Revolution in rape law to increase convictions

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The Independent Online
RAPE LAW is to undergo a review that could lead to the creation of a new offence of "date rape" and a change in the definition of consent.

Date rape would carry a lesser sentence than other types of rape and would apply to perpetrators who know their victims. The move reflects concern among ministers at the difficulty of securing convictions in cases where the assailant is an acquaintance of the victim.

At the same time the Home Office's working group is considering redefining consent in rape cases, to shift the burden of proof on to the defendant to show that the woman had "positively" agreed to intercourse.

A second new offence of assault during sexual intercourse could also be created for cases where violence is used but there is not enough evidence to prove rape.

If the proposals win all-party support they could form the basis of new legislation after the next general election.

Betty Moxon, chairwoman of the Home Office Sex Offences Group, said five months ago: "There have been suggestions from various quarters that a distinction [is needed] between stranger rape... which has been called proper rape - and other forms of rape, on the grounds that a rape by somebody you know is not as traumatic and disturbing as a rape by somebody who comes out of the blue and drags you into the bush."

Ms Moxon said evidence from victims "did not necessarily" support this view, and the betrayal of trust in a rape by an acquaintance could be equally traumatic.

But she argued that juries may be more willing to convict in cases where consent was difficult to prove, if there was a new offence.

Last year there were 6,000 reported incidents of rape. Of the 2,185 that went to court, only 675 men were convicted.

Recent Home Office research has shown that only 6 per cent of rape complaints led to a conviction for the full offence. The report found that in 25 per cent of cases police recorded "no crime" and in a further 31 per cent of cases they took no further action because of evidential weaknesses or the victim deciding not to pursue the matter further.

The report, called A Question of Evidence? Investigating and Prosecuting Rape in the 1990s, examined 500 cases of rape recorded by the police in 1996. In 82 per cent of cases there was some degree of consensual contact between the complainant and suspect immediately prior to the attack.

The Home Office said yesterday it was not due to report to ministers until the spring. Even then, there would be full consultation before any legislation was drawn up.