The steep attrition rate of rape cases within Scottish criminal justice remains a widespread concern. How such rates are calculated across jurisdictions is complex and controversial. Recently, the definition of rape has been widened and its prosecution reformed to improve responses to rape, but these changes will take some years to be felt and need supported. This programme will collect initial soundings of the impacts of reform, recognising that experiences of rape survivors and public attitudes of blameworthiness towards them have in the past been stubbornly resistant to changes in law, policy and practice. The incremental steps that typify traditional legal reform represent progress, but are incapable on their own of producing the cultural shifts necessary to transform the social and legal practices that shape reactions to rape.

The main aim is to galvanise “untimely thinking” (Kelly) on the seemingly intractable problems concerning the legal and social responses to rape, and to generate fresh ideas.

Programme objectives
  • Capitalise on the breadth, complexity and conflicting perspectives and experiences of participants as a positive dynamic to unsettle fixed thinking; 
  • Identify and critically assess the range of perspectives on what constitutes ‘positive outcomes’ in respect of responses to rape, e.g. increased prosecution/convictions; shifts in cultural attitudes as evidenced by public surveys; increased victim satisfaction; 
  • Clarify the legal, social, cultural and other barriers that exert most resistance to change in this area in Scotland;
  • Collect and share information about innovative change and practice in other jurisdictions which have met similar barriers; 
  • Identify new ways of responding to rape and how best these can be implemented; 
  • Make recommendations for change and reform. 
Key Research Themes
  • Following thirty years of reform what has Scotland achieved in relation to responding to rape, and what further measures could we envisage? 
  • How do we engage and sustain interest on issues of justice in rape across Scottish society? 
  • Can we, for example, ensure that the social and health costs of rape are appropriately acknowledged? 
  • Can existing international research and comparative practices and models suggest new directions for Scotland, e.g. by questioning whether the adversarial process is most suitable for ensuring justice in rape prosecutions; considering the role of restorative justice; the role of specialist forms of adjudication; victim advocacy and representation; the role of human rights? 
  • What further measures are required to tackle the underlying pervasive social and cultural attitudes to rape found in Scotland, e.g the role of education, health, social services and the media?

The programme will harness the expertise of those familiar with these practices to stimulate debates that may produce unsettling reactions. Participants will pose fundamental questions about current norms and assumptions and consider innovative responses, models and best practice from other communities and countries. Participants will include law, criminology and psychology academics, members of the police, prosecutors, judiciary, survivor and health services, policy and law-makers, representing a wide spectrum of experience and persuasion. The potential impact rests in a collective willingness to dismantle barriers and forge new understandings.

Programme Team

Ms. Jane Scoular (University of Strathclyde) 
Prof. Fiona Raitt (University of Dundee) 
Dame Elish Angiolini (Faculty of Advocates) 
Ms Sandy Brindley (Rape Crisis Scotland
Prof. Pete Duff (University of Aberdeen); 
Prof. Pamela Ferguson(University of Dundee) 
Ms Kathryn Sharpe (Dundee City Council)

Final Report


There are no outputs listed for this programme.