Research into public understanding of rape and consent

Equally Ours has produced ground-breaking research about rape for the Crown Prosecution Service

Everyone should have the right to go about their lives freely without fear or harm; but every year rape robs thousands of people – largely women – of that freedom, trust and safety.

The Crown Prosecution Service commissioned Equally Ours to undertake research into the public’s views on rape, providing the most comprehensive picture of public attitudes in over 5 years.

The research included a review of academic papers, an analysis of language across media and social media, discussions with expert stakeholders, focus groups with the public, and a nationally representative survey of over 3,000 people in Britain. It explored people’s understanding of rape, including common misconceptions. It also identified effective ways to help people understand the reality of rape, and legal terms like capacity, freedom, reasonable belief and consent.

Survey findings

The survey found that while the public’s understanding of some aspects of rape has grown over the past 20 years, there are still significant false beliefs, misunderstandings, and underlying misconceptions. Less than half of people – 49% – can identify common truths about rape, and this figure is much lower for younger people.

However, after seeing strategic communications – reframed messages written, grounded in facts about rape and the good values we all share – more people who were unsure about social issues began to understand and accept important truths about rape.

What changed when people read reframed messages?

Equally Ours’ work increased public understanding by up to 22% in some cases, and showed that values-based reframing can change people’s attitudes to sexual violence.

After reading our work more people understood that most men who rape choose to victimise their partner, or another person they know. They recognised that men who rape often strategise and plan their attack – for example encouraging someone to drink or trying to get them by themselves. They also began to acknowledge that men who rape are everyday people – someone’s son, relative, or friend.

The messages increased public understanding that every person who is raped will respond differently – there isn’t a script. Someone may seem fine on the surface as they process shock, confusion, and fear. The trauma of rape can jumble memories, or cause denial, someone may not realise that what happened to them was a crime.

How will the work be used?

Equally Ours is proud to have led this important research to help make sure more people can live freely and safely in our society. Over the next year we will be working with specialist charities to carry out research on preventing rape.

The research will help the Crown Prosecution Service to improve sexual offences prosecutions, as part of its ‘Rape and Serious Sexual Offences’ strategy, in parallel with work being done by the police through Operation Soteria Bluestone. It has been incorporated into CPS legal guidance, with prosecutors being trained to use the findings in court. The CPS has also shared findings with sexual violence charities who support people after rape.

Read the research on the CPS website

Equally Ours reframing support

For over a decade Equally Ours has undertaken pioneering reframing and strategic communications projects on human rights, social care, violence against women and girls, perceptions of ageing, trans people’s rights, and disability. We have trained over 500 charities to use this approach.

If you need to help the public understand equality, human rights or social justice contact us to commission training or consultancy.

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