Britain's Daily Mail reports that a growing number of accused rapists in England and Wales are being released with a warning, rather than facing prosecution. Indeed, Home Office documents reveal that the number of people cautioned for rape more than doubled from 19 people in 1994 to 40 in 2004. While a caution does create a criminal record of a case, the perpetrator does not have to appear in court, making the response the equivalent of the proverbial "slap on the wrist." And when rape -- an indictable offense -- is the charge, a caution is supposed to be reserved for "rare circumstances."
According to the Daily Mail, the increased use of cautions is part of a wider program to reduce the number of criminal court cases clogging the justice system and to ease overcrowding in British prisons. Under the new guidelines, a caution may now be used at the discretion of the arresting officer if the offender has no prior record. According to the Daily Mail, those circumsatnces might include situations in which the accused is elderly, and the victim required acknowledgment that a crime had been committed; or when the offender is very young and has been referred to treatment or rehabilitation outside the criminal justice system.
Not surprisingly, domestic violence advocates find the changes troubling. Nicola Harwin, chief executive of Women's Aid, a charity devoted to eradicating domestic violence, comments, "I think it is worrying that cautioning for rape is something that is not discussed, explored or explained ... We need to be told the exact circumstances in which cautions are given, what the ground rules are and whether they are applied properly." And those concerns seem especially valid given the fact that the number of rapes reported to the police has increased annually, while the number of convictions has declined from one in three cases in 1977 to one in 20 in 2004.