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We want answers over rape cautions.

Byline: By Nick Allen

Women's groups have demanded a full explanation from the Government after it emerged that up to 40 rapists a year are being cautioned instead of facing jail.

Home Office figures revealed the number of cautions issued for rape offences has more than doubled in the past decade.

Nicole Westmarland, chairwoman of Rape Crisis, which runs centres for women who have been raped, said the organisation was "shocked" by the figures.

"Rape is a crime that has a serious impact on its victims for years or even decades," she said. "It is completely unacceptable that rapists are able to continue living their day-to-day lives or even be free to rape again."

Sandra Horley, chief executive of national domestic violence charity Refuge, said: "Rape is an offence that carries a maximum of life imprisonment and we shouldn't be cautioning for these types of offences.

"It is one of the most serious offences in the land and we have real concerns that cautioning is dangerous and in cases where consent is clearly never given introducing cautioning places women in grave danger.

"We need to send out a strong public message that rape and domestic violence are serious crimes and should be treated as such."

Ruth Hall, of Women Against Rape, said most men would consider a caution a "slap on the wrist".

She said: "Most men who rape don't do it just once. They are serial offenders and women have tried and tried to get the criminal justice system to take it seriously.

"Women have been coming forward in record numbers only to have the door slammed in our faces."

The Crown Prosecution Service said cautions were only used in "very extreme" circumstances.

One such case involved a man who accepted a caution for raping his sister when they were children more than 50 years ago.

In another case a 13-year-old boy was given the equivalent of a caution for raping a young child.

A youth offending team, including police and social services, then worked with him to show him that his behaviour was wrong.

The Home Office figures showed that 19 people were cautioned for rape in 1994 but by 2004 that number had risen to 40, including final warnings and reprimands which are used for young offenders.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Rape is an appalling crime, it devastates the lives of victims and their families.

However rape will always be a difficult offence to prosecute.

"The use of cautions in individual cases is a matter for the police and the CPS who will only use such sanctions under the most exceptional circumstances."

The Association of Chief Police Officers said rape was excluded from those offences for which it issued advice on cautioning. It would be up to the CPS or individual forces to decide on a caution.

The Home Office published a consultation paper on March 29 aimed at addressing the much-criticised low conviction rate for rape. Fewer than six per cent of rape cases reported to the police currently result in a conviction.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 11, 2006
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