Police fail in date rape epidemic

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The Independent Online
THERE HAS has been a huge rise in the number of reported "date rapes", according to an unpublished Home Office study.

But the study also finds worrying evidence that the police are breaking official guidelines in many cases by failing to pass cases on to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider whether to bring charges.|

The report, "The Processing of Rape Cases" by the Criminal Justice System, completed last November by Jessica Harris, found that half of all rape attacks were reported by their victims as "date rapes", an increase from 35 per cent in 1985. Government researchers believe that a big increase in rape attacks on women by lovers, partners or "dates" may explain a dramatic fall in the number of men being convicted in court.

The report, a copy of which has been obtained by The Independent, also reveals that reported rapes by strangers have declined and now account for fewer than one in ten attacks.

The inquiry was set up by the Home Office in response to a threefold increase in recorded rape attacks on women since1985. That figure has risen to about 6,400 a year, while the conviction rate has plummeted from 24 per cent to 9 per cent.

The study of 309 rape reports in 1996 found that half of the cases were assaults that occurred in an "intimate" relationship compared with 35 per cent in a survey in 1985. It also discovered that stranger rapes, contrary to widely held fears, were rare, and had dropped from 30 per cent of cases in 1985 to just 8 per cent in 1996. The number of attacks had fallen from more than 550 to 460.

On the question of why so few people are being jailed for rape, the Home Office criminologists conclude: "Initial findings suggest that this might be related to a large proportion of rapes involving intimate (date rape) being reported and these offences tend to be more difficult to prove than those involving strangers."

The phenomena of date rape was highlighted in August 1993 by the case of the solicitor Angus Diggle, 38, who was jailed for three years - reduced to two on appeal - for attempting to rape a lawyer in a hotel room after he took her to a Highland ball. After he had been arrested, Mr Diggle allegedly told police: "I have spent pounds 200 on her. Why can't I do what I did to her?"

Rape support groups have been extremely critical of the police and courts for their apparent reluctance to prosecute suspected rapists who have had a relationship with their victim because the defence can argue that the woman consented.

This concern was supported by the study's findings that rape cases were most likely to be dropped if they involved previous consensual contact between the complainant and suspect, if the woman was aged over 35, and if there was no evidence of any violence or injury.

The report accuses the police of withholding some reports of rape by unilaterally deciding that no crime had been committed. Home Office guidelines state that only false complaints should be "no crimed"; unsubstantiated complaints should be recorded.

In addition, it found evidence that many more cases were being classified as "no further action" by the police because they believed there was not enough evidence to charge the defendant. Of the 306 alleged rapes examined, the police only sought advice from the Crown Prosecution Service in 50 cases, most of which were dropped on grounds of insufficient evidence. Nearly one-quarter - 72 cases - were "no crimed". The interim report states: "Despite [a] Home Office Circular which advised that only false complaints should be no-crimed, cases often appeared to be no-crimed for other reasons."

Overall, just 74 cases - fewer than one-quarter - reached court, although the conviction rate is not available. Of the remaining cases, the police decided not to charge a suspect in 113 - 37 per cent - in 22 no suspect was identified, and four suspects received cautions.

Lisa Longstaff, spokeswoman for Women Against Rape, said: "Being raped by someone you know is no less serious or traumatic ... We do not believe these cases should be any harder to prove and this should never be used as a reason not to prosecute a suspect."

A victim's tale, page 4

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