Disabled women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as non-disabled women, but half as likely to have their perpetrators charged, Now Then has discovered.
Content note: discussion of rape and sexual assault.
A woman who is raped in the UK faces very low chances of having her attacker convicted of the crime. In 2019, 55,259 rapes were reported to the police in the UK, yet only 1,659 rape cases resulted in a charge and 702 convictions were secured.
To get to court and get a conviction, there needs to first be a charge or summons. When somebody reports a crime, the police investigate it and present evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), who decide whether or not the accused person can be charged. Only then can the path to a potential court case, conviction and sentence begin.
In South Yorkshire, as in the country as a whole, the nu mber of charges and summonses is pitiful in comparison with the number of women reporting rape to the police. And that’s of the attacks that women report – five out of six women who are raped don’t go to the police, according to Rape Crisis.
Disabled women are half as likely to see the person they accuse charged
But it gets worse still.
Data obtained exclusively by Now Then shows that, when a non-disabled woman reports rape to South Yorkshire Police, it is twice as likely that the person she accuses will be charged or summonsed compared to when a disabled woman reports.
Now Then sent a Freedom of Information request to South Yorkshire Police asking for information about the numbers of charges and summonses in the region, broken down by whether the woman reporting rape was disabled or non-disabled.
Disabled women reporting rape: percentage of charge vs no charge
Non-disabled women reporting rape: percentage of charge vs no charge
This discrepancy is consistent over two separate 12-month periods:
- Between April 2019 and April 2020, 1,258 non-disabled women reported rape to South Yorkshire Police. There were 54 charges or summonses.
- In the same time period, 124 disabled women reported rape to South Yorkshire Police. There were 3 charges or summonses.
- Between January and December 2022, 1,439 non-disabled women reported rape to South Yorkshire Police, resulting in 36 charges or summonses.
- In the same period, 252 disabled women reported rape, resulting in – again – three charges or summonses.
Note that the number of disabled women reporting rape more than doubled, while the number of charges and summonses stayed the same, at three.
In 2022, 1.2% of disabled women reporting rape in South Yorkshire saw their attacker charged
What this means is that in 2019-2020, 4.3% of non-disabled women and 2.4% of disabled women saw their reports of rape to South Yorkshire Police result in a charge or summons.
In 2022, that dropped to 2.5% for non-disabled women and 1.2% for disabled women.
97.5% of non-disabled women and 98.8% of disabled women are not lying about being raped. But we are all – disabled women especially – being let down by a justice system that is charging so few of our attackers.
Disabled people experience twice as many assaults
Disabled people are also far more likely to experience sexual assault.
Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that, in the 12 months leading to March 2018, 3.8% of disabled people said they had experienced sexual assault, compared to 1.9% of non-disabled people.
Proportion of people who experienced sexual assault
So while we are twice as likely to experience sexual assault, we are half as likely to see our attackers charged.
Campaigners already knew that rape is “effectively decriminalised” in this country. To find that disabled women are half as likely as non-disabled women to even begin the process of achieving justice is devastating and anger-inducing.
Are disabled women not believed? Not taken seriously? Not trusted to tell the truth? Not able to identify their attacker? More likely to drop out of the process?
If we don’t understand where disabled women are being failed, we can’t work out a way forward that stops denying justice to some of the people who are most vulnerable to abuse.
I can see from the data provided by South Yorkshire Police that cases being closed because no suspect was identified in 2022 happened in 16% of the cases of disabled women, compared to just 8% of non-disabled women, for instance. That is a significant difference. Whereas cases where the women withdraw their complaint, the proportions are very similar (35% of disabled women, 33% of non-disabled women).
In the coming weeks, Now Then will seek answers from the Strategic Lead for Violence Against Women and Girls at South Yorkshire Police, the Crown Prosecution Service, charities and campaigners, academics and survivors to try to understand what is going wrong and what needs to change if disabled women – who are twice as likely to experience sexual violence – are to ever see an end to this justice gap.
If you are a disabled survivor of sexual violence and want to talk to me – anonymously if you prefer – for the Justice Gap series, email me at email@example.com.