UK

Rape prevention work needed, says senior police officer

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Media captionDep Asst Commissioner Martin Hewitt: "There are still societal issues which leave people feeling they may be partly to blame or won't be believed"

Police in England and Wales are being urged to be more proactive in their efforts to prevent rapes.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said forces have been too "reactive" up until now.

He wants police to focus on people who are vulnerable to abuse and institutions where intelligence suggests abuse is taking place.

His comments come at the start of a week-long campaign to encourage rape victims to come forward.

Mr Hewitt, the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) lead for adult sexual offences, said debate on the issue was "far too often" restricted to investigation and prosecution and called for a "challenging debate about prevention as well".

"Most rape involves the coming together of some form of power and some type of vulnerability; either permanent or temporary," he said.

"We need to be utilising all our powers and tactics to understand how this happens, to mitigate the vulnerability and reduce the opportunities for that power to be abused."

'Putting people off'

Mr Hewitt said the rape conviction rate was at an "all-time high" but victims should be made aware that more than a third of rape prosecutions did not end in a conviction.

"We need to be honest about the challenges that are faced in investigating and prosecuting rape," he said.

In 2012-13, 3,692 rape prosecutions were brought in England and Wales and 63% of these resulted in convictions, Acpo said.

Mr Hewitt added that only about 20 to 25% of victims reported their attacks to the police.

There were some "misapprehensions" about the service they would get from the police and concerns about the court system, he told BBC Radio 5 live.

"A lot of people feel that they will be questioned or they will be seen as being culpable.

"So the message that I want to give is you will be listened to, you will be believed, and that it is really important for people to report these offences so we understand how much of this crime is happening," he said.

Five-year low

In the six months from October last year, reports of sex offences were up 9% on the same period a year before.

This rise came after the broadcast of an ITV documentary revealing the sex offences committed by the late TV presenter Jimmy Savile, who has since been described by police as a "prolific, predatory sex offender".

But last month it emerged that the number of rape allegations handed to prosecutors in England and Wales had hit a five-year low - despite a 30% increase in the number of rapes being reported to police.

Police sent 5,404 rape cases to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in 2012/13 out of more than 17,000 reports, figures suggested.

Jordan Hart, 18, a rape victim whose attacker was jailed for 11 years, has waived her legal right to anonymity to support the campaign and encourage more victims to come forward.

"Reporting to the police gave me peace of mind, knowing I hadn't been beaten by him," she said.

She said a specialist officer gave her advice and guidance, adding: "I didn't do anything alone."

Courage

Javed Khan, of Victim Support, said victims needed to know they would be taken seriously and treated sensitively as it took a "great deal of courage" to come forward.

Lisa Longstaff, from the campaign group Women Against Rape, said the more important issue was the number of rape convictions.

"The real problem that women have is that they go to the police and report and the person is investigated and yet nothing's done.

"And even worse than that, too many of the cases are closed, people are being given cautions or they're just saying no further action."

Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said it was vital that victims felt confident that if they reported rape or sexual offending their case would be dealt with "thoroughly and sensitively".

She said that was why the CPS had rolled out specialist units dedicated to handling these cases across the country.

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