Rape is "effectively decriminalised" campaigners say, as prosecutions for sexual offences drop 20 per cent in Yorkshire

In West Yorkshire, 4,391 people were prosecuted for sexual offences in the 2018-19 financial year
In West Yorkshire, 4,391 people were prosecuted for sexual offences in the 2018-19 financial year
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Campaigners have argued rape is becoming "effectively decriminalised" as the number of people prosecuted for rape charges in Yorkshire has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade.

Successful prosecutions of sexual offences dropped by more than 20 per cent across Yorkshire, from 8,534 in the 2017-18 financial year to 6,799 a year later, according to the annual Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) report from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

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West Yorkshire saw one of the highest prosecution numbers for cases in the UK totalling 4,391. However, only 3,187 people were successfully convicted – a rate of 72.6 per cent. This was below the national average of 76.5 per cent. A total of 1,204 people were not convicted – a rate of 27.4 per cent.

In South Yorkshire, successful prosecutions dropped 15 per cent to 1,625, Humberside saw an 8 per cent drop to 1,357, while in North Yorkshire the drop was 31 per cent to 627.

Across the UK, there were just 1,925 convictions for rape or an alternative lesser offence during the financial year 2018-19, down from 2,635 in the previous 12 months - a drop of more than a quarter.

This is despite the number of rape claims dealt with annually by police in England and Wales rising from 35,847 to 57,882 during the last four years.

It means around 3.3 per cent of all reported rapes end in a conviction.

Completed prosecutions also fell from 12,005 in 2017/18 to 10,127 in 2018/19 – a decrease of 15.6 per cent.

Superintendent Sareth Humpage of West Yorkshire Police said: “All rape offences are treated extremely seriously by West Yorkshire Police and investigated by specially trained detectives.”

“Rape is an abhorrent crime and it is therefore positive that victims are feeling more confident to able to report these offences to the police. We work closely with victim services to provide support for individuals throughout the criminal justice journey.

“We acknowledge the significant increase in reports and dealing with this is a priority for the Force.”

In other regions such as South Yorkshire 1,625 people were successfully convicted at a rate of 76.1 per cent. Non-convictions totalled 511 people – a rate of 23.9 per cent.

Detective Superintendent Matt Hutchinson, unit head of the protecting vulnerable people unit at Humberside Police, said: “Every force across the country would like to see more offenders being convicted for rape and sexual offences, and in Humberside we are working tirelessly to achieve this.

“The victim is always our priority, ensuring they receive support and are protected, very closely followed by swiftly bringing the offender to justice.

“I know it can be incredibly difficult for victims to come forward, however I want those affected to know that we are for you. When you are ready to talk, we will listen and we will thoroughly investigate the crime.”

Angela Smith, Liberal Democrat MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, argued that the dramatic drop in successful prosecutions is due to “almost 10 years of austerity and the cuts in police numbers”.

She said: “Rape is a particularly heinous crime and to hear successful prosecutions have fallen by some 300 in South Yorkshire is quite disturbing. Even more concerning is the CPS are reporting a fall in the number of cases being forwarded to them by the police for prosecution.

“Our Police forces are now at breaking point and it is ordinary people who are paying the price for these cuts and that is not acceptable.

Andrea Simon, head of public affairs at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, which is among those looking to take legal action against the CPS, said: "These numbers represent real women subjected to rape, a crime which does enormous harm, who are then further victimised by a system that does not take them seriously.

"These shocking and unjustifiable failings speak to a clear and concerted shift in how the CPS has decided to prosecute rape.

"Leadership across the CPS needs to answer for these figures which we say can only represent what is becoming the effective decriminalisation of rape."

South Yorkshire Police and North Yorkshire Police declined to comment, stating it was a matter for the CPS.

Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill said: “Rape is an awful, sickening offence and I completely understand why the fall in charging rates is so concerning. Partners across the criminal justice system are coming together to look at how these cases are handled and the CPS is playing its part by opening up our charging decisions to further scrutiny.

“I have every confidence in the work of our dedicated prosecutors but it is important that the public has confidence too. I intend to implement any changes which are recommended if they improve our processes and enable the criminal justice system to deliver swifter, more effective justice.”