Police more likely to bring charges for rape, sexual assault and domestic abuse cases when victim is white

Our exclusive investigation has shone a light on the justice gap faced by black and minority ethnic victims of sexual and gendered violence.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic victims of sexual and domestic violence are much less likely to see their abusers charged than white victims, a major investigation by NationalWorld can reveal.

In a year in which police forces and prosecutors have faced a reckoning over their handling of violence against women and girls, new figures have shone a light on the unequal outcomes suffered by victims of sexual and gendered violence.

Sign up to our NationalWorld Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The “horrifying” statistics reveal for the first time how white rape victims are 1.8 times more likely than Asian victims to see their rapists charged. Domestic abuse cases with white victims are likewise 1.5 times more likely than those with black victims to result in charges.

NationalWorld sent Freedom of Information (FOI) Act requests to police forces across the UK, asking how many charges they had brought for rape, sexual assault and domestic abuse crimes, broken down by ethnicity of the victim.

The results have been met with condemnation from charities and experts working in the sector, prompting calls for the authorities to take urgent action to address the imbalance – and raise charge rates across the board.

Listen to a new episode of our Uncovered podcast on this story:

Loading....

Between 2016 and 2020, 37 police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that responded to the FOI request recorded 105,368 outcomes for closed rape cases that involved white victims, of which 7,041 had resulted in a charge or summons. That gives a charge rate of 6.7%.

For black victims, the charge rate was 5.5% (680 charges out of 12,415 closed cases), for mixed race victims 4.5% (66 out of 1,479) and for Asian victims 3.7% (381 out of 10,249).

That means white victims were 1.8 times more likely to see their rapists charged than Asian victims, a category that usually covers ethnicities from the Indian subcontinent such as India and Bangladesh and South East Asian backgrounds.

The vast majority of police forces had higher charge rates for white victims than black, Asian and mixed race victims – although not all even recorded when a person was of mixed race.

Ten did not bring a single charge over the rape of a black victim over the five-year period, despite recording 148 crimes between them.

Loading....

It was a similar story for sexual assault cases. The charge rate for white victims was 10.7% (11,821 charges out of 110,557 closed cases), 9.3% for black victims (945 out of 10,162), 8.9% for mixed race (108 out of 1,210), and 8.4% for Asian (748 out of 8,860).

Thirty police forces provided data on domestic abuse-related cases, which can cover a range of crimes from common assault and stalking, to arson and sexual violence.

The figures showed they were 1.6 times more likely to charge abusers of white victims than Asian, and 1.5 times more likely to charge abusers of white victims than black victims.

Between them, charges were brought in 12.3% of cases with white victims (156,180 out of 1.27 million), 9.7% for mixed race victims (1,126 out of 11,605), 8.2% for black (3,282 out of 40,103) and 7.7% for Asians (6,100 out of 78,775).

Rebecca Hitchen, head of policy and campaigns at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, called the figures “wholly unacceptable”, if unsurprising, adding: “Racism is woven into the fabric of society – including our justice agencies.”

Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, said previous research from the charity Imkaan had highlighted how the criminal justice system failed black and minority victims.

“This important investigation further supports the need for police to robustly record and report ethnicity data for victims of rape, sexual violence, and domestic abuse, so that we can fully evidence the scale of this discrimination and begin to address it,” she said.

Loading....

Race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust said the figures showed the justice gap facing minority victims of gendered violence “very clearly”.

“The statistics in and of themselves are not hugely shocking but that doesn’t stop them from being horrifying,” said senior policy officer Alba Kapoor.

“I think doubtlessly we need to be thinking carefully about the relationship between women and the police force more generally, but specifically black and ethnic minority women who are so often forgotten in this conversation.

“It’s urgent that now as these forces take time to think about what needs to happen to address gendered violence, they think about what’s happening to black and ethnic minority women and how they can be better supported.”

