New Court Laws Impact on Reported Sexual Crimes
Reported sexual crimes in Scotland have increased by 5% between 2015-16 and 2016-17, going from 10,273 to 10,822, according to Scottish Government statistics.
The conviction rate for rape and attempted rape in Scotland is less than half, with only 104 offenders being convicted of the 216 that were prosecuted in 2015-16, according to Rape Crisis Scotland.
New laws have been applied by the Scottish courts this past year. They require judges to give particular information to jurors in some trials, including that many victims of rape or sexual assault “freeze” rather than fight back. This law is to help jurors better understand what a victim may have experienced and challenge preconceived notions of how a person should react.
The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 has also seen amendments this past year. A new statutory aggravation has been applied, which means that the courts must consider whether or not an offence involved abuse of a partner or ex-partner.
Karen Boyle, Professor of Feminist Media Studies at the University of Strathclyde, discussed what she believes to be the largest problem when reporting sexual crimes. Boyle said: “it’s the adversarial nature of the courtroom, it’s the way that rape [and sexual] crimes are then reported in the press”.
The recent increase in reported sexual crimes could be due to these new laws creating a safer courtroom environment for survivors and therefore, more people coming forward.
Being sexually assaulted is a traumatic event, and everyone reacts differently when faced with this trauma. A person’s body will go into survival mode, this is why someone might fight back, freeze or not be able to recall parts of the incident.
Rape Crisis Scotland works to overcome the obstacles sexual assault survivors face after an incident. The organisation provides helplines, information, and public awareness campaigns like I Just Froze to support survivors.
I Just Froze is aimed to challenge common misconceptions that there are right and wrong ways to react to an assault. With videos, postcards, and informational reading on their website, Rape Crisis Scotland raises awareness of sexual violence and campaigns for change.