09/07/2008

Top Officer Calls For More 'Specialist' Rape Units

Every UK police force needs to set up a specialist unit to investigate rape allegations, a senior officer has said.

Speaking on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers, John Yates, said that such teams would "help raise standards of victim care".

The unit would also help improve conviction rates as rape inquiries "demand specialist skills".

Mr Yates is expected to set out his plans at a conference of senior police officers, organised by the Home Office later.

Mr Yates said: "Rape is a uniquely difficult crime to investigate.

"But the fact 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."

At the moment, some uniformed officers have been trained to deal with sexual assaults, but investigations are usually carried out by detectives "drawn from a pool".

According to the British Crime Survey, 5% of women have experience rape but only 15% victims report their attack to the police.

It is understood that just 6% of rapes in England and Wales result in a conviction.

The Fawcett Society has obtained figures from the Government, which reveal "huge deficiencies in police response to rape" in many parts of the UK.

It was found that in some areas, women who report rape are almost five times less likely to achieve a conviction than in others.

In Leicestershire, less than one in 35 women who report a rape secure a conviction and in Cleveland, one in seven reported rapes are convicted.

The figures showed that in many areas, conviction rates have dropped dramatically, falling by over 60% in Bedfordshire.

Katherine Rake, Director of the Fawcett Society, said: "These disturbing figures reveal that women face a postcode lottery when reporting rape to the police. It is entirely unacceptable that the standard of service rape victims receive is dependent on where they live.

"It is a national scandal that thousands of victims have no access to justice, and receive unreliable and ineffectual responses when reporting rape. In many cases women face a culture of disbelief and, even more frequently, delayed responses lead to the loss of vital evidence. Women deserve so much better than this.

"We are calling on the Home Secretary to end the postcode lottery faced by victims of sexual violence by ensuring that every case of rape is properly investigated."

Jeff Brooks, Detective Superintendent for Gloucestershire Police, commented: "We are very encouraged to see that Gloucestershire is the area where the greatest improvements have been made in tackling rape. After the Fawcett Society published the 2004 figures, which showed that only 0.8% of rapes reported in Gloucestershire achieved a conviction, we overhauled our strategy on sexual violence.

"We have begun to turn things around by working to collect better evidence early on in rape cases and supporting victims effectively through the criminal justice process."

A spokesperson for the campaigning group Women Against Rape said that with conviction rates "at such an appalling level" women call us "wondering what is the point of reporting rape".

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

(DS)

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