Rape victims face a potential “culture of disbelief” when they come forward to police after new figures revealed wide differences in how forces treated reports of the most serious sex crimes.
An examination of the 43 police forces in England and Wales revealed that one registered a third of reported rapes as “no crimes” after receiving new information - while another downgraded only three per cent of cases.
Rape charities said that the figures suggested that a culture of scepticism remained in some forces after a series of high-profile scandals linked to the way rape cases had previously been handled.
A watchdog’s investigation into a specialist sex-crime unit’s operations in London five years ago revealed that officers pressured rape victims into retracting their complaints to improve detection rates.
The number of recorded rapes has increased steadily with about 10,000 attacks on adults and 6,000 on children in the year to March 2013. The increase is attributed in part to a surge in people coming forward following the unmasking of Jimmy Savile as a serial abuser.
However, only a fifth of those raped or sexually assaulted are believed to report it to the police in part because of concerns about how they will be treated by the criminal justice system.
“This is not a surprise to us,” said Professor Liz Kelly, chair of the End Violence Against Women coalition. “Our member organisations know how deep disbelief and victim-blaming goes in institutions and communities. But the police play a critical role enabling rape survivors to access justice, so these disparities and attitudes must be urgently tackled.”
The figures were compiled to help forces and police and crime commissioners compare their performance against other forces.
The figures showed that Lincolnshire had the highest no-crime rate at 33 per cent. The force said that it recorded all rape cases in an “ethical, accurate manner” but said that it could not entirely explain why its figures were higher than other forces.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Dru Sharpling said: “We don't measure a culture of disbelief but it would raise a question in my mind about that issue.”