Understanding of Attrition, Decreasing Early Withdrawals and Developing Best Practice for Reporting Rape

January 1, 2000


This project, undertaken in conjunction with St Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre, combines new crime analysis and an evaluation of the implementation of two linked interventions. The crime analysis of St Mary’s database involves identifying patterns with respect to the profile of and relationship (if any) between victims and perpetrators; the context of the assault; reporting details; repeat victimisation and offending etc. The evaluation incorporates an exploration of the reasons why victims withdraw statements at an early stage, and specific evaluations of two new interventions – follow-up calls at regular intervals after attendance and presence of a support worker at police statement-taking – designed to decrease withdrawals and enhance evidence gathering.


A multi-methodological approach was applied, including the following:

  • secondary analysis of St Mary’s database;
  • interviews with service users;
  • questionnaires to all service users, to be completed by hand or telephone;
  • case tracking to identify outcomes;
  • content analysis of police statements;
  • content analysis of a random sample of forensic medical files;
  • interviews with key informants, including St Mary’s Centre staff, forensic doctors, police officers and CPS prosecutors.

Summary of Findings:

  • around one-quarter of reported case were ‘no crimed’; in a proportion of detected cases no proceedings were brought.
  • There was inconsistency in the police classification of case outcomes, particularly among those that were ‘no crimed’. The vast majority of cases did not proceed beyond the investigative stage, and the conviction rate for all reported cases was 8%
  • Three – quarters of the overall sample reported to the police. Although this was more likely among younger complainants, high reporting levels were also evident
    among those with disabilities and those involved in prostitution. Cases involving known perpetrators were least likely to be reported. The majority of reports to the
    police were made within 24 hours.
  • 9% of reported cases were designated false, with a high proportion of these involving 16- to 25-year-olds. However, closer analysis of this category
    applying Home Office counting rules reduces this to 3%. Even the higher figure is considerably lower than the extent of false reporting estimated by police officers interviewed in this study.
  • Evidential issues accounted for over one-third of cases lost at the investigative stage. This group includes cases where: the complainant had learning difficulties,
    mental health issues or was otherwise unable to give a clear account; DNA testing was not conducted; and an offender was identified but not traced. In a substantial number of cases in this category the decision not to proceed was linked to victim credibility. Consultation between police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) rarely led to enhanced case-building.
  • Victims who declined to complete the initial investigative process and victim withdrawals accounted for over one-third of cases lost at the police stage. The
    former was more common in areas where there was no SARC, while the age group most associated with the latter was 16- to 25-year-olds. Key factors in not
    completing the initial process were being disbelieved and fear of the CJS. Police officers and SARC service user participants also suggested that fear of court was
    linked to withdrawal.
  • Only a small proportion of reported cases were discontinued by the CPS, but this does not accurately reflect their involvement in decision-making, since they were consulted through advice files on many more cases at an earlier point.
  • Only 14% of cases reached the trial stage, with a proportion of these not proceeding due to late withdrawal or discontinuance at court. Around half of all
    convictions were the result of guilty pleas, and where a full trial took place, an acquittal was the more likely outcome. Rates of acquittal were twice as high in
    cases involving adults as those involving under-16s.

Some conclusions:

  • There is an over-estimation of the scale of false allegations by both police officers and prosecutors which feeds into a culture of scepticism, leading to poor communication and loss of confidence between complainants and the police.
  • Police officers’ early assessments of the difficulties of prosecution and conviction may be interpreted by complainants as discouragement to continue, and fear of
    the court process can also act as a disincentive.
  • Alcohol consumption was implicated in a far larger number of cases than drugs. How this contributes to attrition deserves more detailed study.
  • Data from service user questionnaires and interviews showed that there are specific elements that would improve responses to reported rape. These include:
    the availability of female practitioners; a culture of belief, support and respect; access to clear information at appropriate points in the process; being kept
    informed about case progress; and courtroom advocacy that does justice to the complainant’s account
  • From the perspective of complainants, the difference in perceptions between themselves and CJS personnel was too often not just a gap but a chasm. If,however, each point in the attrition process is examined in detail, whatemerges is a series of smaller gaps, each of which could be bridged by targeted interventions.


See Research Report: A Gap or a Chasm? Attrition in Reported Rape Cases.

Grant Holder: St Mary’s Sexual Assault Centre

Sponsor: The Home Office Crime Reduction Programme

  • Project Team:
    Jo Lovett, Linda Regan, Liz Kelly