making even more mistakes and convicting even more innocent victims.


Michael Naughton is a postgraduate researcher looking at the harmful consequences of miscarriages of justice in the Department of Sociology, University of Bristol.


Send us your views


Email Observer site editor Sunder Katwala at observer@guardianunlimited.co.uk with comments on articles or ideas for future pieces. You can write to the author of this piece at M.Naughton@Bristol.ac.uk.


About Observer Comment Extra


The Observer website carries additional online commentary each week, with articles responding to recent pieces and offering additional coverage of the major issues. Please get in touch if you would like to offer a piece and see Observer Comment for this week's pieces. Online commentaries are also trailed in the print pages of the newspaper.



Observer special reports
Crime and justice: The Observer debate

Let us know your views
Write to us at letters@observer.co.uk
28.04.2002: How to offer a piece

More comment
28.07.2002: Michael Naughton: the scale of wrongful convictions

Children in prison: Observer campaign
Justice special: campaign updates
28.07.2002: Barry Goldson: How prison damages children
28.07.2002: Children behind bars: why we back the campaign
14.07.2002: Comment: Scrap this law
14.07.2002: Letters: A welcome campaign for social justice
07.07.2002: Suicide fear for teen victims of Blunkett's get-tough rules
07.07.2002: Our five-point manifesto
Get in touch at childrenbehindbars@observer.co.uk

Useful links
14.07.2002: Crime and justice on the web

More crime and justice comment
21.07.2002: Leader: New thinking on justice at last
21.07.2002: Courtenay Griffiths QC: Counsel for the defence
14.07.2002: Mary Riddell: Addressing the causes
14.07.2002: Martin Bright: time to understand a little more?
14.07.2002: Martin Wright: the case for restorative justice
14.07.2002: Nick Cohen: Dando case injustice
07.07.2002: Wrongly convicted: 'We were victims too'
07.07.2002: Cristina Odone: Cherie has got it right
07.07.2002: Lee Bridges: Smart reform, not populism
30.06.2002: Peter Neyroud: We must make the law work for all
07.07.2002: Louise Dominian: Getting rehabilitation right
23.06.2002: Leader: Be cautious on crime reform
02.06.2002: Mary Riddell: Why Blunkett is dangerous
Comment highlights: best of Mary Riddell
02.06.2002: David Rose: Short straw for law
02.06.2002: Martin Bright: Labour's criminal justice confusions

Observer investigation
23.06.2002: Focus: Tougher justice
23.06.2002: Criminals go free in legal crisis

The Observer prisons debate
05.05.2002: David Rose: prison does work
19.05.2002: Juliet Lyon: Prison must be the last resort
26.05.2002: Nick Cohen: Porridge oafs
03.02.2002: David Blunkett: my prison reform agenda
10.02.2002: Mark Leech: why part-time porridge won't work

More Observer specials
Asylum myths and reality
Liberty Watch
Drugs Uncovered
Race in Britain

More from Guardian Unlimited
Special report: home affairs









  • Bankston, Carl L. and Caldas, Stephen J., Family Structure, Schoolmates, and Racial Inequalities in School Achievement, Journal of Marriage and the Family 60:3 (1998), 715-723.

  • Hilton, J., Desrochers, S.,Devall, E. Comparison of Role Demands, Relationships, and Child Functioning is Single-Mother, Single-Father, and Intact Families. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage ,35(?) 29-56.

  • Mulkey, L.; Crain, R; Harrington, A.M. One-Parent Households and Achievement: Economic and Behavioral Explanations of a Small Effect. Sociology of Education, 1992, 65, 1, Jan, 48-65

  • Pong, Suet-ling The School Compositional Effect of Single Parenthood on 10th Grade Achievement, Sociology of Education 71:1 (1998), 23-42.

  • Quinlan, Robert J. Father absence, parental care, and female reproductive development. Evolution and Human Behavior, Volume 24, Issue 6, November 2003, Pages 376-390

  • Richards, Leslie N.; Schmiege, Cynthia J. Family Relations, Vol. 42, No. 3, Family Diversity. (Jul., 1993), pp. 277-285.

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  • States News Service. (2005 July 20). “America’s Children: Family Structure and Children’s Well-Being

  • *Quotes taken from Neale B and Wade A (2000) 'Parent problems! Children's views on life when parents split up', Young Voice/Nuffield.




Registered charity no: 230750

Email web@oneparentfamilies.org.uk.






Also in the news

This is a list of the most recent items found in the national press concerning single parents. Please use the Message Board if you want to comment on a news item.

Britain must target child poverty (29.Sep.2006)
Family-income poverty doesn't only affect children's educational achievements (Response, September 26), and thus their opportunities and choices in the labour market, but also their future health and its associated costs.

Poverty at home leads to inequality in the classroom (26.Sep.2006)
Improving schools is vital - but the issue of family income can't be avoided,

Vulnerable families need support, not blame (25.Sep.2006)
The proposal to provide early support for vulnerable families through health visitors is welcome, but the suggestion that they predict which parents are at risk of bringing up children who will be offenders is dangerous.

Ruling the roost (20.Sep.2006)
The Incredible Years parenting programme is being held up by ministers as a model of good practice

Family tradition (13.Sep.2006)
The chief executive of children's charity NCH welcomes the government's latest plans for vulnerable children but tells Alison Benjamin that removing benefits as a method of coercion for problem parents will not work

Alan Johnson's speech (13.Sep.2006)
Full text of the education secretary's speech to the Social Market Foundation

Should cookery lessons be compulsory? (10.Sep.2006)
From 2008, cookery classes will be offered to all secondary schoolchildren

What hard-pressed parents really need in the way of help (06.Sep.2006)
By Sue Cohen, director of Single Parent Action Network
The Prime Minister might be retreating from the controversy of last week's "baby Asbos" speech, but labelling and stigma still seem to be the order of the day.

Action at birth needed to save problem children, insists Blair (06.Sep.2006)
· PM defends plan to help young in troubled homes
· More cash promised to aid socially excluded

Antisocial approach to children (04.Sep.2006)
Behind Tony Blair's plans to support early intervention in the lives of "problem children" because they might become a "menace to society"




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