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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 March 2006, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
Rape victim video plan for trials
Distressed woman
Some rape victims fail to come forward until weeks afterwards
Video interviews made with rape victims at the time of their initial complaint should be shown to juries in future, the government has said.

The proposal - currently only permitted when a victim is under 18 - is among the suggested ways of boosting low rape conviction rates in England and Wales.

Plans to allow expert witnesses to testify about the trauma suffered by rape victims have also been unveiled.

The move aims to "challenge the myths" about victims.

Solicitor General Mike O'Brien also wants to examine whether greater legal protection should be offered to those who are unable to consent to sex due to alcohol or drugs.

He told the BBC the number of complaints of rape had gone up sharply while convictions had only risen slightly.

The proportion of rape allegations that result in a conviction currently stands at 5.6% out of 14,000 reported offences.

An awful lot of people who are committing rapes are getting away with it
Mike O'Brien
Solicitor General

It follows a Metropolitan Police study revealing more than a third of women who reported being raped had consumed alcohol immediately before the attack.

Speaking to Radio 4's Today programme, Mr O'Brien pointed to a number of cases where judges decided that because a woman had been intoxicated her evidence was "hazy" and the matter should not be put before a jury because she could not say "with absolute certainty" she did not give her consent.

"An awful lot of people who are committing rapes are getting away with it," he said.

'Compelling' evidence

Some rape victims are so scared or confused they fail to come forward until days or weeks afterwards.

The defence often uses this fact at a trial to suggest the victim has made up the allegation - or has simply had consensual sex, and later regretted it.

The consultation paper said prosecutors should have the option of using video interviews with victims, possibly filmed within hours of a rape.

The recordings would be used as evidence-in-chief ahead of cross-examination of the complainant by the defence as it will "usually provide more compelling and coherent" testimony than that given in court months later, it added.

Under the proposals, a psychologist or counsellor would also be called to explain that delays in reporting rape allegations are not unusual because victims can be traumatised.

Juries are also said to find it hard to understand why some rape victims suffer no physical injury, or why battered wives often return to their abusers.

However, the move would mean the defence would be given an opportunity to rebut the evidence, raising the prospect of a legal tussle between expert witnesses.

Meanwhile, the government has announced an 2.5m increase in funding for sexual assault referral centres and new dedicated domestic violence advisors.

"This new funding will work to raise the standard of care, information and support available to domestic and sexual violent crime victims through local community-based support organisations," said criminal justice minister Baroness Scotland.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
One rape victim speaks about her experience in court



SEE ALSO:
Summit focuses on rape response
21 Feb 05 |  Scotland
Trauma of reporting rape
18 Jul 03 |  UK


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