Page last updated at 16:37 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Attitudes to rape 'need change'

Elish Angiolini
Ms Angiolini said rape was misunderstood

Scotland's top prosecutor has said public attitudes to rape need to change, if new laws to reform sex offences are to be a success.

Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini also told MSPs that the claim that Scotland's 3% conviction rate for rape is the world's lowest was a "distortion".

The Scottish Parliament will vote next year on moves to widen the definition of the crime.

They will include so-called date rape and define consent more clearly.

Ms Angiolini's comments came under questioning by Holyrood's Justice Committee, which is scrutinising the government's Sexual Offences Bill.

Our law of rape in Scotland is such a very narrowly defined crime
Elish Angiolini
Lord Advocate

She said there was a misunderstanding about what rape was.

"Many people when they are, for instance, cited to jury duty and the indictment is one of rape, they have a very narrow notion of what rape amounts to, which is classically a woman being dragged off the street," she said.

"At least 90% of these cases are not like that. They're maybe in the context of a marriage or partnership or an otherwise consensual sexual relationship."

MSPs have admitted there could be difficulty with plans to redefine consent as "free agreement", especially in situations where both parties are under the influence of drink or drugs.

The Lord Advocate warned: "If we are widening the crime of rape, we have to hope there will also be an education campaign which will bring the support of the public to understand that rape is no longer the narrow crime that it once was."

Ms Angiolini also told MSPs that Scotland's rape conviction rate could not be compared with other countries.

"Our definition of rape, which is often cited as having the lowest conviction rate worldwide, is a distortion, simply because our law of rape in Scotland is such a very narrowly defined crime," she said.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill told the committee a redefinition of the law on rape was much needed.

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