As reports of rape continue to climb, why is the level of convictions so low?
Figures released today show Lancashire Police recorded rape offences against 336 children and 492 adults in the financial year 2015/16 - compared to 182 youngsters and 234 adults five years ago.
Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures contained in the Rape Monitoring Group (RMG) report shows the number of rapists convicted at court fell by a third from 42 to just 27 in the 2015 calendar year.
Criminal justice agencies today urged caution around the figures, made up of three different sets of data from police, CPS and MoJ taken over slightly different time-scales.
But concern has been raised about the gulf between reports and convictions.
The report stresses rape is not more prevalent, and “time lags” between recording the crime, charging, prosecuting, and conviction affect the way the data can be compared.
The report also warns the highly publicised Jimmy Savile investigation has led to more people coming forward as they gain in confidence about reporting the offence.
Chairman of the Rape Monitoring Group, HMI Wendy Williams said: “The intention for the release of these digests is to encourage a more thorough analysis of how rape is dealt with throughout the criminal justice process. We know that the data can only provide one part of the performance picture on rape; numbers alone cannot tell the full story and we have worked hard to provide context and understanding.
“We urge those involved in preventing and supporting victims of rape to read the digest for their local area, to prompt discussions about what needs to improve.”
The RMG brings together criminal justice agencies, the voluntary sector, and police in a bid to improve their responses and services to rape victims, monitor data and improve rape investigations.
In the 2015/16 financial year, 273 cases were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), leading to 144 charges against defendants - some of which are still going through the criminal justice system.
There were 108 prosecutions according the MoJ, many cases reported in previous years that have taken time to get to this stage.
The courts saw 27 convictions in this period.
The CPS records rape cases in a slightly different way with a “marker” - meaning they are flagged as rape related even if the charge is later amended to an alternative offence or dropped, and its figures show 161 prosecutions and 108 convictions in the same period.
Emma Fisher, a counsellor for survivors of sexual abuse who works at Lancashire’s SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examination) Centre, said: “Nationally a conviction rate of six per cent is always cited which is low compared to how many people are raped. But there are a lot of reasons why cases can’t get that far at court.
“Forensic time frames are often against us - I think the people who come forward and agree to be examined at the SAFE Centre are amazing for having that courage - but the best way of getting evidence is to come forward as soon as possible. Investigations are hindered by a lack of physical evidence and the more time that passes by, the less likely we are to get that crucial evidence which can make it harder at court.
“If in doubt at least talk to the Safe Centre - you don’t have to necessarily go to the police. “
The report also points out it may not be appropriate to pursue all complaints of rape through the court process, and investigations can be discontinued for various reasons, including deaths of suspects, resulting in multiple records of rape with no possibility of a conviction.
In addition, it says many survivors have reported historic abuse, not with a view to a prosecution but because they have discovered their attacker may now have access to children and they expect police and other agencies to ensure youngsters are safeguarded.
A Lancashire Police spokesman said: ““Lancashire Constabulary continually strives to improve the way in which it works with rape victims and tries to bring the offender to justice. This has led to an increase in confidence from victims that we will be able to help them, and we are now finding that more people are willing to come forward and report what has happened.
“We are committed to preventing and detecting offences of rape and serious sexual assault. We want victims to feel confident that they will be treated with compassion and that we will do everything possible to trace those responsible and take action against them.
“As well as focusing on the actual investigation of a rape, we have dedicated resources in other areas, such as child sexual exploitation and domestic abuse - which can help to identify potential victims and remove them from harmful situations.
“Throughout our involvement in a report of rape, and its subsequent investigation, we offer a victim-centred approach. Rape is a traumatic crime and the victim is at the heart of everything that we do. We work closely in partnership with other agencies, in particular, health, child and adult services, education and the third sector to ensure that victims are provided with a level of support that is appropriate for them.”
The force has introduced several measures to ensure victims are treated with sensitivity and with regard for their future safety, with contact management staff trained in how best to liaise with the victim or whoever reports the crime to get the right information. All reports are attended by a “first responder” trained to deal with victims of sexual crimes and the force has more officers trained in sexual offences investigation and dedicated teams of investigators.
Ian Rushton, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor, said things were improving in Lancashire. He said: “All parts of the criminal justice system are working closely in Lancashire to provide the best service we can to victims in rape cases and to bring more offenders to justice.
“We are seeing an increased number of rape cases referred to us from the police and in the past year the CPS has set up a specialist Rape and Serious sexual offences unit in the North West with specially trained prosecutors and paralegal staff.
“Since this team was set up we have seen a significant rise in the conviction rate.”
He added: “Rape cases are some of the most challenging cases that we deal with, but we remain absolutely committed to continuously improve the prosecution of rape and sexual offences cases and the service provided to victims.”
Rape figures 2015/16
Rapes recorded against adults - 492 (source Lancs Police)
Rapes recorded against children - 336 (source Lancs Police)
Rape cases referred to CPS - 273 (source CPS)
Rape charges - 144 (source CPS)
Prosecutions - 108 (source MoJ)
Convictions - 27 (source MoJ)
*NB Police count offences in a financial year (15/16), CPS counts defendants in a financial year (15/16) (and there may be a number of rapes reported against one suspect or defendant by one victim or by more than one victim), and MoJ counts defendants cases in a calendar year (2015)