The data collected by NationalWorld does not reveal why cases did not result in charges. There are many outcomes police forces can record, such as evidential difficulties, or a victim not supporting further action.

A report published last year by Imkaan highlighted how often a lack of trust in the police is to blame for ethnic minority victims not reporting crimes or engaging with authorities, something linked to both “historic and current over-policing” of such communities and a feeling they are being discriminated against when they do so.

“Minoritised women from particular contexts and communities are more likely to be criminalised, viewed as complicit in violence towards them and thus less likely to be considered ‘victims’ of sexual violence,” the report added.

Ms Kapoor said questions about what is behind the disparity in charge rates are for police forces to answer – not victims themselves.

“Something organisations who are working with black and ethnic minority women in particular, in refuges, have been highlighting for a long time, is that there is a lot of fear around reporting and engaging with the police and we can see why, it’s because experiences of victims can be very negative,” she said.

“I think this points to broader questions about the support in place for victims who are suffering from gendered violence, what relationships black and ethnic minority victims have to the criminal justice system, to the Crown Prosecution Service, to police forces.

“Are police forces getting the training they need to engage black and ethnic minority victims in an adequate way?

“Do black and ethnic minority victims have access to the legal advice and support that they need in making a charge and ensuring that they feel comfortable in relation to that?”

The Runnymede Trust joined the Domestic Abuse Commissioner in calling for urgent improvements to the data collected by police forces.

It comes after Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies (HMIC) warned in a report in September that “major data gaps” on the characteristics of victims were preventing proper scrutiny and accountability, impeding police chiefs’ ability to spot areas of concern and take remedial action.

There were numerous inconsistencies in the data provided to NationalWorld, with significant differences between the ethnic categories in use and large numbers of cases left with no ethnicity recorded.

Some forces did not have a mixed race category. Some used broad, vague categories such as northern or southern european, rather than more specific, commonly used categories like ‘white British’, ‘white Irish’, and ‘white other’. One force used the category ‘oriental’, an outdated term now considered offensive.

The data was also a mix of the ethnicity victims defined themselves by, and the ethnicity an officer perceived them to be.

Where possible, NationalWorld included Chinese victims under Asian, following Office for National Statistics guidance, but some forces may have included them under a catch-all ‘other’ category, along with Middle Eastern or Arab people.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said NationalWorld’s figures were “a stark reminder” that charge rates in sexual violence are too low across the board, but recognised that they are even lower for minority victims.

Temporary Chief Constable Sarah Crew, NPCC lead for rape, said: “We must, and are, doing everything in our power to improve them.

“The developments that need to take place are broader than policing and we will continue to play our part in the whole criminal justice wide overhaul.

“It is incredibly important for us to understand the experiences of minority groups. We need to know where the barriers are and we need to work with focus and determination to dismantle them, whether that is reporting, at charge or at trial.”

Forces across the country are responding to the concerns raised by HMIC, to improve data quality and accuracy, she added.

The Home Office said it has also identified “evidence gaps” when developing its violence against women and girls strategy and is working with the ONS to review currently available data and improve it.

A spokesperson said: “Police forces must tackle violence against women and girls head on, and we have a duty and responsibility to ask questions and hold them to account to ensure the change we need to see within policing takes place.”

A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service, which makes charging decisions in conjunction with police, said:“We make charging decisions by applying our legal test to the available evidence - the race and ethnicity of suspects and complainants plays no part in this.

“We know perceptions or experiences of racism may make it difficult for victims in minority ethnic communities to feel confident reporting their offences or progress with a prosecution. That is why improving victim support is a core part of our ambitious work to drive more rape and sexual offence cases to court.

“In June we announced new minimum standards for rape and sexual assault victim support, to provide victims with better emotional and practical support as their cases progress through the criminal justice system.

“Our most recent guidance on rape and serious sexual offences also outlines considerations prosecutors should take into account when considering the evidence in such cases, including avoiding stereotyping.”

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.