Why good statistics on rape matter - as Labour's Angela Rayner fact checked on rapist charge rate claims

Politicians and journalists have a responsibility to use statistics well. (Image: Adobe/NationalWorld/Kim Mogg_Politicians and journalists have a responsibility to use statistics well. (Image: Adobe/NationalWorld/Kim Mogg_
Politicians and journalists have a responsibility to use statistics well. (Image: Adobe/NationalWorld/Kim Mogg_ | Adobe/NationalWorld/Kim Mogg
"Statistics these bad do not need a helping hand to make them appear worse."

Once again this week I was left disheartened to see misleading statistics on the rape charge rate in England and Wales doing the rounds. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner had claimed incorrectly during PMQs that only 1.6% of reported rapes ever end up with a suspect being charged by police – a figure we in the NationalWorld data team have debunked with an in-depth fact check.

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Pronounced in the halls of Westminster and repeated endlessly across the UK’s news websites and papers, it is incredibly easy for false figures to become fact – as has long since happened with this particular statistic.

I have no wish to defend the authorities over their record on rape prosecutions, and make no mistake about it – the true figure of 5.5% is still appallingly, unacceptably low. But statistics these bad do not need a helping hand to make them appear worse. 

In the same week, Rayner also claimed that 175 rape trials were dropped in the last six months because “the victim could no longer cope with the delay”. Long delays are undoubtedly a major issue for victims – but the statistics Rayner was quoting were also not as she described. Justice Secretary Dominic Raab meanwhile had to correct the record after quoting out of date rape convictions data in Parliament. It was not a good week for statistical accuracy. 

This week data also helped us show readers why the UK’s widespread shock and horror at the case of a Scottish child rapist getting community service rather than prison time was predicated on an incorrect assumption that such a punishment was “extraordinary” – in actual fact, community sentences for rapists are not as rare as you might think

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The issue of poor outcomes for rape victims should matter to us all – and it is not just women this affects, despite what the angry emailer who accused me of spinning “the pathetic poor woman” narrative might think. In reality, male victims have even less chance than females of seeing someone charged when they report a rape, and many rapists who get away with light punishments do so after assaulting young boys. 

On the one hand it is important to highlight, and to keep on highlighting, the profound shortcomings of the criminal justice system’s response to rape. On the other hand, we must recognise that the (deserved) bad press in the area is surely unlikely to encourage victims to want to take their cases forward. That’s why it matters if you tell a vulnerable victim they only have a one in 63 chance of any action being taken if they report their ordeal, instead of a one in 18 chance, and why we have a responsibility, as journalists, politicians, and advocates, to ensure we are using and describing data responsibly. 

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