Ken Clarke’s controversial remarks last week that some types of rape are more serious than others, which appeared to suggest that date rape is not a ‘serious, proper rape’, come in complete contrast to general public opinion, our latest poll for the Sunday Times shows. Mr Clarke has since said that he did not intend to suggest this, and that he thinks all rape is serious.

Mr Clarke came into difficulties when discussing the Government’s proposal to give reduced sentences to people who plead guilty to a crime at the earliest opportunity. Currently in England and Wales, people who admit to a crime at the earliest opportunity have their sentences reduced by up to a third. The Government is considering raising this to a 50% reduction in a bid to increase the number of criminals who plead guilty. This was thought to be of particular benefit in rape cases, where the victim could avoid a long drawn out court case. Conviction rates for this most serious of crimes remain woefully low and too often the burden of proof falls on the victim. Government thought is that by encouraging more attackers to plead guilty this could help get victims the justice they rightly deserve.

YouGov polled 2,691 British adults on their opinions to Clarke’s comments, on reduced sentences for guilty pleas, and more generally on situations where the attacker should or should not be considered for a lesser sentence.

Our poll finds public opinion strongly opposed to the proposal of reduced sentences for guilty pleas. The results show that only 13% agree with reduced sentences for guilty pleas for all crimes. This compares to nearly half of people (46%) who think that this should not apply to serious crimes such as rape, and a further one third of people (36%) who disagree with the policy altogether.

Crime and rape sentencing graph

On whether there are more or less serious types of rape, public opinion is certain that all rapes are equally serious. 68% think that all types of rape are equally serious, and that any case of someone being forced to have sexual intercourse against their will should be treated as a serious crime. Comparatively, only a quarter of people (24%) agree that there are some types of rape that are more serious than others, such as those where the victim knows the attacker, or how much violence is used. Women in particular believe that all rapes are equally serious – three quarters of women (73%) think this compared to less than two thirds of men (63%).

The public are also critical of Mr Clarke’s initial suggestion that there are different types of rape and that date rape is not a ‘serious, proper rape’. Only 27% think that he is right to draw a distinction between different types of rape, whereas the majority (64%) think he is wrong. Women are particularly opposed to this distinction, with only one in five women (21%) believing he is right compared to a third of men (34%) who do so. Mr Clarke has since apologised for his remarks and has said they were misinterpreted.

We asked respondents whether certain circumstances - such as what the woman was wearing at the time, or whether the man and the woman already knew each other well, should be taken into consideration by the judge when the sentence is being decided.

The below tables shows the overall scores for each situation and gives the net score, of those who think it should be taken into consideration minus those who think it should not.

Yes, the judge should be able to take this into account % No, the judge should not take this into account % Net score (yes minus no) Net score: men Net score: women
If the woman had willingly gone home with the man, but did not consent to have sex 31 59 -28 -17 -37
If witnesses say the woman appeared to be flirting with the man, but she said she did NOT want sex with him 28 64 -36 -26 -46
If the man and the woman already knew each other well, but the woman did not consent to have sex 27 65 -37 -32 -44
If the man, of previously good character, says in court that although the woman said 'no', he genuinely thought she meant 'yes' 25 63 -38 -29 -45
If the woman had willingly consumed drugs and/ or alcohol when the rape occurred 22 69 -47 -39 -55
If the woman was walking home alone late at night after consuming drugs and/or alcohol 14 81 -67 -64 -69
If the woman was wearing revealing clothing at the time 12 81 -69 -66 -73

The results clearly show that in all situations posed, the public are against judges taking such qualifying circumstances into consideration when deciding whether to give a lesser sentence. This was most strongly felt to be the case if the woman was walking home alone late at night after consuming drugs or alcohol (net score of -67 those who think yes minus those who think no) and if the woman was wearing revealing clothing (net score -69).

The statistics do however reveal that a minority of people do think that such situations should be considered by the judge when deciding whether to give the attacker a lesser sentence. More than 1 in 10 people thinks that if a woman wears revealing clothes, this should be taken into consideration. More than 1 in 5 thinks that if the woman had willing consumed drugs and alcohol, this should be taken into consideration. More than a quarter think that if witnesses say the woman appeared to be flirting with the man this should be taken into consideration and nearly one third of people think that if the woman had willingly gone home with the man, but did not consent to have sex, the judge should consider this.

Whilst overall the majority of male respondents is opposed to giving the situations consideration for a lesser sentence, across all situations we posed, male respondents were more likely than female respondents to think that the judge should consider them. A third of men (33%) think that if witnesses say the woman appeared to be flirting, this should be taken into consideration compared to less than a quarter of women (23%). More than a quarter of men think that if the woman had willing consumed drugs or alcohol this should be taken into consideration compared to less than one in 5 woman (18%). And more than a third of men (36%) think that is the woman had willingly gone home with the man but did not consent to sex this should be considered, compared to a quarter of women (27%).

Public opinion on rape is in sharp contrast with Clarke’s comments earlier this week and although he apologised and said that his comments were misinterpreted, this will remain an embarrassment for him for some time to come. While increasing the conviction rate for rape cases and making the trial process less traumatic for victims are admirable aims, to do this by giving lesser sentences to attackers is an approach that the majority of British adults find unacceptable. The Government will need to persuade the public that attitudes such as those held by Mr Clarke are not pervasive within the Government, and that all cases of rape should be treated as equally serious. While public opinion is strongly against giving attackers a lesser sentence is certain situations, there is still some way to go to convince the minority that ‘no means no’, in all cases, no matter what the victim was wearing, and no matter whether she was drunk or not.

Related Content