New Zealand / Crime

Low rape conviction rate shows system is failing - Women's Refuge

14:01 pm on 4 April 2021

The rate of successful rape convictions in 2020 was the lowest for more than 10 years.

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice showed 31 percent of all people charged with rape were convicted (89 people).

For all sexual offences, the conviction rate was slightly higher, at 44 percent.

But that is still far below the conviction rate for other charges, which stood at 71 percent.

Women's Refuge chief executive Dr Ang Jury said the data showed it's still too easy for people who are charged to escape conviction.

"If you are charged with a sexual or a family violence offence, you've got a fairly good roll of the dice of getting away with it. That's what these numbers say.

"If the consequences aren't there, then nothing is going to change."

She said it's even more concerning, given the police only bring charges against people if they think they're likely to get a successful conviction.

Ang Jury Photo: RNZ

Jury said it showed the Ministry of Justice's current approach is not working.

"People are being charged, people are appearing in court, but judges are not convicting.

"Where the fault actually lies, is a little bit hard to tell. But it appears the victim focus isn't getting the cut-through it needs at the moment."

She said better education was needed so juries could make informed decisions.

"People need to start better understanding what it actually is they're dealing with, starting to get rid of some of those myths, and all those old-fashioned ideas that really just keep sticking around."

Last year a survey commissioned by the Ministry of Justice found 94 percent of sexual assaults aren't even reported.

The Crime and Victims Survey data also showed family violence offences were at a five-year high, with more than 30,000 recorded in 2020.

Family violence offences charges increased by eight percent last year, despite a decrease of one percent for overall crime.

These offences included a number of crimes such as domestic assault, sexual violence against a spouse and coercion to marry.

More than a quarter of people convicted for family violence offences went to prison, while a further 60 percent received a community sentence such as home detention or intensive supervision.

Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence Marama Davidson said the increase in family violence offences did not come as a shock and the the added stress of the Covid-19 pandemic and economic pressure may have contributed to the spike.

Davidson said another possible reason for the increase in offences could be an increasing trust in the system, meaning more women were reporting crimes which previously have been unreported.

But she said a long-standing lack of focus on prevention activities had failed to bring the number of offences down and systematic change was still needed.

A domestic violence service provider says an increase in family violence offences cannot solely be blamed on the pandemic.

Shine advocate team manager Debbs Murray said New Zealand had a domestic violence epidemic long before Covid-19.

"When you're looking at second level entrapment, so you're dealing with victims who are already trapped in relationships in which they're unable to move, and suddenly also physically trapped in an environment where they're unable to move, there is going to be an increase in family violence and severity for people who have already got a propensity to behave that way."

  • Hundreds rally against sexual violence in Wellington
  • 'Needy, self-absorbed, repetitive and badgering' - Coroner highlights red flags before men lash out at partners
  • One in three women worldwide endure physical or sexual violence - WHO
  • Survey reveals higher risk of sexual violence for gay, lesbian or bisexual people
  • Campaign aims to counter 'shocking' views on violence towards women