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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 July, 2003, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
Is rape really rocketing?
Anonymous rape victim
Are there more attacks, or more women coming forward?
Startling figures suggest female rapes have soared in the UK in recent years, going up 27% in the last year alone.

Are so many more women really being attacked? Or is there another story behind the statistics?

There were 11,441 recorded rapes last year, according to latest police figures.

This compares to 8,990 the year before - and 6,281 when Labour came to power in 1997, a rise of 82%.

Police and the Home Office said the figures had shot up partly because of new ways of collecting statistics.

Women now are coming forward in increasing numbers
Policing minister Hazel Blears
They also said women were more confident to come forward following changed policing practices.

Policing minister Hazel Blears said: "I think it is actually good news that more and more women now feel confident enough to report rape.

"We've got a number of sexual referral centres right across the country, much better doctors, much better medical examinations, so that women now are coming forward in increasing numbers."

Conviction rate

But campaign group Women Against Rape was extremely sceptical that women were in fact getting a better deal at the hands of the police.

"They get a more sympathetic ear and a cup of tea and all that kind of thing," Ruth Hall told BBC News Online.

Women are simply more and more determined to come forward, they're just not prepared to put up with it so much any more
Ruth Hall, Women Against Rape
"But they're not getting what they need - which is justice, and the men being put where they can't hurt other women."

Police were still making fundamental errors with the ways they dealt with rape, she said - including the way they took statements and collected evidence.

She pointed out that the conviction rate for rape was still only 7% - "so it doesn't make any difference how many women come forward, no more people are getting convicted."

One senior London police officer has blamed the rise on rape partly on changing social attitudes, with more women going out at night and increased use of drugs and alcohol - giving opportunistic acquaintance rapists a chance.

Less fear

Ms Hall agreed some rapists were trying new tactics - for instance briefly chatting a woman up so they could later claim it was consensual.

"Certainly some rapists think they stand a better chance with so-called date rape, because it is often regarded as less serious.

"So that does give them the go-ahead to commit more crime.

11,441 recorded rapes in 2002
8,990 the year before
6,281 in 1997
25% 'very worried' about rape
That's a third less than 25 years ago
"They may well be encouraged by the fact that rape by someone that you know, however briefly, is not taken seriously by the courts."

However, Ms Hall also thought the rising statistics were to do with more women reporting rapes, than more women being attacked.

"Women are simply more and more determined to come forward, they're just not prepared to put up with it so much any more," she said.

Perhaps the most telling statistics are the National Crime Survey's look at how worried women are about rape and violent crime.

About a quarter of women questioned this year said they were "very worried" about being raped or attacked.

That is a worrying statistic in itself, but it is down a third on 25 years ago in 1988 - which suggests fear on the streets has actually been receding in recent decades.

New rape law 'will protect victims'
01 Nov 02  |  Scotland
'One in 20' women raped
23 Jul 02  |  UK News
Woman's agony over rape case
08 Apr 02  |  UK News

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