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Chamber and committees

Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee


Professor Alice Sullivan submission of 27 August 2021

PE1876/H: Accurately record the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape

Quantitative social scientists, including criminologists, have made clear that accurate data on sex remains fundamentally important. The quantitative social science community have made this case in an open letter to the census authorities, signed by 80 UK quantitative social scientists, and in a submission to Roger Halliday’s consultation on draft guidance issued on the collection of data on sex and gender in Scotland, signed by 91 UK quantitative social scientists. The signatories to these letters include some of the most eminent scholars in their fields, including leaders of major studies.

Sex is a fundamental demographic variable, which is fundamental to analysis across the human and social sciences (Sullivan 2020, 2021).

While sex is an important predictor of outcomes across the board, crime represents a particularly extreme example. The overwhelming majority of individuals convicted of violent crime are male, and females represent a tiny minority of those convicted of sexual assault of any kind. Rape is a male crime by definition, requiring non-consensual penetration with a penis. The vast majority of victims of rape are female.

It may be argued that, as the number of people who identify as other than their biological sex is small, so the data error generated by recording gender identity rather than sex for this group will also be small.

This argument may seem intuitive, but is in fact incorrect. Small numbers of misallocated cases can have a large effect on research findings in any sub-group analysis where one sex is dominant. Crime statistics in general, and sexual crime statistics in particular, provide a clear example of this.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for England and Wales show that 94 per cent of convicted murderers and 97 per cent of individuals prosecuted for sexual offences other than rape are male.

Meanwhile, trans identification among men convicted of custodial offences is certainly high enough to affect the data: one in 50 male prisoners in England and Wales identify as trans.

The issue of rapists identifying as women is not hypothetical. The ONS has published Crown Prosecution Service data for England and Wales. Rape is classified as a male crime in UK law, and females can only be charged with rape as an accomplice. Documented instances of females being charged with rape as an accomplice are rare. Yet, between 2012 and 2018, this data shows that the proportion of rape defendants classified as women varied between 1.2 per cent and 1.8 per cent. During this seven-year period, 436 individuals prosecuted for rape were recorded as women.

Sex and gender identity are distinct variables. We can respect people’s gender identities without denying the material reality of sex. Ideally, crime statistics should record both variables. It is vital that information on sex is recorded, given the importance of sex in itself, and its intersection with other variables, including gender identity.

Ultimately, we need to remember what crime statistics are for. Such statistics do not exist to affirm the identities of the perpetrators of crime. They exist to further our understanding of crime. The accuracy of such statistics is vital, both as a foundation for data analysis, and to ensure that public trust is not undermined.

References

Sullivan, A. (2020). Sex and the census: why surveys should not conflate sex and gender identity. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 23(5), 517-524. [Open access version SSRN]

Sullivan, A. (2021). Sex and the Office for National Statistics: A Case Study in Policy Capture. The Political Quarterly. [Open access]


Related correspondences

Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee

Petitioner submission of 7 June 2021

PE1876/A - Accurately record the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape

Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee

Martin A. Neill submission of 25 July 2021

PE1876/B - Accurately record the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape

Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee

Kate Buchanan submission of 26 July 2021

PE1876/C - Accurately record the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape

Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee

Anne Marie Docherty submission of 26 July 2021

PE1876/D - Accurately record the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape

Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee

Mary Gordon submission of 28 July 2021

PE1876/E - Accurately record the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape

Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee

Dr Laetitia Pichevin submission of 27 August 2021

PE1876/F: Accurately record the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape

Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee

Frontline Feminists Scotland submission of 29 August 2021

PE1876/G: Accurately record the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape

Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee

Professor Alice Sullivan submission of 27 August 2021

PE1876/H: Accurately record the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape