Conviction rates "confuse debate" on rape

LONDON (Reuters) - More needs to be done to help victims of rape, an independent review said on Monday, adding that a focus on misleading conviction rates regularly cited by some ministers had clouded the issue.

Baroness Stern, who carried out the five-month study, said there had been some “shocking failures” by police forces to investigate allegations while there were also still problems with court prosecutions.

She called for every rape victim to have access to an independent adviser to help victims deal with the police and court cases.

Stern’s review was commissioned after two high-profile cases led to criticism of how allegations were dealt with.

London taxi driver John Warboys, who was jailed last year for attacking 12 women and is suspected of targeting dozens more, was arrested in 2007 on suspicion of rape but later released to commit more offences.

The other involved Kirk Reid, suspected of 71 offences, who police admitted should have been arrested sooner.

The review said much good work had been done to improve the handling of rape cases but added that claims about the lack of convictions had dominated the debate and might have deterred some victims from coming forward.

The figure that only six percent of rapes end in conviction, cited by Harriet Harman the minister for women when the review was set up last year, was “helpful as a campaigning tool” to some, but “misleading and deeply unhelpful” to others.

“The conviction rate, however measured, has taken over the debate to the detriment of other important outcomes for victims,” Stern said in the report.

She said the six percent figure related to the total number of cases recorded by police that ended up in a conviction, often repeated without “analysis or explanation and a calculation not used for any other crime.

In fact, 58 percent of those charged with rape were convicted.

“We conclude that it is time to take a broader approach to measuring success in dealing with rape,” the review said.

The report also said the government should order research into the prevalence of false allegations, saying controversy over the issue affected how rape cases were dealt with by police, prosecutors and juries.

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison