Sex-crime rate triples as convictions fall

Record numbers of rapes are being reported to the police, yet only a tiny proportion of the attackers are being convicted. Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, reports on the alarming statistics and new proposals to give victims a fairer deal.
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The Independent Online
Radical changes to the way that rape victims are treated in court, including the use of screens, are expected to be introduced after figures were released showing that only one sex attacker in 10 is jailed.

While the number of reported rapes has tripled in the past 11 years, the conviction rate has more than halved, a police conference heard yesterday.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said he was examining ways to improve the conviction rate and help victims in court. Other improvements being considered may include video links to allow victims to be shielded from their alleged attacker. Laws to ban accused rapists from cross-examining victims are also expected. The Home Office is doing two studies on rape, including one in which 500 attacks in five police forces' areas are being examined. A second study is examining the criminal justice system to discover what is going wrong. The reports are expected next year.

The Superintendents' Association national conference in Bristol was told that in 1985 there were 1,842 reported rapes of women; there were 5,930 last year. But the proportion of men successfully prosecuted has plummeted from 24 per cent - 450 men - in 1985 to 10 per cent - 576 men - last year.

The tiny number of convictions and unwillingness of people to report the crime is blamed on such factors as hostile conditions and cross-examination in courts and lurid details published by the press. The Crown Prosecution Service has also been accused of being unwilling to bring cases to court because of fears of the credibility in court of the victim, particularly in "date" or "acquaintant" rapes.

Detective Superintendent Bill Grahamslaw, of the Metropolitan Police, said it was extremely difficult for people to come forward and report a rape when the attacker was known to them because of fears the assailant will claim the victim consented.

The conference heard from a woman who told of being raped by a priest and family friend who made her pregnant and gave her herpes. She praised the police support but said the trial made her "nervous and upset". Her requests for a screen in court were rejected by the judge because the attacker was known to her. She said: "At the moment the victims are left to feel they are the ones committing the crime and are put on trial." In this case her attacker was found guilty and jailed for six years.