How many rapists are charged by police? Labour’s misleading claims on rape charge rates fact checked
Rape victims only have a 1 in 63 chance of seeing a suspect charged according to Labour's Angela Rayner - we explain the statistics that show this is not true.
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The government has come under fire from the Labour Party in recent weeks over its record on law and order, and the rape charge rate in particular – but the opposition party’s claims have not been entirely accurate.
NationalWorld has fact checked claims made by Labour leader Keir Starmer and later repeated by his deputy Angela Rayner in Parliament recently that only 1.6% of reported rapes end up with a suspect being charged by police.
At Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on 22 March Starmer said of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, “on his watch, the rape charge rate is 1.6%”. A week later, while standing in for her boss at PMQs, Rayner said: “1.6% of rapists face being charged for their crime – 1.6%. Let that sink in.
“A woman goes through the worst experience of her life. She summons up the courage to relive that horrendous experience to tell the police in detail about her assault, but she only has a 1.6% chance of action being taken. Over 98% of rapists will never see the inside of a courtroom, let alone a prison.”
NationalWorld has analysed the database these figures are taken from, and found Rayner’s claims are not accurate. Here we explain everything you need to know about rape charge rates, how they have changed over time, and how they compare for men versus women – as well as why Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has had to correct the record on similarly inaccurate statements about the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) record on rape convictions.
What proportion of rapists are charged ?
Statistics on charge rates in England and Wales are taken from an official database kept by the Home Office. Every month, police forces report how many crimes they have recorded, and what the end result has been of their investigations – whether they charged a suspect (or summoned one to court) and, if not, why not. Every three months, the Home Office publishes a snapshot.
There are two ways of looking at the outcomes of investigations recorded in this database. The first approach – the one on which Labour’s figures are based – is to look at all the actual rape crimes that were first reported to the police in the latest 12 month period – in this case, that is the year to September 2022, and around 70,600 rape offences recorded during that time.
If we look at the outcomes that had been logged at the time the Home Office published its latest snapshot in January this year, we can see that only 1,152 of cases (1.6%) had ended in a charge or a summons. That would be the 1.6% figure Labour has cited.
But that is not the full story. Of the original cohort of 70,600 crimes, only 44,200 had an outcome logged. The rest were still open, while police continued to investigate or weigh up whether charges could be brought. So while we can say that only 1.6% of cases had resulted in a charge so far, we cannot say only 1.6% of victims will ever see action taken, as Rayner did. Excluding the 26,500 cases that were still open pushes the charge rate up to 2.6%.
That is still not the full story. Another problem facing victims of rape in England and Wales is extraordinarily long waits while the police and then the CPS consider what to do with their cases – you can find more on that further down this article.
These long delays mean that even if we exclude all the crimes which did not yet have an outcome, the charge rate is still likely an underestimate – we are probably excluding a disproportionately large number of cases that will ultimately end up with charges brought following a lengthy investigation, and including a disproportionately large number for which nobody will be charged and which were closed quickly, skewing the figures.
There is a second approach to take, which paints a more accurate picture of the final outcomes faced by victims – albeit after often long and anxious waits. Rather than looking at the crimes recorded in the latest 12 month period, we can instead look at all of the cases that had an outcome recorded during that time, regardless of when the crime was first reported. A crime that was reported in July 2021 but saw a suspect charged in July 2022 for instance would be included here in data for the year ending September 2022.
The Home Office figures show that 65,000 outcomes were logged for investigations into rape offences during those 12 months. In around 3,550 of these, a suspect was charged or summoned, giving a charge rate of 5.5%. While that still means no action was taken in a staggeringly high number of cases – around 61,500 – it equates to victims having a one in 18 chance of seeing their alleged attacker charged, compared to the one in 63 chance Labour says they have.
The Home Office data however only tells us that a suspect was charged, not what they were charged with. If someone accused of a rape was charged with something else, police may record this as a charge against the rape offence.
Rayner’s claim that 98% of rapists will never see the inside of the courtroom may be based on inaccurate statistics – however it is still worth noting that a charge may not always lead to a prosecution if the CPS later decides to drop a case.
What has Labour said?
NationalWorld contacted Angela Rayner’s office for comment, and asked if she would correct the Parliamentary record, but got no reply.
How has the charge rate changed over time?
