Judges should warn juries about "myths and stereotypes" associated with rape at the start of trials, two senior legal figures have said.
Misconceptions, such as if a victim was drunk, or had previously consensual relations with the perpetrator can lead to juries deciding rape has not occurred, Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and Martin Hewitt, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, told The Independent.
Ms Saunders called on juries to hear directions on myths and stereotypes about rape at the start of the trial, rather than at the end when the judge is summing up the case.
"All of us are human - you're going to hear the evidence, you're going to make a judgment and then you're told to set your judgment aside and (are told by the judge) these are the things you should be taking into account - actually it's better to hear that at the beginning," she said.
Mr Hewitt added: “I think we need to focus on the trial process. There is some really good practice, but I still think there are too many examples where the trial process is very negative for the victim.
The two experts are heading a task force to investigate the fall in numbers of successful rape prosecutions and what can be done to reverse the trend.
Charity Rape Crisis England said that releasing data on rape cases reflected a commitment to transparency and scrutiny of police practice.
Spokeswoman Katie Russell said: "Nonetheless, Rape Crisis is still extremely concerned by the persistently high levels of 'no-criming' today's data reveals, as well as by the huge disparities in statistics between different police forces."
This leaves us wondering how many more reports it will take before we see a real and marked improvement in criminal justice for rape survivors.
She said that the figures show that little has changed since a 2012 report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), which highlighted concerns around inconsistent and inadequate recording and investigating of sexual offences.
Lincolnshire Police had the highest "no-criming" rate for adult rapes - that is, an offence initially recorded as rape, but then declassified - at 33%, compared with Cumbria, which had the lowest no-criming rate at 3%. The average no-criming rate is 12%.
: "The wide disparities between different areas' reporting, detection and 'no crime' rates may indicate that the culture of scepticism remains in some police forces.
"This is not a surprise to us. Our member organisations know how deep disbelief and victim-blaming goes in institutions and communities.
"But the police play a critical role enabling rape survivors to access justice, so these disparities and attitudes must be urgently tackled."
Rape charities and women's rights groups said data, which was pulled together for the first time by the cross-Government, multi-agency Rape Monitoring Group (RMG), revealed disparities and attitudes which must be "urgently tackled".
A postcode lottery in the way rape cases are handled by police has been highlighted by figures showing wide variations between forces across England and Wales, it is claimed.
Differences in the rate of recorded rapes, charges or cautions for the offence and records later declassified as a "no-crime" incident have raised fears of a "culture of disbelief" among some of the 43 forces covered by the data.
Among key contrasts, Northamptonshire Police had the highest rate of recorded rape at 34.8 per 100,000 adults in the year to March 2013, while Durham Police had the lowest at 9.8 per 100,000 adults. The average is 22 rapes recorded per 100,000 adults.
Rape and sex crimes are "unique" in the "way that it affects the victim" and their individual needs, a senior police officer told Daybreak.
Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt spoke about how forces up and down the country needed to be more proactive in their approach to policing rape.
There were some measures already in place, he explained: "We put training in place to make sure that everyone who potentially comes into contact with that person has the knowledge to put them to the specialist."
More victims of sex crimes are coming forward to report them to the police, a group of police chiefs have said.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said the increase was the largest rise since the current system of recording standards in policing was introduced.
According to ACPO:
- In 2012/13, 3,692 rape prosecutions were brought with 63.2% of these cases resulting in convictions.
- This was a 5.5% increase from 2008/9.
- The public debate about sex offences, particularly non recent child abuse, may have been responsible for this increase.
Police forces in England and Wales should do more to prevent rape rather than just react to reports of sex crimes, a senior police officer has said.
Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said forces have been too "reactive" and more should be done to prevent the crimes.
He also encouraged police be more "honest" with victims about the difficulties of securing a conviction.
His comments come at the start of a week-long campaign to encourage rape victims to come forward.
Daniella Westbrook is encouraging people to report rape after a survey revealed many women are not contacting police because of a lack of faith in the legal system.
The actress, who herself was the victim of rape 19 years ago, says much more support and help is now available and is urging people to come forward.
Reveal Magazine and charity Rape Crisis are calling on the government to devote more funding for independent female advisers to help rape victims through the legal process.
In their survey, 86 percent of respondents said they believed this would help more victims come forwards,
Currently, Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVA) fulfil this role, but campaigners believe there need to be more of them.
A survey of 1,000 adult women in the UK found that 16 percent of respondents said they have had sex against their will. Of these:
- Only 78% did not report it to police
- 26% did not think there was a strong chance of prosecution
- 18% did not think there was enough support from the legal system to help them through the process
The latest national figures from the Office for National Statistics estimate that only 16% of the 95,000 rapes that occur in the UK annually are reported, and that only 1% of these end in a conviction.
You can get help and confidential advice from the National Rape Crisis Helpline: 0808 802 9999