Rapists of men and boys are being jailed for almost two years longer on average than those who attack women and girls, analysis of sentencing data by NationalWorld has revealed.
The revelation has prompted calls for an investigation into possible bias among the judiciary from prominent women’s rights solicitor Harriet Wistrich and charity the Fawcett Society.
Analysis of Ministry of Justice figures shows the average custodial sentence handed down in England and Wales in 2020 following a conviction for rape was 119 months, or nine years and 11 months.
Where the victim was female, as they were in the vast majority of cases, the average sentence was 117 months – roughly nine years and nine months.
But for the 32 criminals sentenced for raping men and boys, the average sentence was almost two years longer – 138 months, or 11 years and six months.
When looking at victims aged 16 and over alone, the gap widens to two years and five months – those who attacked men got 138 months on average while those who raped women got 109 months.
The analysis does not include defendants given life sentences, as it is not known how long they will spend behind bars before becoming eligible for parole and subsequent release.
But rapists of men and boys were also more likely to be given life terms. Of the 35 cases that resulted in a custody sentence in 2020, three were life sentences (9%). For the 452 custody sentences involving female victims, 12 resulted in life (3%).
Rapists of males have received longer sentences each year since 2018, with the gap widening from two months to 12 and then to 21.
In 2016 and 2017, it was rapists of females who received tougher sentences, with a gap of four months in 2017 and less than one month in 2016.
‘These figures are deeply concerning’
Felicia Willow, chief executive of gender equality charity the Fawcett Society, said an urgent investigation is needed to determine what is behind the discrepancy.
“These figures are deeply concerning and it's clear that we urgently need to understand why it appears rapists who attack women are being given lighter sentences than those who attack men," she said.
“Over recent years we've seen the number of rape cases reported to police rise sharply and yet the proportion making it to court has fallen.
"We would urge the Sentencing Council and the Judicial Office to urgently investigate this issue and to take immediate action to ensure that women receive equal justice in the courts.”
‘It doesn’t surprise me at all’
Solicitor Harriet Wistrich, founder and director of the Centre for Women’s Justice also said the figures should prompt further study, to find out whether bias against women was at play.
She said: “It doesn’t surprise me at all. It seems to me to be reflective of a higher value placed on men over women in our culture basically, and so it’s more appalling to be a male victim than a female victim.
“Generally we see that female victims are treated often really unsympathetically unless they’re a perfect victim, if you like.
“The question arises whether there are also issues with homophobia as well I suppose, that’s there’s something more debasing and more offensive with a man doing it to another man than opposed to a woman.”
What the Judicial Office said
When NationalWorld sent the figures with a request for comment to the Judicial Office, which represents judges, it took eight minutes to respond, stating that judges deal with individual cases on their own merits and follow relevant sentencing guidelines.
The Sentencing Council for England and Wales publishes guidelines for judges to help them determine appropriate sentences for rape within the range specified in law of four years to life.
But the guidance requires judges to make assessments about the level of harm suffered by the victim and the perpetrator’s culpability.
The most recent Ministry of Justice report on diversity in the judiciary shows just 32% of all court judges in England and Wales were women as of April 2021. The proportion drops as judges get more senior, to 26% in the High Court – which deals with appeals – and the courts above it.
The Law Society said there had been progress in appointing more female judges but there is still much more to be done.
President I. Stephanie Boyce said: “We consider it of prime importance that the judiciary should reflect the community it serves, as well as the diversity of views within that community, as it is increasingly important to ensure public trust in the rule of law.”
But Ms Wistrich said the gender of judges was not necessarily behind the sentencing gap.
“It may be that it’s male judges but I think actually female judges can equally be more sympathetic to male victims of rape,” she said.
‘Judges are trained to put aside personal opinions and background’
When pressed again on the gender imbalance among judges and possible bias, a Judicial Office spokesperson said: “It is fundamental to the ethos of all judges to treat everyone equally and with respect.
“Judges are trained to put aside personal opinions and background and to rely on the law and the facts.
“There has been a lot of work to increase the diversity of the judiciary. The Judicial Diversity Committee continues to run and contribute to a variety of initiatives for under-represented groups considering applying to join the judiciary.
“These include outreach, pre-application seminars and support programmes.”