Third of British men believe non-consensual sex with women who flirt on dates may not be rape, poll claims

“Alarming” attitudes to consent and sexual violence may be contributing to low conviction rates in rape trials, research suggests.

A YouGov poll found that a third of British people think it is not usually rape if women are pressured into sex without physical violence, while one-third of people over 65 said they believed non-consensual sex with a long-term partner was not rape.

One-quarter of respondents said rape was not committed if a victim “changes their mind halfway through but the sex continues”, and one-third of men polled thought that if a woman had flirted on a date but not explicitly consented to sex it generally would not count as rape, compared with 21 per cent of women.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition said it commissioned the survey of around 4,000 people to “examine why rape, a very common and extremely harmful crime, is still so difficult to tackle at a time when reports to police are increasing exponentially”.

Rachel Krys, co-director of the coalition, said: “These figures are alarming because they show that a huge proportion of UK adults – who make up juries in rape trials – are still very unclear about what rape is. 

“It is known that 90 per cent of women who are raped know the person who raped them, but for many British adults, the most commonly understood scenario is a single violent incident of rape committed by a stranger on a dark street. 

“This could explain why juries are so reluctant to convict particularly younger men where consent is in question.”

Ms Krys said the criminal justice system was “failing badly” to provide justice for victims in spite of figures suggesting women are becoming more confident in reporting abuse.

The Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) most recent figures show a 23 per cent year-on-year drop in the number of rape suspects prosecuted in 2017-18, despite the number of rapes recorded by police increasing by 31 per cent across England and Wales in the same period.

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Ms Krys said: “There has been a huge increase in the number of women reporting rape and sexual violence to the police and seeking support from specialist rape support organisations.

“#MeToo has shone a light on the scale of sexual violence, and more women are seeking justice. Yet as a society we are failing to respond to this call for help, and this year the number of cases being taken forward by police and the courts fell.”

The CPS has denied accusations that it has been taking “weak rape cases out of the system” to improve conviction rates, amid a row over demands for claimants’ mobile phone data and personal information.

Police have accused prosecutors of “raising the bar” for the evidence required to take rape allegations to court after a scandal over disclosure failings that caused trials to collapse in late 2017.

MPs and campaigners have raised concerns that intrusive demands for “irrelevant” information – such as a case where the defence cited the fact a woman forged her mother’s signature at school as evidence she could lie – hamper the judicial process and frighten claimants.

The number of rape convictions fell by 12 per cent in 2017-18, and the conviction rate – at 58 per cent – varied dramatically by age.

Only 32 per cent of 18 to 24-year-old men charged with rape were convicted, compared to 46 per cent of 25 to 59-year-olds.

Ann Coffey, a Labour MP who obtained the statistics in September, suggested the figures could reflect bias from juries.

“The vast majority of rapes are never reported because many young women fear they will not be believed,” she warned.

“There is still a dominance of rape myths in our culture, including that a woman who has drunk a lot cannot complain if she ends up being raped or that it is only rape if someone has injuries or that most rapes are done by mad axemen in alleyways.”

The survey found that 40 per cent of British people think it is not rape to remove a condom without a partner’s consent and around one in 10 people are unsure whether men who have sex with women who are “very drunk or asleep” have raped them.

The polling indicated a generational divide in attitudes, with more than one-third of over-65s denying marital rape, compared to just 16 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds.

The proportion of over-65s who thought it was not rape if someone changes their mind during sex was double that of 25- to 42-year-olds.

“This research shows that confusion and myths about rape are still very common, and this could explain why it’s hard for juries to make fair decisions if they don’t understand or agree with our laws on rape,” Ms Krys said.

“It also shows that victims won’t necessarily be given the support they need from their family and friends if the rape they experience isn’t understood as harmful or even as rape.”

The End Violence Against Women Coalition called for an independent review of how the police and courts tackle rape, including sentencing and parole. 

Members said counselling must be available to all rape survivors, as well as practical and legal help if they choose to report to the police.

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