GCU unveils landmark research on the policing of rape

12 December 2012

GCU unveils landmark research on the policing of rape

Georgia Scott-Brien

A new study on the policing of rape in Scotland has revealed a number of key factors which lead to cases being dropped before they come to court.

The study, by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) PhD student Georgia Scott-Brien, suggests that 50 per cent of cases do not progress beyond the policing stage of the process in Scotland. This shines new light on the low conviction rate for the crime.

Scott-Brien’s findings include:

  • The shortage or limited availability of forensic physicians impacts on the policing of rape, leading to some victims waiting for extended periods of time before being examined. One police officer spoke of a rape victim having to wait 12 hours for a forensic medical examination.
  • A forensic medical examination was conducted in only 45 per cent of rape cases, although this may be explained due to a period of time having elapsed between the incident and the report.
  • The policing of rape in Scotland focuses on specific types of evidence such as the presence of physical injury and the demeanour of the rape victim.  This leads to some cases which don’t fit this pattern not progressing to the next stage of the criminal justice system.
  • Rape cases involving a forensic medical examination are more likely to progress to the next stage of the criminal justice system - 76 per cent of such cases progressed compared to 40 per cent of cases which did not involve an examination.
  • Just under 94 per cent of the cases which feature physical injury of some kind are taken forward; only 50 per cent of those which do not feature injury progress. 

The findings will be disseminated to key stakeholders – including police, policy makers and rape survivors organisations - for the first time during a one day conference ‘Perspectives on Rape and the Policing process’ held at GCU on Wednesday, December 12.

The research was conducted in 2009 with the support of an anonymous Scottish police force.  Most rape cases reported to the force over the year were reviewed. In addition, interviews were conducted with 20 police investigators, seven Sexual Offence Liaison Officers and six rape victims. 

A sociology graduate, Georgia worked as a volunteer support and training worker for the charity Rape Crisis Scotland for seven years before beginning her PhD.

Georgia Scott-Brien said: “There has been no comprehensive study conducted on the policing of rape in Scotland for over two decades. Therefore, this study provides a rare insight into this particular stage of the process from a Scottish perspective and will hopefully go on to inform policy and practice.

“The conference will ensure that my work is accessible to the entire stakeholder community and will also give rape survivors the chance to share their experiences with those who create policy.”

Dr Lesley McMillan, one of Georgia Scott-Brien’s two PhD supervisors, will also speak at Wednesday’s conference. Dr McMillan has published substantial work on which factors police use when deciding which rape cases should be taken forward to the next stage of the criminal justice system. She inputted widely as an expert witness into ‘An Independent Review Into How Rape Complaints are Handled by Public  Authorities in England and Wales’  conducted by Baroness Vivien Stern and published in 2010

She said: “My research, conducted in Sussex, has shown that an uncomfortably large number of rape cases reported to the police are being lost at the earliest stage of the justice system. These new findings suggest that the picture is broadly the same in Scotland. Through this one day conference – and by using the excellent links the team at GCU enjoy with police, academia, survivors organisations and policy makers – we will work to find ways the situation can be improved.”



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