Rape charge rates have dropped off a cliff in recent years. In the 12 months ending September 2015, 18.6% of cases ended in a charge. The following year, this fell to 14.8% before falling for a further three consecutive years to a low of 4.3% in the year ending September 2019. It has recovered each year since but progress has been slow – from 5%, to 5.4%, then 5.5%.
Both the police and the CPS play a role here. If officers want to charge someone they must refer the case to the CPS for a decision, but they may decide of their own accord before this that charges cannot be brought – for instance if they have not identified a suspect, have not gathered enough evidence, or because they do not believe it is in the public interest to do so.
What is the charge rate for adult rape victims?
All of these figures (both Labour’s 1.6% figure, and our figure of 5.5%) group all rape offences together. But they can be broken down based on whether the victim was a child or adult.
This shows the charge rate was significantly lower for adult victims than for children. When looking at victims known to be aged 16 or over, only 4.3% of the crimes wrapped up and assigned an outcome in the latest 12-month period resulted in charges being brought.
For children aged 13 to 15, the charge rate was 6.9%, and for children under 13 it was 11.1%. So even for offences committed against children, no action is taken against a suspect over 90% of the time.
How does the charge rate compare for female versus male rape victims?
We can also break the data down by the sex of the victim. Male victims were less likely than females to see their alleged attacker charged, with a charge rate of 4.7% compared to 5.5%. Looking only at adult victims, the charge rate for men was just 1.6%, compared to 4.5% for women.
The vast majority of crimes however involved female victims – 90% of them. NationalWorld has previously exposed how female victims are far more likely than males to drop out of investigations – an outcome charities say can often be put down to victims feeling re-traumatised by the police investigation. They may feel they are being disbelieved or put under scrutiny themselves, or simply that their life is being put on hold during the lengthy delays.
What does the CPS data show – and why will Dominic Raab correct the record?
The CPS also publishes figures showing how likely it is to bring charges in the cases that police forces refer to it. Between July and September last year, it charged suspects in 71.3% of cases, down from 72.8% in the previous three months.
During Prime Minister’s Questions on 29 March Justice Secretary Dominic Raab told the House of Commons that the conviction rate – the proportion of prosecutions that result in a conviction – had risen to 69%. However the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has since admitted the figures were out of date and said Raab will correct the parliamentary record, according to Channel 4. CPS figures actually show the conviction rate was 69.1% between April and June 2022 before dropping to 61.9% in July to September.
However the CPS’s figures do not show prosecutions and convictions for actual rape offences, but rather rape-flagged offences. When a rape offence is referred to them by the police, prosecutors apply a ‘flag’ against it in their case management system.
The flag remains in place even if the rape charge is later downgraded to a lesser offence, or even if the defendant never faced a rape charge at all – and, if a conviction is secured for an alternative offence, it is counted as a success.
The CPS figures are not official statistics, as they are not regulated. Court records from the MoJ – official data approved by the UK statistics regulator – show successful convictions are actually rarer, with the conviction rate at around 51% between 2017 and 2021.
How long does it take to charge suspects?
Last year NationalWorld revealed there was a one in eight chance that victims who had reported a rape in 2020 were still waiting to find out whether charges would be brought as of the end of January 2022 – including almost 1,500 who had been waiting at least 22 months.
CPS figures covering last July to September show it took prosecutors an average of 176.1 days – almost six months – to decide to bring charges after police first referred rape cases to them. The wait time has increased drastically over the last few years, having stood at 117.4 days between October and December 2018, the earliest period with available data.
But this does not take account of the time taken for police to refer the case to prosecutors in the first place. Separate data from the Ministry of Justice shows that for rapes involving adult victims, the average gap between a crime being recorded and a suspect being charged is currently 346 days. It then takes a further 369 days for prosecutions that end up in the Crown Court to be completed, leaving victims – and those accused – in limbo. Charities say that besides the added stress and trauma for victims, long delays can also mean the quality of evidence can deteriorate as victims, witnesses and defendants’ memories fade.
Note: Angela Rayner's office did not respond to repeated requests for comment from NationalWorld. However when approached by Politico about our story, a Labour spokesperson said: “The Conservatives have a shameful record when it comes to locking up rapists. The shocking 1.6% figure — referred to in PMQs this week is the Home Office’s own published statistics — demonstrating the low percentage of rape cases that reach court within the last year. What’s abundantly clear is that rape victims are being woefully let down by this government. Labour has set a mission to halve levels of violence against women and girls, and we will give victims confidence that the system will support them.”