Rape Victims

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 29th January 2008.

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Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey PPS (Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth, Minister of State), Ministry of Defence 2:30 pm, 29th January 2008

What steps he is taking to ensure that victims of rape are adequately supported and protected by the criminal justice system.

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Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

We are extending the network of sexual assault referral centres, which are piloting the use of independent sexual advisers to provide advocacy and support for victims, and providing funding for voluntary organisations to support victims of sexual violence. We have also introduced specialist police officers and prosecutors who can provide support to victims and help to make sure that rape is properly prosecuted.

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Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey PPS (Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth, Minister of State), Ministry of Defence

During the past 10 years, the number of reported rapes has more than doubled, but the number of prosecutions has remained obstinately low at under 6 per cent. One of the main reasons for that is the failure of many women to pursue prosecutions. Will the Minister outline a little further what is being done to encourage and support women to do that?

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Although some women do withdraw from prosecutions, a great deal of attrition is due to the CPS refusing to prosecute cases because they do not feel there is a likelihood of conviction. Perhaps we need to educate the...

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Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I think that the figure that my hon. Friend mentioned refers to the conviction rate, rather than the prosecution rate. He is correct, however, that attrition—complainants withdrawing their complaints—is one of the main reasons why those conviction rates are still unacceptably low. The cross-government action plan on sexual violence and abuse focuses on increasing the level of support that the criminal justice system gives to victims to enable them to take their complaints forward, to ensure that we get more convictions. The sexual referral centres deal with that process. There were only five of them in 2001, and there should be at least 36 by the end of this financial year. The independent sexual violence advisers, who currently work in 38 areas, can give support and advocacy to ensure that complainants proceed through what is often a difficult process to make sure that there are convictions. For the convictions that do occur, the average length of sentences has increased. In 1984 the average length was just under two years, but by 2005 it had increased to just under seven years. It is worth ensuring that we send a signal, locally and nationally, that sexual assault and violence will not be tolerated in our society.

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