'Rape has effectively been decriminalised' - anger at low charge rates for sexual and violent crimes

"Men know that if they rape a woman, nothing will ever happen."

Those are the words of a rape crisis centre boss, who says charges and convictions for sexual violence against women remain so low that rape has effectively been decriminalised in the UK.

Exclusive figures uncovered by ITV News West Country show just six per cent of reported sexual offences against women in Devon and Cornwall result in the alleged offender being charged.

The Crown Prosecution Service decided the majority of crimes did not have sufficient evidence to go to court.

CEO of Devon Rape Crisis Caroline Voaden described the figures as staggering.

"In the UK today rape has effectively been decriminalised," she said.

"We talk a lot about educating young men around consent and relationships, but the truth is that men know that if they rape a woman, nothing will ever happen.

"We find that actually victims are further damaged by the criminal justice process.

"They've already gone through this awful thing, and then more damage is caused by our criminal justice system."

Legal experts say the system can prevent victims from speaking up.

Dr Charlotte Bishop, senior lecturer at University of Exeter Law School, said: "The evidence gathering can be really intrusive for victims, a lot of them are withdrawing their support when they're told they have to give their phone over to the police.

"It has to be what the jury are going to be convinced by and there's so much victim blaming."

Devon and Cornwall Police say they have an action plan to improve outcomes in such cases.

Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Steve Parker said: "We have invested over 150 officers in a new domestic abuse team. We are working with the CPS in the way the criminal justice system works to support victims.

"We have had real take-up in the 'Street Safe' app, where people can report where they feel unsafe. That's allowing us to target our patrols and make the best use of our resources to help women feel safer.

"We are committed to improving our performance and increasing the number of positive outcomes we have for these sorts of offences."

Devon and Cornwall Police bosses say they are committed to making changes. Credit: ITV News

A CPS spokesperson said: "Delivering justice for victims is a priority for the CPS and we are committed to increasing the number of cases of rape, sexual assault and violence against women that we bring to court."

They added the CPS is working closely with police forces in the South West to "achieve this aim".

"This work includes a joint CPS and police initiative called Operation Soteria, which is designed to improve collaborative working, drive reform in the way rape and serious sexual offence cases are handled and increase the number of cases that appear before the court," they said.

"We are now beginning to see the positive impact of this work. Nationally over the past year and half, the CPS has seen a 37% increase in referrals from the police, and a 32% increase in the volume of charges for adult rape offences.

"We recognise that this is just the start and we will continue to work with our partners in the police to innovate and improve the way we work and build confidence in the criminal justice system."