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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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.
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?
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.