I asked why rapists of men get tougher sentences – it took the Judicial Office eight minutes to dismiss me
Earlier this week I uncovered an unnerving trend in official Ministry of Justice data.
For some reason, rapists of men sentenced to prison in our courts last year received almost two-and-a-half years longer behind bars on average than those who raped women.
Rapists of young boys also received longer than those targeting girls.
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I contacted the Judicial Office, which represents judges, and presented my analysis.
Could this be evidence of unconscious bias among the judiciary leading them to view the rape of males as more serious than of females, I asked.
And could it be a reflection of the male-dominated judiciary itself, with women making up only 32% of court judges?
It took exactly eight minutes for them to dismiss me.
A generic, copy and pasted statement that the press office had evidently sent out in the past to queries on differences in sentences was emailed back to me.
It did not mention women and girls. It did not mention rape. It did not address the gender imbalance among serving judges.
In fact it did not address the figures at all.
Surely victims of this horrendous, traumatising and often life-changing crime are owed more than that?
Gender equality charity the Fawcett Society has called for the Judicial Office to urgently investigate to “ensure that women receive equal justice in the courts”.
This call was echoed by prominent human rights solicitor Harriet Wistrich, who believes the figures are “reflective of a higher value placed on men over women in our culture”.
We already know that female victims, as she points out, are often subject to shockingly unsympathetic treatment.
From being asked what they were wearing, to facing invasive probing of their sexual histories, to having to defend why they put themselves ‘at risk’ by drinking alcohol - women face a host of attitudinal barriers when seeking justice.
As the Judicial Office pointed out, judges follow sentencing guidelines published by the Sentencing Council of England and Wales when deciding on punishments.
The guidelines present a matrix of sentence ranges for judges to choose from, depending on how high they deem the harm done to the victim was and the culpability of the offender.
Certain factors should push the sentence up towards the higher end of the range specified in law, which starts at four years for adults and goes all the way up to life imprisonment (attackers of men are also more likely to get life sentences).
These include whether the psychological or physical harm was “extreme” in nature, “additional degradation/humiliation”, and the degree of planning.
While the Judicial Office says judges are trained to put aside their personal opinions and treat everyone equally, surely there is room here for unconscious bias to slip in?
For judges to identify more strongly with the harm suffered by some victims over others?
Ms Wistrich worries too that there could be an element of homophobia at play.
An assumption that if women have sex with men anyway, their violation cannot be as bad as that of a straight man.
It’s certainly a horrible thought.
The Government says it is carrying out an “end to end” review of the way our criminal justice system deals with rape, from policing right the way through to criminal trials.
I would hope, now, that sentencing forms a part of that.
Because the truth is at this point we can’t know what’s behind this data – but we never will unless the judiciary is willing to ask itself the question.
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