Women, rape and the criminal justice system - Methodology

Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used in the survey. This report is based on the findings from:

The questionnaire

In November 1995, a questionnaire was devised and sent out to all local Victim Support schemes and all relevant Witness Services. The questionnaire results were based on the experiences of 938 people who have been raped, with whom schemes were in contact over the previous twelve months, and the 590 rape cases which Witness Services were involved with throughout 1995. The questionnaires were completed by Victim Support co-ordinators, or the individual in the scheme who held a responsibility for sexual violence work. A copy of the questionnaire is attached at Appendix 2 to this report.

Questionnaire respondents were asked to limit their replies to people who had been raped, with whom they had had contact over the previous twelve months. Due to members' heavy workloads and limited resources, the questionnaire was designed to be as simple, and to take as little time as possible to complete. Not all the responses asked for in the questionnaire are included in the final report. This is because some of the information was difficult for respondents to obtain or because certain questions were not applicable - for example, police chaperones only operate in some parts of the country.

Respondents were asked to include all referrals, even when they were not certain of the outcome of every case. Some cases take longer than twelve months to come to court, if they come to court at all. This means that the outcomes of 30% of the cases included in the survey are not known. Delays and uncertainties are unfortunately very much a feature of this work. However, conducting the survey in this way represents a snapshot of Victim Support's experiences over a one year period.

We are aware that by asking for information from our schemes and the Witness Service, we are gathering secondary data based on Victim Support's own records and experiences which carries a different status from the information gathered from victims of sexual violence themselves. Not all cases are referred to Victim Support and not all individuals wish to take up our offer of help. Therefore, we cannot assume that the questionnaire responses are statistically representative of the experiences of all victims of rape. In particular, Victim Support sees more women who have reported the crime than those who have chosen not to (approximately two thirds), when statistically perhaps 75%-90% of rapes go unreported. However, the high percentage of cases referred to Victim Support which do progress through the criminal justice system (43% in the survey sample) means that we have an invaluable insight into this process.

The interviews

In addition to the perceptions of our members working in the field, we also wanted to hear about and record the first-hand testimonies of women who had been raped. In early 1996, interviews were conducted with eleven women who had been raped. Each of these women had been in contact with, and received support from, their local Victim Support scheme.

The interview questions were kept as open as possible. We did not attempt to draw out quantifiable data from such a small sample.

Attached at Appendix 3 is a copy of the draft interview questions. Not all the interviewees were asked all of the questions. For example, some cases had not gone to court, making some questions irrelevant, or particular questions were felt to be inappropriate or intrusive for particular respondents. The questions were intended as openings rather than as specific points which had to be covered. Interviewees were informed that they were free to choose not to answer any of the questions or to stop the interview at any time.

The purpose of this survey was to look at the experiences of the criminal justice system of women who had been raped. Therefore, questions about the circumstances or their feelings about the assault itself were not included.

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