LONDON (WOMENSENEWS)--A London-based women's rights organization, the Fawcett Society, recently provided data indicating that women reporting rape to the English police still face low odds of seeing attackers convicted.
For a larger map, go to: http://www.womensenews.org/PDF_files/rape rates map.pdf
The group's report, released in June, analyzes rape conviction rates for 2007, the most recent government data available. It shows that while some police authorities have improved conviction rates, others have convicted a smaller proportion of sex offenders than in the previous year.
Katherine Rake, outgoing director of the Fawcett Society, calls the overall situation a national scandal that reveals a culture of disbelief and delayed responses that contribute to vital evidence being lost.
The Fawcett Society is demanding better training for frontline police and asking the Crown Prosecution Service to change its attitudes toward rape and rape victims. They also want police forces to adopt partnerships modeled on an example set by one county in Britain's northeast.
The organization is also calling on the British government to fund a national awareness-raising campaign to challenge myths about rape and asking for better funding to provide services for survivors of gender-related violence.
The group's data showed that the worst performing police authority was Dorset, in southwestern England, where less than 2 percent of rape cases led to a conviction, down from 7 percent the previous year. Other areas with declining standards included Cambridgeshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire.
Cleveland Rates Star
In contrast, the northeast's Cleveland has, according to the Fawcett Society report, shown continued improvement since 2004, with conviction rates of nearly 8 percent in 2004; more than 13 percent in 2006; and about 18 percent in 2007.
Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Simpson of the Cleveland Police Force attributed the improved record to its partnership with the Crown Prosecution Service, local hospitals and voluntary groups. These partnerships have helped to ensure that rape victims received proper care and support and that evidence is collected quickly and thoroughly.
He says the opening of Cleveland's Sexual Assault Referral Centre in 2007 was a big step forward in improving victim care. As well as providing an appropriate environment for victim interviews and dedicated medical examination facilities, the center also offers 24-hour access to specially trained rape crisis workers, emergency contraception, sexual health advice and referral to rape counselors.
In an exception to many other jurisdictions, all rape victims in Cleveland can choose to be supported by an independent sexual violence adviser from the voluntary sector to provide what Simpson describes as a high level of emotional and legal support.
But even the Cleveland Police Force acknowledges that its 18 percent conviction rate falls short of the results that victims should be able to expect.
In a January 2009 co-published report, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the End Violence Against Women campaign highlighted the patchy nature of support for women suffering violence, with one-third of English local authorities offering no specialized services for crimes such as rape, domestic violence, forced marriage and trafficking.
Although some police forces are improving their practices, it's still rare for them to consult rape crisis centers, which serve the 90 percent of rape victims who never contact the criminal justice system, says Angie Conroy, policy officer for Rape Crisis England and Wales, a Cornwall-based group that conducts research and does promotion for the United Kingdom's network of independent rape crisis centers.
A 2008 survey of rape crisis centers in England and Wales found that 69 percent of the centers felt that they were financially unsustainable in the long-term and most experienced difficulties in obtaining continued funding.
Sarah Irving is a freelance writer based in Manchester, Britain. Her work can be found at http://www.sarahirving.net
For more information:
Fawcett Society's Engendering Justice campaign
Rape Crisis England and Wales
The Map of Gaps report
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