The treatment of women reporting sexual assault by the Scottish Criminal Justice System
There has been a lot of public concern around the low rate of punishment for the offence of rape. It is a well-established fact that most know rapes do not result in the conviction of an offender. A centralissue for this talk is whether we can conclude from this that the criminal justice system is failing women who have suffered a sexual assault. Obviously this depends on how we construe failure. Would a low prosecution rate or a low conviction rate necessarily mean failure if it is an outcome of a system in which everybody involved strives to convict the guilty while observing current understandings of best practice in terms of protecting the rights of both victims and accused persons? That would obviously be a very different sort of failure from systems in which efforts are routinely half hearted or which is less able to honour current understandings of good practice. It can be observed at the outset, that whatever sort of failure a low conviction rate for serious sexual offences is in Scotland, this is not just a Scottish problem as low rates of conviction for rape are also found elsewhere. I want to consider what the research that I have been involved in offers by way of evidence concerning the treatment of women as victims of sexual assault in the criminal justice system. This is not to suggest that this research provides anything like a full story but it does offer some insights.