RAPE cases involving vulnerable victims are the least likely to progress through the criminal justice system and not result in conviction, a new report has revealed.

This is just one of the findings from a new University of Bristol study that investigated the high ‘drop out’ rate in rape cases.

Recent figures show that around 85,000 people on average are victims of rape each year and there has been a 26 per cent increase in the number of cases recorded by the police in the three years to the beginning of 2012.

However, there has been a continual decrease in the overall proportion of such crimes reported to police resulting in a conviction and a high number of cases that ‘drop out’, suggesting a justice gap for victims.

The Northern Rock Foundation-funded study aimed to address these concerns by tracking 87 individual cases from reporting to conviction stage across three police force areas in the North-East, with Cleveland performing well in the analysis.

The research team, led by Professor Marianne Hester, examined data involving 98 victims and 97 alleged perpetrators, that took up to 23 months to progress through the criminal justice system.

She said: “It is clear that the justice gap for victims of rape has widened despite attempts by the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to improve their responses to investigation, prosecution and conviction of rape offences.

“What is concerning is victim vulnerability, which is identified as an aggravating factor in the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, is in practice deemed to undermine victim credibility leading to a large ‘drop out’ in rape cases.

“This alone, highlights the need for the agencies to further improve their responses to rape cases and work with a victim-focused approach.”

The research has been supported by the chief executive of Arch North East, a charity that offers support to victims of sexual abuse.

Dilys Davy (correct), who is also the chairwoman of Teesside Sexual Violence Strategy Group, said: “One of the reasons that Cleveland came out quite well in the report is because of the strategy group and how we all help to support victims.

“However, when it is one person’s word against another and the victim is vulnerable, perhaps with a mental health issue, it is always going to be difficult to get it to court.

“We have independent advisers who support victims from report through to court but the drop out level is still really high.”