Small Data Considerations for Jamaica’s Discourse on Violence Against Women & Children

Reported rapes steadily declined, but still half are not resolved annually

2017 has seen increased demands for an end to violence against women and children, amidst a spate of particularly gruesome violent cases — many sexual in nature — that have gained public prominence. This short post provides a little comparative data to help contextualize that important discussion.

The headlines: (1) reports of rape steadily declined; (2) police only resolved roughly half of rapes; (3) reported murders of women remained largely unchanged; (4) reported murders of children slightly decreased; and (5) reported sexual intercourse with a person under 16 (often termed “statutory rape”) slightly decreased.

Violence against women: some context

Reports of violence against women are harrowing reminders of the human cost of harmful gender norms. These reports can indicate the situation of gender relations in a society when they are combined with other social, political, and economic information. Gender justice advocates use the prevalence of violence against women to advocate for institutionalized special protection measures, women’s empowerment programmes, and a range of social interventions.

However, weak data collection and dissemination practices make measuring violence against women difficult (unless you are inside government). Measurement by observers requires that data be publicly available on all reported violent offenses (such as rape, assault, and murder), and then disaggregated by the victim’s gender (and ideally the perpetrator’s). It would also benefit from the availability of data on non-criminal matters involving violence, such as protection orders for women in domestic violence situations. This is not the case, however.

While a complete account of violence against women is difficult, some very limited approximations of its magnitude and direction can be made by analyzing some offences where: (1) reliable data for comparative years exist; and (2) data are disaggregated by victim gender. Two offences that facilitate this are rape and murder.

Rape is noteworthy here because under Jamaican law, it can only be committed against women by men. As such, every instance of rape is, by default, gender-based violence against women.

Reports of rape have steadily declined.

By all indications, reports of rape have steadily declined over the past five years. In 2012, there were 905 rape reports, compared to 449 reports in 2016, representing a 50.7% decrease. See the graph below.

JCF Periodic Serious Crime Statistics Review: 2016 and Comparative Years.

The downward trend in reported rapes to the police continued in 2017. The first month of 2017 recorded 40 less reported rapes when compared to 2016 — the largest decrease in reports during this period over five years. The data for February will reveal whether this trend is sustained. See the graph below.

JCF Preliminary Crime Statistics

Any responsible interpretation of these data must account for the fact that rape is chronically under-reported. This is, in part, a symptom of a criminal justice response that often blames, re-victimizes, and demeans women who report. It is also enabled by a pervasive culture of silence regarding sexual offences. Notwithstanding this, these figures are valuable indicators of the direction of the problem. Moreover, assuming that under-reporting has been constant over the past five years, the reduction in reports still likely represents a real decrease in the perpetration of rape.

Police resolve only half of rapes annually

In Jamaica, police only resolve roughly half of reported rapes. From 2012 to 2016, the average ‘clear up’ rate was 48% — meaning that only 48% of rapes were solved or otherwise ‘closed’ annually. In 2016, the rate was 52%. In 2015, the rate was 55%, slightly higher. In 2014, it was 49%. In 2013, it was 46%. And in 2012, it was 40%. The conviction rate is similarly low. See the graph below.

JCF Periodic Serious Crime Statistics Review: 2016 and Comparative Years.

As I mentioned in a recent article, the apprehension and detention of perpetrators has little meaning if the state cannot actually hold them accountable. Here, the ‘clear up’ rate can better indicate the efficacy of the police’s responsiveness, and compliment data on reporting rates to give a more detailed picture of the situation.

Notably, while reports have decreased between 2012 and 2016, the ‘clear up’ rate only barely improved. In fact, though there were 131 fewer rape reports in 2016 than there were in 2015, the clear up rate actually declined by 3%. Said another way, with less case-load, the police resolved less rapes. My issue with this:

“For years, we have narrowly focused strategy on simply detaining perpetrators, and boosting reporting, without the corresponding focus on equipping the police with the capacity to actually resolve cases — thus, undercutting gains from operations and limiting their prospects for future success. The public must have confidence in the State’s real capacity to investigate and prosecute, not just detain. To achieve this, the government must seriously invest in the police’s investigative capacity.”

Reported murders of women remain largely unchanged.

Women were reportedly murdered at relatively constant rates over the past five years, as was their percentage share of all murders.

On average, 108 reported murders of women occurred annually from 2012 to 2016. Any deviation from this was very marginal, amounting to only single-digits, with the exception of 2014. In 2012, there were 116 reported murders of women. In 2016, there were 114. See the graph below.

JCF Periodic Serious Crime Statistics Review: 2016 and Comparative Years.

As a percentage of all reported murders, women’s share also remained largely unchanged. In 2012, women represented only 9% of all murders. In 2013, 10%. In 2014, 10%. In 2015, 10%. And in 2016, 11%. Unsurprisingly, men are the overwhelming victims of murder. They are also the overwhelming perpetrators. This does not invalidate the reality that violence against women exists. Women, for example, are still the overwhelming victims of sexual offenses. All this shows is that like in many areas of society, our experience with crime is gendered.

It is important to responsibly limit the implications of these data. Most women who suffer from violence, do not die. So, relying solely on murder statistics would exclude those realities. Data on assaults, for example, would complement these figures, by capturing women who suffer violence but did not die. Sadly, disaggregated data on the full range of violent offenses remains largely unavailable.

Also, given under-reporting, some researchers use a combination of crime statistics, victimization surveys, and hospital records to capture multiple sources of information, and thereby give a more comprehensive account of the national situation.

Reported murders of children slightly decreased

2016 recorded 38 reported murders of children — the lowest number over the five-year period, 21 less than in 2015, and 25 less than the annual average of 46. See the graph below

Boys continued to be the main victims of reported murders of children, accounting for 78% of victims on average, compared to 22% for girls. The chart below illustrates reported murders by gender.

As before, these data are limited to the most severe form of violence against children — murder. A complete picture would require data on all forms of child abuse. Thankfully, that data does exist, and will be shared in another space in a more structured way. However, below are some important figures of reports to the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA).

CISOCA Case Reports (2014–January, 2017)

The aim of this post is to share data that can contextualize the present discussion. As more data is analyzed, it will be shared. Regardless of your position on this debate, please let data be your guide.