Juries are reluctant to convict men of rape in cases where the alleged victim has been drinking, research published today suggests.

They appear to believe that it is reasonable for a man to assume that a woman’s silence amounts to consent, even if it is due to her intoxication. Even if a woman’s drink has been spiked, they are reluctant to find a defendant guilty of rape.

The findings suggest that juries, as much as the Crown Prosecution Service or police, are responsible for the low rate of rape convictions. Fewer than 6 per cent of rape allegations result in successful convictions.

Efforts by the Government to boost the conviction rate in rape cases appears to have had no effect on the way that jurors view alleged rapists.

Legislation passed in 2003 changed the law in England and Wales so that a defendant had to prove that he “reasonably” believed that a woman had agreed to sex. Previously, he had to “honestly” believe that she had consented. The move was heralded as a significant tightening of the law. Government law officers are now considering proposals to strengthen the law by rewording the definition of capacity to consent.

But research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council found that jurors often take the view that silence represents sexual consent.

Actors and barristers took the main roles in 75-minute “trials” that were conducted before juries which then had their 90-minute deliberations recorded and analysed.

The research, conducted with simulated juries because of the prohibition on jury research, also indicated that juries hold a drunken victim partially responsible for what happens.

This is either because she accepted drinks from the defendant, failed to stand her ground against pressure to drink more or did not take adequate care to ensure that her drinks were not spiked.

Even when a woman had unknowingly consumed a spiked drink, juries were reluctant to convict defendants of rape, unless they were convinced that the drink had been spiked with the specific intention of sexual assault, as opposed to “loosening up” a reluctant partner.

Another finding was that jurors were less inclined to see “taking advantage” of a drunken woman as rape in situations where the woman’s normal behaviour was to drink heavily in the company of men.

By contrast, where the drug Rohypnol had been used, jurors were more inclined to hold the defendant responsible for rape, even if the effect of the drug was the same as if a woman were very drunk.

Dr Vanessa Munro, of King’s College, London, who conducted the research with Dr Emily Finch, of the University of East Anglia, said: “These findings reflect the hold that gender stereotypes still have. They suggest that ‘rape myths’ can have a profound influence upon jurors.”

This month Jonathan Hagan was cleared of raping an undergraduate after a freshers’ party at the University of Nottingham, where he was student union president. The girl said that she was so drunk that she could remember nothing more than Hagan removing her underwear before she passed out.

The Forensic Science Service has detected the presence of alcohol in 81 per cent of samples taken from victims of sexual assault, with 60 per cent of those at levels of twice the drink-drive threshold.

The majority of convicted rapists have also drunk alcohol in the six hours preceding the alleged assault, research has shown.
From sex crime to ‘no crime’

  • 5.7% of rape allegations lead to an offender being convicted
  • 14,449 rapes of males and females were reported to police in 2005-06 but of these, only 818 resulted in convictions in the 2005 calendar year
  • 2 in three reported cases drop out at the police stage
  • 25% of those recorded as rapes end up deemed “no crime”
  • 50% of all those that are deemed crimes lead to “no further action” by police