Men warned to check for consent before sex

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Young men need to be sure that a woman has consented to sex to avoid being accused of rape, a new Home Office campaign will warn.

The campaign comes amid low conviction rates for rape cases in England and Wales.

A Home Office spokeswoman said today: "We are launching an awareness campaign on March 14 to help tackle rape by educating young men about the need to gain consent before having sex."

The campaign will begin with two radio advertisements, followed on March 20 with magazine advertisements and posters in men's washrooms in urban pubs and clubs, the spokeswoman said.

She said the issue of consent was central to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which stated that a person must agree to sex by choice and have the freedom and capacity to make a choice.

"Giving consent is active not passive, and it's up to everyone to make sure that their partner agrees to sexual activity," she said.

Solicitor General Mike O'Brien said the Home Office was also considering a change in the rape laws to require juries to decide whether a woman who had consumed alcohol was too drunk to give her consent.

In an interview for BBC Radio 4's File On Four, broadcast in part on this morning's Today programme, Mr O'Brien said that redrafting the law would stop cases being thrown out by judges and increase the number of convictions.

He said: "It may be that the legislation needs some clarification, because these sorts of mistakes shouldn't be being made.

"I do think that there have been cases in which some extremely well-qualified judges and barristers have taken a view on the law which was not the intention of Parliament."

The new campaign comes amid concerns that an allegation of rape is less likely to lead to a conviction than ever before.

A recent survey found that more than a quarter of people in the UK believed a woman was at least partly responsible for being raped if she was drunk.

It was revealed in February last year that only 5.6% of complaints led to a rapist being punished, despite long-running Government efforts to boost results.

Home Office research found that, out of 11,766 allegations of rape made in 2002, there were just 655 convictions - down 0.5% from the previous year.

In 258 cases the rapist pleaded guilty and the remainder were convictions at trial.

Researchers found there was a "culture of scepticism" towards rape victims among police and prosecutors, which led victims to lose confidence in the system.

They tracked 3,500 rape cases through the courts and interviewed 228 rape victims.

Rape was a unique crime because in no other cases were victims subjected to such scrutiny in court, the study said.

And in no other crime was the defendant so likely to claim the victim consented to the alleged attack, it added.

To improve results there should be a "culture of belief, support and respect", more female staff available to deal with victims, more information for victims and "courtroom advocacy that does justice to the complainant's account".

The report concluded: "The most important recommendation from this study is that a shift occurs within the criminal justice system from a focus on the discreditability of complainants to enhanced evidence-gathering and case-building."

Separate research last November found that a third of people in the UK believed a woman was to blame for being raped if she had behaved in a flirtatious manner.

More than a quarter also believed a woman was at least partly responsible for being raped if she wore sexy or revealing clothing, or was drunk, the study revealed.

One in five thought a woman was partly to blame if it was known she had many sexual partners, while more than a third believed she was responsible to some degree if she had clearly failed to say "no" to the man.

In each of these scenarios, a slightly greater proportion of men than women held these views - except when it came to being drunk, when it was equal.

More women (5%) than men (3%) thought a woman was "totally responsible" for being raped if she was intoxicated, according to the poll carried out by ICM for Amnesty International.