The criminal justice system is putting people at risk by “failing to tackle potential serial rapists”, the victims’ commissioner has warned.
Dame Vera Baird has raised concerns as official figures shows reports of rape are rising but the number of charges being brought against attackers is falling.
The number of rapes reported to police in 2017/18 rose to 54,045 from 41,186 the year before.
But 11,913 attacks were not recorded as crimes, up from 8,624 the year before.
The overall charge rate has also fallen in the same period, from 6.8% to 4.2%, according to data from the Rape Monitoring Group and published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
The number of cases referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a charging decision has fallen slightly from 6,606 to 6,012.
Fewer suspects were convicted either after admitting the offence or being found guilty by a jury – 1,062 compared with 1,350 the previous year.
Dame Vera said the government needs to “act quickly” in its review of how rape complaints are handled to make sure victims receive justice.
She said: “Rape victims are being badly let down by the criminal justice system. More complainants are coming forward, but fewer cases are being prosecuted and only one in every 50 cases is resulting in a conviction. How can this be justice?
“These figures show that perpetrators can act without fear of being held to account. Many will go on to commit further offences and will only stop when caught.
“These figures not only highlight how we are letting down existing victims, but how we are creating future victims.
“We know that nearly four in five victims of sexual assault choose not to report the crimes committed against them. How can we ever give these victims the confidence to report when so few cases ever secure a conviction?
“We need to understand the reasons behind this failure. It is in part down to the treatment of complainants by police and prosecutors; for example, failing to update them on investigations or making intrusive and disproportionate demands on their personal data. We also know that the treatment of complainants in the courtroom can cause trauma and distress.”
The RMG published the data from bodies including the Home Office, the Office for National Statistics, the CPS and the Ministry of Justice, covering all 43 police forces in England and Wales and the British Transport Police.
The CPS decided not to charge any suspects in just under half of the cases referred to it in 2017/18. For 24,280 of the offences recorded there were “evidential difficulties”, which could include the victim not supporting a prosecution.
A charge or summons was issued in 2.238 cases, and there are 6,647 without an outcome recorded.
Prosecution was “prevented” or found not to be in the public interest for 1,015 of recorded offences.
The latest MoJ figures show the average jail time for rape, from 2016/17 statistics, was 115 months, about nine years.
Rebecca Hitchen, campaigns manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said the figures are “truly shocking” and evidence of “how broken the system is”.
She added: “We urge the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary to get fully involved in the ongoing Rape Review, from which very little has been heard. We urge them to demand answers as to what is going on.
“They should also make clear, public reassurances to women, and men, who are considering reporting rape, that meaningful work will be done to improve access to justice.”
A CPS spokesman said: “The growing gap between the number of rapes recorded and the number of cases going to court is a great cause of concern. That’s why the CPS is taking part in a system-wide review to scrutinise how these cases are being handled.”
He added that the drop in charges was linked to a drop in the number of referrals from the police.
A Government spokeswoman said it was “taking action to restore public confidence in the justice system” by hiring more police, reviewing sentencing of violent and sexual offenders, giving more money to the CPS, funding victim support services and creating more prison places.
She added: “Victims deserve to know their cases will be pursued rigorously through the courts.”