Recorded Rape Statistics

– in the Scottish Parliament on 27 April 2023.

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Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

5. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to new Police Scotland statistics showing that the number of recorded rapes has increased to its highest level in six years. (S6F-02046)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Let me say first and foremost that it is abhorrent that women continue to face violence and rape. We will continue to take robust action to tackle sexual offending through Scotland’s equally safe strategy, which is focused on prevention, on improving support and on modernising the law. It is vitally important that anyone who faces sexual violence, and rape in particular, has the confidence and support to report the crime and that the justice system responds.

Jamie Greene will be well aware of—in fact, I think that I heard him on the radio this morning speaking about it—the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced to Parliament this week. That will further strengthen the response of the justice system, putting victims and witnesses, crucially, at the very heart of the justice system. It also proposes to implement the significant reforms that were recommended by Lady Dorrian in her report to improve the management of sexual offences, including creation of a specialist court for sexual offending.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I echo many of the comments that the First Minister has made. We should also, as a Parliament, commend the bravery of those who come forward to report this horrific crime.

However, it is dangerous to make the assumption that a rise in recorded cases is simply a by-product of more people coming forward and does not show an underlying rise in the levels of crime of this nature. That is the sort of qualitative work that I would expect the Government already to be doing in this regard.

The real problem is that the entire system, from end to end, is letting the victims of crime down, from the initial reporting experience to the lengthy delays in getting trials to come to pass. It is up to four years in some cases; it is horrendous. The court experience itself is retraumatising and, even if a conviction is secured—it is an “if” because we all know that conversion rates are notoriously low in Scotland—the victim of that crime faces the injustice of watching the perpetrator being dished out a lenient sentence relative to the gravity of the crime that was committed against that victim.

Will the First Minister, as a former justice secretary himself, make a personal commitment to the victims of this horrific crime to undertake a root and branch review of how this country handles and processes cases of rape? Will he undertake a review into why the figures are at such high levels in Scotland, and will he commit to working with victims organisations and victims themselves to finally put them at the heart of the justice system? Far too many women have been let down by the system and that has to change.

The First Minister:

I thank Jamie Greene for what was a really important question. Many of the points I agree with; some I will try to address, and I will come back to him in writing with further detail. He is right that we should not assume that the rise in cases is simply down to greater reporting and greater awareness, although it is fair to say that we have seen a rise in reporting of non-recent, historical cases. That is the case not just in Scotland but right across the United Kingdom and, I suspect, in many jurisdictions right across the world. There has been a focus on trying to raise awareness and reporting of cases of rape and sexual offences, in particular. There has also been a greater consistency in approach and the use of specialist police officers in that regard.

A few of the points that Jamie Greene raises, which he is absolutely right to raise, relate to the entire purpose of the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill that has been introduced. That bill will put victims and witnesses as the heart of our justice system. I had the great pleasure of meeting a number of families, activists, campaigners, victims, witnesses and survivors yesterday at a meeting to discuss the bill. I say that it was a great pleasure because, out of the most horrific circumstances and enormous tragedy, they have been at the heart of campaigning, through their bravery and courage, for better reform to the justice system. I think that it is fair to say that, by any objective measure, the bill that we have introduced is bold and ambitious. It will probably be the biggest change that we will see in our justice system, if the bill is passed, in decades—some might even say in longer than that.

Jamie Greene has asked for a root-and-branch review of sexual offences and rape cases. That review was, of course, done by Lady Dorrian, and many of the sections in the bill are a direct result of the work that was done by Lady Dorrian. We will continue to invest in the justice system to continue to bring the court backlogs down, and they are falling. Angela Constance, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs, is leading on the bill and she will be engaging with every Opposition member, as you would expect her to. We will take the bill forward in as open-minded and constructive a way as we can, and I hope that all of the Parliament can take these justice reforms through together.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

The alarming statistics on rape are a further indication of ingrained levels of violence against women and misogyny across our society. Scottish Labour has been running a consultation with the full involvement of Government officials on tackling violence against women. Sadly, it has confirmed existing research findings that young girls are being subjected to a rape culture in schools and across university campuses. Many have received unwanted sexual images, which is becoming a too-normalised behaviour. I hope that the First Minister will agree that we need to tackle the root cause of the problem in our society by talking directly to boys and young men in all of our schools and campuses about their attitude to women and girls.

The First Minister:

I could not agree more with Pauline McNeill’s question and the statements that she makes. When I was justice secretary, I had, again, the pleasure of seeing a programme being delivered in a school not too far away of the Parliament, which was talking directly to young boys particularly around the issue of consent. It was a really engaging session. Pauline McNeill is absolutely right that we have to tackle the root cause which, unfortunately, is predatory men, and we have to intervene as early as possible. I support everything that Pauline McNeill said in her question.

As a Government, we have supported and will continue to support EmilyTest. I know that Pauline McNeill is very aware of the fantastic work that Fiona Drouet and Emily’s family are doing, who are using a horrific tragedy to ensure that, hopefully, nobody else has to suffer what Emily had to suffer. We have supported EmilyTest to create its groundbreaking gender-based violence charter, which I think is the only initiative of its kind in the United Kingdom.

If I heard Pauline McNeill correctly, I believe that she said that the Scottish Labour Party is undertaking its own consultation. When it is ready to be published, I ask Pauline McNeill whether she would not mind sharing the results of that consultation with me and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs, as I would be very interested in them.