Let's start with a few stats:
In 2007/2008, 6.5% of recorded rapes in England and Wales led to a conviction (Crimestoppers).
The number of rapes of females recorded in England and Wales in 2007/2008 was 11,628. 1008 were recorded of males. (Home Office).
(In 2009/2010 that figure increased to 13,991 rapes of females and 1,174 rapes of males)
Shocking, isn't it?
But consider this:
Many reports of rape aren't actually recorded by UK police forces - up to 40% in some regions (BBC News).
And rape is believed to be the most under-reported crime of them all - it's thought 89% of all rapes are unreported (Stern Review).
There are thousands upon thousands of women raped in the UK every year and the overwhelming majority of their attackers continue to live their lives untouched by the law. It would, I fear, be too much to expect them to feel any kind of remorse for their actions. Their victims, on the other hand, may well be struggling to rebuild their shattered self-esteem and self-confidence and their ability to ever trust another human being. And much more besides.
As a society, we should be deeply ashamed. That so many rapists are allowed to operate freely and without penalties. That victims who dare to speak out are let down time and time again by the police, the legal profession and the general public. That women and girls are judged to have "consented" to their attacks by simply wearing make-up or provocative clothes, by walking in the wrong part of town or by drinking too much....
Today, the centenary of International Women's Day, the UK governing coalition published its action plan to tackle violence against women and girls, in part, a response to a review by Baroness Stern into the handling of rape complaints.
Theresa May MP, Minister for Women and Equalities summarised by saying this:
"Our comprehensive and detailed action plan sets out how we are going to tackle these crimes – supporting those at risk, helping victims and ensuring offenders are brought to justice.
"Most importantly we need to prevent these crimes occurring in the first place. That is why we are challenging, and where necessary working to change, attitudes and behaviours."
This should most certainly be applauded. The last change in the law to try and improve the rape conviction rate and stop victims being treated like criminals when their cases came to court (The Sexual Offences Act 2003) hasn't had any noticeable effect on conviction rates so far, suggesting that merely tightening the law further isn't enough on its own.
Deeply ingrained cultural attitudes towards sexuality, so-called "rape-myths" and a disturbing level of misogyny in our society need to be tackled root and branch.
But before we clap the government on the back with too much enthusiasm, it seems the very same government is trying to "water down an international agreement to protect women against domestic and sexual violence."
According to the New Statesman, "Britain has intervened to object to the wording "violence against women is understood as a violation of human rights". Instead, it wants "violence against women constitutes a serious obstacle for women's enjoyment of human rights". It also wants to alter the document so that it applies only in peace time, and not during armed conflict -- a surprising request, given the widespread international use of rape as a weapon of war."
One step forward, one step back.
This blog aims to create a resource of cases, reports and surveys relating to the situation facing victims of rape in the UK today.
It's time to set a new precedent.
And it's time to say to women who report their rape:
WE BELIEVE YOU.