For every 25 alleged rapists, only one will be convicted in Scottish courts

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"There have been attempts to respond to this issue, but our view is, until we change women-blaming attitudes to rape, legislative reform will have a really limited impact." - Sandy Brindley, Rape Crisis Scotland

Story in full THE chances of a man accused of rape being convicted in Scotland's courts are smaller than ever, "shameful" figures have revealed.

While 975 rapes were reported to police in 2005-6, only 38 people were found guilty - a conviction rate of 3.9 per cent. That compares with 5 per cent the previous year, and it is the first time fewer than one in 25 reported rapes has been proven in court.

Scotland's rape conviction rate has edged downwards over the years, while reported cases have soared by 300 per cent over the past three decades.

In 1997-8, there were 596 rapes reported, while in 2004-5 the number was 900. The new statistics show a further 8 per cent rise in reported attacks.

The Executive figures, seen by The Scotsman, have provoked unprecedented levels of concern from anti-rape campaigners, who are planning a massive public-awareness campaign using powerful images to counter "women-blaming attitudes" to rape.

Sandy Brindley, the network co-ordinator for Rape Crisis Scotland, said: "It's really alarming. Conviction rates were already really worrying. Now they have dropped below 4 per cent for the first time - I'm almost speechless.

"What it demonstrates is there's an urgent need to look at how we respond to rape. It's clearly not acceptable to have a conviction rate that is so low and is continuing to fall.

"There have been attempts to respond to this issue, but our view is, until we change women-blaming attitudes to rape, legislative reform will have a really limited impact."

She said there was anecdotal evidence that moves to protect women in rape trials appeared to be failing.

Under the Sexual Offences Act 2002, lawyers representing men accused of rape have to make an application to the court before a complainer can be questioned about her sexual history.

"We have heard this protection isn't being used very often. That makes us think the prejudices you encounter in the general public are also found in the courts," Ms Brindley said.

Rape Crisis Scotland is now planning a major public-awareness campaign later this year.

Ms Brindley declared it was clear that jurors in Scotland were bringing their own prejudices to bear on the outcomes of rape trials.

Kenny MacAskill, the SNP's justice spokesman, branded the latest figures "shameful".

He said: "When we are actively encouraging more women to come forward and report the crime, we need to make sure prosecutions are followed through. We need to go further and do much more. The figures are shameful."

Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Conservative leader, said: "Rape is an appalling crime and we have to use the full force of the criminal justice system to address it.

"The question is why the conviction rate has fallen and we urgently require a report from the Crown Office into the reasons - then we can address the issue. We owe it to these women to get to the root cause and that has got to start with the Crown Office."

The problem of low conviction rates is familiar in many countries, but is worse than most in Scotland. In England, the conviction rate in 2005 was 5.2 per cent.

Experts say women are discouraged from pursuing cases because of the length of time it can take to get the attacker before a jury. Last month, The Scotsman revealed that rape cases, on average, are subject to more adjournments than any others prosecuted in the High Court.

It has also been suggested that prosecutors treat some rape cases as sexual assault, a lesser crime, because they believe it is the "best bet" for landing a conviction. That, experts say, is especially true where the victim and offender know each other.

A spokeswoman for the Executive said: "Ministers are aware of this issue, which is why they have asked the Scottish Law Commission to undertake a root-and-branch review of existing sexual offences law."

Even in Los Angeles, these ads proved shocking - and now they're heading here

DRIVING down the boulevards of Los Angeles, a billboard comes into view depicting the bare midriff of a young woman.

Over the sexually charged image, just above the model's waist, are the words: "this is not an invitation to rape".

The hard-hitting campaign, which has been credited with driving down sexual assaults in the city, is set to be introduced in the streets of Scotland.

Rape Crisis Scotland has been given funding from the Scottish Executive to develop a campaign similar to the one running in LA since the 1990s.

The founder of the American campaign, Charles Hall, is planning to travel to Scotland to discuss ways his campaign can be adapted.

Mr Hall believed rape was something that happened to other people until a friend of his was attacked after a party.

Stunned by the reality of sexual violence in his home town, Mr Hall channelled his energy towards a public awareness campaign featuring photographs, TV adverts and radio slots.

On radio, women described their outfits, their bodies and their attitudes while the adverts and posters displayed provocative images of women.

Mr Hall joined forces with the LA Commission on Assaults Against Women, a non-profit organisation offering rape prevention and intervention services, to bring his campaign to the public.

The plan for the Scottish campaign was unveiled earlier this month by Sandy Brindley, the network co-ordinator for Rape Crisis Scotland, at a one-day conference - "Society's Misconceptions about Sexual Violence and the Impact on Justice for Women".

A recent survey carried out by Amnesty International found that a third of people believed a woman was partially or completely responsible for being raped if she has behaved flirtatiously.

The poll of 1,000 people in 2005 also found over 25 per cent believe she is at least partly to blame if she has worn revealing clothing or been drunk.

Ms Brindley said the Scottish campaign would use images similar to the ones used in Los Angeles.

"What we are looking to do is challenge the woman-blaming attitudes that persist towards rape," she said.

"The main themes [of the campaign] would include destroying the myth that it is the woman's fault if they have been drinking, or because of the clothes they are wearing. We also want to confront the idea that it's OK to rape someone if they are married, and that just because you consent to kissing someone, it doesn't mean you are agreeing to sex.

"Rape Crisis centres across the country have long been aware of the problem of women being blamed for rape. Several studies have also highlighted the problem."

Denise Laberfew, one of the directors of the US-based commission, which was last year renamed Peace over Violence, said the campaign had sparked a fruitful public debate over attitudes towards sexual assault.

"We have seen a statistical drop in reported sexual assaults in the last couple of years. We can't say this is because of the campaign but we like to take some credit for eliminating certain thought processes regarding sexual violence."

'CULTURE OF BLAME'

"We have to be careful we are not spending money on stating the obvious.

"Juries consider these matters and they consider each trial on the particular circumstances of the case. I don't agree with a campaign aimed at driving up conviction rates by means of propaganda. That's not justice."

Derek Ogg, QC

"I think there is a culture of blaming women who are raped.

"There is an attitude that a scantily clad woman asking a man to her home is an invitation for sex. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.

"There are huge difficulties with the area of consent and rape. A man can be acquitted if he establishes he had an honest belief of consent. The Crown Office is trying to do something about that.

"We have a preposterously low conviction rate in Scotland. If this campaign starts to pose a few questions about how much licence men have, then it's a good thing."

Ken Dale-Risk, a law lecturer at Napier University

"It's freedom of choice about how a woman dresses. Just because she is dressed provocatively doesn't mean she wants to have sex.

"Again, if a woman is drunk it does not give a man the right to take advantage of the situation.

"Men need to take responsibility for their actions.

"We totally support this campaign. It's so disappointing that in this day and age society continues to blame women for being raped. It's quite frightening that these attitudes continue to exist."

Giri Jamba, manager of Shakti Women's Aid in Edinburgh

"There is still work to be done about public attitudes on the behaviour of women.

"In terms of public education, this campaign may well be necessary.

"However, juries are directed that they can only decide cases of rape on the basis of the evidence.

"There may have been a day when lawyers tried to insinuate that a woman was asking for it because of the way she was dressed. That simply does not happen now.

"Any lawyer trying that would be pulled up by the judge and reported. If you endorse that attitude in court you're asking for trouble."

John Scott, a solicitor-advocate