More rapists will be convicted, promises Government

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The Independent Online

The Government says it will increase the conviction rate for rape, one of the most under-reported crimes.

Only 15 per cent of rape victims report the crime, and more than two thirds of those complaints do not make it to court. The overall conviction rate for rape is just 6 per cent.

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker and John Yates of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) will make the pledge at a police conference today.

They say they aim to achieve their target by ensuring a consistent police response to every complaint of rape in every force across the UK.

It comes days after a women's equality group claimed there was a "postcode lottery" experienced by rape victims, with women in some areas five times less likely to see their attacker convicted than in others.

The Government's plans include increasing the number of specialist centres for rape victims from 19 to 36 and running a trial scheme of supplying police forces with sexual violence advisers.

Mr Coaker said: "Rape is one of the most serious and devastating crimes. We know that it remains under-reported and we are determined to improve this and increase the conviction rate.

"We have made great progress. Specially trained officers and prosecutors now operate in every area, training and guidance for the police has been updated and a team of experts have visited every force to put together tailored action plans.

"The challenge now is to keep up the focus on this work and ensure that the policies and procedures that have been developed are being implemented consistently.

"Every force has a responsibility to ensure that every single officer who comes into contact with a rape victim is supportive and believes the victim. It may only take the raising of an eyebrow to cause her to lose courage."

The Fawcett Society this week produced a map based on official figures which they claimed revealed "huge deficiencies in police responses to rape" in many parts of the UK.

The charity added that the conviction rate had got worse in 18 out of 43 police areas since it last looked at the figures in detail in 2004.

The Government pledged there would be 36 sexual assault referral centres by the end of 2009. Rape victims are taken there when they report the crime for medical care and counselling, and they can also have a forensic examination to aid the police investigation.

Independent sexual violence advisers will be trialled in 38 police forces. Their role will be to provide advocacy and support for victims.

Mr Yates, Assistant Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police and ACPO's spokesman on rape, said: "Every inspection and review in recent years has agreed that in the UK we have great examples of best practice and some of the best training in the world available to those investigating rape.

"In recent years we have made significant advances in the way we approach investigation of this difficult offence, but despite that, delivery remains inconsistent and there is much more to do.

"Rape is a uniquely difficult crime to investigate. Most cases involve people who know each other where consent is the issue. But the fact that it's difficult means we need to up our game and redouble our efforts to ensure victims can have confidence in the way they are approached by those working in the criminal justice system.

"My task is ensure colleagues across the country recognise the challenges and devote the proper resources to meeting them. We are determined to ensure the best possible standards are reached and applied uniformly across the country."