Rape victims are facing a postcode lottery as to whether their attackers are brought to justice, new data has revealed.
Figures from the Home Office show that the proportion of rapes resulting in a charge fell to 1.3% in the year to December 2021, the lowest level ever recorded.
It comes amid warnings that while the level of recorded rapes has reached a record high, the number of perpetrators being brought to justice is "in the doldrums".
There was clear disparity between forces, with police in different areas bringing charges in significantly different numbers of cases.
Analysis by Yahoo News UK reveals that, in Avon and Somerset, just 4 out of 1,573 rapes reported last year resulted in a suspect being charged, amounting to 0.25%.
In North Wales the figure was 0.32%, with 2 out of 630 reported rapes resulting in a suspect being charged.
The highest proportion was recorded in Wiltshire, where 16 out of 421 rapes – 3.8% – recorded in the same year resulted in a suspect being charged.
The stark figures come amid wider concerns that not enough is being done to tackle violence against women and girls.
A number of high-profile cases, including the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by serving police officer Wayne Couzens, and the violent murder of Sabina Nessa as she walked through a London park, have shone a light on failures to ensure women's safety.
Meanwhile, the number of rape and sexual assaults logged by police in England and Wales has hit another record, according to separate figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
There were 183,587 reports of sexual offences in the year to December 2021, an increase of 22% on 2020 and up 13% from 2019.
Of these, 67,125 were reports of rape, up 21% from 2020.
Commenting on the figures, victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, said: "Record levels of victims are coming forward, but the charging rate remains in the doldrums.
"The marked increase in victim reporting is simply not translating into increased referrals and charges.
"Close to a year since the publication of the government’s end-to-end rape review, we are yet to see any substantive improvement.
"The government’s promise to return to 2016/17 levels of prosecutions by the end of this Parliament remains a pipedream.
"Despite this, it is encouraging that more victims continue to come forward.
"We know that the majority of victims do not report, and thousands of rapes and sexual assaults take place each year without any sort of criminal justice outcome.
"Issues with the policing and prosecuting of rape are also well documented. So, it is somewhat positive to see that victims are not being put off reporting. My hope is that we do not betray these victims’ trust like we have failed so many victims in the past."
Rebecca Hitchen, Head of Policy and Campaigns at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:
“But as a record number of women are reporting rape and sexual assault, rather than experiencing support and justice, they’re finding themselves treated like the one under investigation, in system that blames and harms them, inappropriately focuses on their ‘credibility’ and in the vast majority of cases, will not bring them justice.
"This is a national scandal and despite commitments in the government’s Rape Review, nothing is really changing.
"This latest data from the ONS must be a wake up call to government that our broken justice system needs a radical overhaul.”
In Avon and Somerset, officers have launched in initiative to try and improve their handling of rape and sexual offences, titled Operation Bluestone.
The initiative pledges to:
Train specialist officers to deal with rape cases
Improve relationships with victim support services
Focus on investigating the subject rather than the victim.
A spokesperson from Avon and Somerset Police told Yahoo News UK: "Rape investigations are among the most complex and challenging detectives face and the fact two-thirds of the reports received between April and December 2021 remain under investigation reflects that.
“Quite simply though, conviction rates for these offences are too low nationally. We as a police service wouldn’t be doing our duty if we didn’t acknowledge that, and act on it by working with other agencies and the legal system to understand why and make necessary changes.
"In Avon and Somerset we have chosen to open our doors to academics and set up Operation Bluestone to examine everything we do, from the moment we receive an allegation through to getting a case to court. The learning from this, and the way in which we shape our understanding and our processes will be in instrumental in improving victim care and outcomes not just in Avon and Somerset, but nationally.
“Among the changes already made include a gold standard framework on investigating the perpetrator so they are at the forefront of our investigation; rape is never the victim’s fault. We have also committed extra officers and staff to bolster our investigations team looking at rape and serious sexual offences.
“A new approach is needed and we believe Operation Bluestone will help us increase the chances to achieve justice for victims who have gone through the most horrendous experiences. Victims have to be exceptionally brave in reporting this to us – we would be failing them if we didn’t make changes to our processes to help them, and we are resolute in our ambition to be so much better to serve the victims as they truly deserve."
Watch: Policing minister issues apology in wake of rape review