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  1. Politics
15 March 2010

Rape victim support is as important as conviction rates, says Stern

Major review into rape investigations in England and Wales criticises excessive focus on conviction

By New Statesman

A misleading focus on rape conviction rates has had a detrimental effect on the care and support provided for rape victims, according to a major government review.

The independent report by cross-bench peer Baroness Stern was commissioned last year after on-going concerns over conviction rates, and failures of police investigation.

While the review said that both attitudes and practices had improved, implementation remained patchy, and that victim care must be overhauled, regardless of the criminal investigation.

One of her recommendations is the creation of a network of independent professional advisors, to explain police procedures, act as a link between the victim and detectives, and support the victim through any subsequent court appearances.

Such schemes have already been piloted in areas of England and Wales.

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The review also backed the expansion of Sexual Abuse Referral Centres, saying every police force in England and Wales should have one by 2011.

Stern said that it was “completely unacceptable” for police and prosecutors to lose interest when a case will not lead to a conviction, but added that victim support should be given as high a priority as conviction.

She said: “The obligations the state has to those who have suffered a violent crime, and a crime that strikes at the whole concept of human dignity and bodily integrity, are much wider than working for the conviction of a perpetrator.

“The victim must be treated as a whole person. With rape, it is always going to be difficult to be sure that you’ll be able to prove it to the jury beyond reasonable doubt.

“I talked to a lot of victims and they accepted that. What they felt was really important was not in the end if they could get a conviction, what they said was, we still feel we want to be believed.”

This is a controversial position, with many women’s groups arguing that the police should pursue justice. Lisa Longstaff, of campaign group Women Against Rape, told the BBC: “Women do not go to the police to get care, they go to the police to get protection and justice.”

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