â€œIt is a national disgrace that in 2009 rape almost always goes unpunishedâ€ writes Libby Brooks in the â€˜Guardianâ€™. â€œThis is about systemic, institutionalised negligence. If you are raped, the likelihood is that the police won’t help you, and the CPS won’t help you. If you unusually achieve a trial, the prosecution won’t help you and the judge won’t help youâ€.
The statistics of rape are difficult to pin down. The British Crime Survey in 2000 calculated that 754,000 women had been raped at least once, 61,000 in the previous year. The group Campaign to End Rape estimated that in 2001 there were 190,000 serious sex assaults and 47,000 rape or attempted rape victims. As all figures are considered to be underestimated the incidence is staggering. The great majority of victims never report their attack, and of those that do only 25% will make it to court because the obstacles for a complainant remain enormous. In 2003/04 there were 12,354 recorded offences of rape. The persistently low conviction rate is just over 6%.
So embarrassing has been the failure to deal effectively with rape cases that the Home Office this week announced a series of new measures. An additional Â£1.8m is to be provided to set up more sexual assault referral centres, which â€œplay a vital role in providing care and support for victims, while also giving investigators the best chance to build a successful case. They provide victims with immediate medical help, counselling, forensic examinations and the opportunity to give evidence anonymously, all in one locationâ€. There will be training for police officers on what to do when a rape is first reported. Victims will meet with a specially trained officer within an hour of reporting the crime. There will be additional help for police and prosecutors investigating rape cases, to ensure that crimes are solved and attackers are punished. Targets will be set for rape investigations, and a Rape Performance Group set up, charged with quarterly monitoring and assessment of police and the Crown Prosecution Serviceâ€™s handling of rape cases.
Introducing the new initiative, Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker called sexual assault cases â€œuniquely difficult crimes to investigateâ€. In a clearly coordinated move the CPS last month published a revised â€˜Policy for Prosecuting Cases of Rapeâ€™ detailing all the steps (and difficulties) of such cases. It concludes with the not exactly resounding commitment â€œto playing our part in improving the way that rape cases are dealt with in the criminal justice system. We want victims to have confidence in the way in which we review and progress casesâ€. But campaigners are not impressed. According to Libby Brooks, Britain has some of the best sex crimes legislation in Europe, but a police service that won’t enforce it, a judiciary that refuses to apply it and a government that gives it insufficient priority.