Page last updated at 13:27 GMT, Tuesday, 22 September 2009 14:27 UK

Rape victims treatment reviewed

Rape victim in specialist clinic (posed by a model)
Moment of contact: Review will look at how victims are treated

A review of the treatment of rape victims by the police and other agencies in England and Wales has been ordered by ministers.

It will look at how rape victims are treated from the moment they come into contact with the authorities.

Ministers are concerned that the conviction rate remains low despite repeated attempts to improve it.

The review was delayed last month, when it was reported that ministers could not agree what it should cover.

According to government figures, only 6.5% of rapes reported between 2007 and 2008 led to the attacker being convicted.

Although the number of rape convictions has risen in the past decade, the proportion of rape allegations that lead to a conviction has fallen.

Separate figures compiled by equality campaigners show a wide variation in the performance of individual police forces.

Police attitudes

The review, to be headed by prisons reformer Baroness Stern, is expected to examine why the conviction rate is so low. But she will not look at the law itself.

Instead the review will look at how different agencies such as police, doctors and lawyers, work together.

Harriet Harman: "We've got to catch the rapist on the first offence"

Part of the review will examine the attitudes of police officers because some victims have complained that their allegations were not taken seriously.

Two major criminal cases have exposed serious flaws in how detectives investigated rapes in the London area.

John Worboys, a taxi driver, was arrested in 2007 but released without charge.

Earlier this year he was convicted of attacking 12 women - and a further 85 have come forward to say they too were victims. The police watchdog is now investigating how officers handled the case.

The separate case of Kirk Reid, suspected of 71 offences, has also raised questions about how police investigate sexual assaults.

'Review after review'

Women Against Rape spokeswoman Lisa Longstaff said individual police officers were not being held to account for failing to investigate allegations properly and there should be "less talk and more action".

"We have had review after review, research project after research project and still women are not getting the protection of the law when they are raped or suffer domestic violence."

Chief Constable Dave Whatton, of the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said the review would go "hand in hand with work already under way to ensure there is a uniform approach to the police handling of rape cases".

"In recent years we have made significant advances in the way we approach investigation of this difficult offence but despite that, delivery remains inconsistent and there is more we need to do."

'Cabinet split'

Last month there were reports of a cabinet split over the rape review, with deputy prime minister Harriet Harman reported to be calling for a more thorough investigation.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Justice Secretary Jack Straw were said to be opposed, saying the review would not be finished before a general election.

Solicitor General Vera Baird dismissed the reports, saying there was "no rift" between the cabinet ministers.

Baroness Stern's report is expected to be published early in 2010. She has described the deadline as "tight".

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