Only 1,070 rapists are convicted every year despite up to 95,000 people – the vast majority of them women – being subjected to rape, new statistics show.
The figures also found almost half a million men and women in England and Wales are victims of sexual offences, including flashing and groping, each year. But only 54,000 cases are reported to police and 5,620 offenders are convicted.
The research – gathered by the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics – will reignite controversy over the stubbornly low conviction rates for sex crimes, as well as the difficulties in persuading victims to go to the police.
About one woman in 200 told researchers she had been raped in the previous 12 months, suggesting that between 54,000 and 85,000 women were raped over the year. An average of 15,670 rapes are reported annually to police, less than one-quarter of which result in a suspect being identified.
Although 90 per cent of rape victims said they knew the identity of their attacker, just 15 per cent reported them to the police, telling researchers it was "too embarrassing", "too trivial" or a "private/family matter". Many of those cases are not brought to court as hundreds of women drop out at this point as they cannot face the ordeal of giving evidence against their attackers.
Prosecutions are mounted against 2,910 individuals, resulting in the convictions of 1,070 rapists who committed an average of 2.3 offences each. The figures suggest that just one major sex crime in 38 leads to a conviction for the offence. Around one in 20 women aged under 60 also says she has been raped or seriously sexually assaulted in her lifetime – equivalent to more than 800,000 victims.
Victims' groups reacted with dismay to the conviction figures and called for a fresh drive to persuade women to report attacks.
A spokeswoman for Rape Crisis said: "The figures are shocking but sadly not that surprising... women do not report offences because they know they are very unlikely to get a conviction. They know they would have to put themselves through a system which is very traumatic and are likely to come out at the other end with no justice."
The Justice minister, Jeremy Wright, said: "Very tough sentences are available to the courts for those who commit the most serious offences including a new mandatory life sentence which we have introduced for anyone convicted of a second very serious sexual or violent crime."
The huge delays in concluding successful rape convictions were also highlighted by the report. When a defendant pleads not guilty to rape it takes an average of 702 days to reach a verdict.