The devastating scale of sexual violence against women in Britain is exposed today by new research which indicates that the vast majority of victims do not report perpetrators to the police.
One in 10 women has been raped, and more than a third subjected to sexual assault, according to a major survey, which also highlights just how frightened women are of not being believed. More than 80 per cent of the 1,600 respondents said they did not report their assault to the police, while 29 per cent said they told nobody – not even a friend or family member – of their ordeal.
Negative social attitudes to rape and sexual assault victims play a big part in the reluctance of women to come forward, the survey by Mumsnet suggests. Nearly three-quarters (70 per cent) of respondents feel the media is unsympathetic to women who report rape, while more than half say the same is true of the legal system and society in general.
The findings come as the social networking site launches a campaign to dispel the myths surrounding sexual violence, which it says stop victims from accessing support and justice. The week-long "We Believe You" campaign is backed by Rape Crisis, Barnardo's and the End Violence Against Women coalition.
Fear of being blamed, because of their clothes or alcohol intake or for staying with an abusive partner, means more than half of the women surveyed in February and March 2012 said they would be too embarrassed or ashamed to report the crime. The stubbornly low conviction rates still put off 68 per cent of victims from going to the police, but perhaps even more surprising is the fact 29 per cent said they did not tell anyone, not even friends or family, about the rape, while 53 per cent said they would be reluctant to do so because of shame or embarrassment. Mumsnet wants to convey that every rape is as serious as the next, despite the contrary and controversial assertion by Justice Minister Ken Clarke last year.
Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet, said: "It is shocking and unacceptable that this number of women have been raped and sexually assaulted. But the stand-out fact is that so few would report it to officials or even to loved ones, because of the general perception society is unsympathetic. If our campaign can dispel the myths and help women realise how commonplace it is, then some may feel more emboldened to get help."
Of the women who reported being sexually attacked or raped in the survey, almost a quarter said the crime had happened four times or more, and in two-thirds of cases the perpetrator was someone the victim knew.
Home Office figures indicate more than one in five rapes are reported as perpetrated by partners or ex-partners. Yet the belief that rapes happen outside, in dark alley ways, to women scantily dressed, is among the most pervasive, and harmful. It means women raped at home do not identify the experience as rape, or report it.
One Mumsnet user wrote: "It makes people view rapists as monsters (which is true) and therefore the man who lives over the road or the man who works in accounting or your husband's friend couldn't possibly be rapists (which unfortunately isn't true) because they're normal decent human beings."
However, the Government is trying to restrict legal aid access for some domestic violence victims as part of its proposals to cut the annual bill by £350m.
Last week The Independent revealed funding from local authorities to organisations working with domestic violence and sexual abuse victims fell from £7.8m in 2010-11 to £5.4m this year.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said: "The Government has ring-fenced nearly £40m over the next three years for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services."
Case study: 'My life was a pattern of rapes, sorrys and treats'
Mary (not her real name) suffered serious abuse at the hands of her former partner. Now 37, she is happily married and lives in the West Midlands
"I met the man of my dreams when I was 23 and my daughter was two years old. He was handsome, educated and had a gorgeous smile.
Then one night he asked me if I fancied one of his mates. I didn't realise at first what the plan was.
It happened so fast and I was so out of it that after a while and trying to move away from him, I just lay there and let his friend rape me.
The next time he [my boyfriend] raped me was a few months later. Everything hurt, my legs were bruised with finger marks, I was bleeding, he'd torn me with the force.
The months went by, we followed a regular pattern, clubbing, parties, new friends, rape, treats and beatings. He'd always 'make it up to me' with expensive presents and flowers and a million 'sorrys'.
I dropped two stone and my parents were so worried, I'd hardly seen them or any friends. I couldn't tell anyone about my life, I was scared that they would tell me to leave him. I thought that I'd be the one to change him. If I loved him enough that he'd stop hurting me.
One night he started to shout at my daughter because she was crying. Then he lunged towards her in a real rage. I knew we'd die or be seriously injured if we didn't leave.
We lived in the hostel for three long months before we were housed by a housing association.
I remember driving past the refuge a few years ago and seeing it reduced to a pile of rubble. I find the fact that cuts are to be made really worrying. The thought of women and children not having that resource frightens me. What will they do if there are no counsellors to talk to? I found it incredibly hard to talk about my ordeal and even now, I can't say certain things out loud.
One thing I'll take with me from my time with my ex is that he used to say 'First you f*** their body, then you f*** their mind' and he would actively seek out single mothers to 'rescue'. I found out after I'd left that he actually planned to lure women into his web of lies and beatings.
It has taken me a very long time to come to terms with my ordeal, to trust a man again. Even now, there are days when I wait for the bubble to burst and everything in my life to fall apart."