Just a fraction of rape investigations in Bedfordshire resulted in someone being charged last year, new figures reveal.
It comes as the Government launches a new strategy aimed at tackling violence against women and girls, which includes a focus on prevention and improving the criminal justice response to offences that disproportionately affect women, such as rape and harassment.
A consultation into the plan was reopened following the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard in London earlier this year, which reignited a national debate around women's safety.
The new VAWG strategy is published against a backdrop of poor conviction rates for rape nationally, despite the number of reported incidents on the rise.
Home Office figures reveal Bedfordshire Police concluded 539 rape investigations, where the alleged victim was female, in the year to March – but only 32 (6 per cent) resulted in a charge or summons.
The force dropped 461 investigations (86 per cent) due to difficulties gathering evidence and 28 cases (5 per cent) because a suspect could not be identified.
Low charge rates are seen across reports of sexual offences as a whole – Bedfordshire Police charged a suspect in a sex offence case 153 times in 2020-21, equating to just 10 per cent investigations closed over the period.
Although these figures include offences against both men and women, separate data from the Office for National Statistics shows that in the majority of recorded sexual offences nationally, the victim is female.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently apologised to rape victims across the country for the trauma and delays they have faced in securing justice, as the Government published its end-to-end rape review to tackle a decreasing conviction rate.
The review sought to identify why victims withdraw from the criminal justice process, why prosecutions have collapsed and the impact on victims.
The Victim's Commissioner Vera Baird slammed the "shameful" record, which she branded a "decriminalisation of rape".
The measures set to be introduced by the Government's VAWG strategy include a 24/7 rape and sexual assault helpline, a review of the management of registered sex offenders and a £5million Safety of Women at Night fund.
The Government has also said it will not rule out making public street harassment, such as wolf whistling and cat-calling, a specific crime.
The Home Office figures show few harassment crimes reported to Bedfordshire Police resulted in a charge or summons last year – 76 (4 per cent) of 1,915 concluded investigations.
That was lower than the average across England and Wales, where just 6.5 per cent of harassment investigations saw someone charged or summoned to court.
These figures include all types of harassment incidents reported by men and women, including any that may have occurred online.
Charity Victim Support said only a societal change will end crimes against women.
Rachel Almeida said: “It is vital there is a shift from the victim blaming culture and poor police treatment for victims that has contributed to dismal justice outcomes for the majority of survivors."
A Bedfordshire Police spokesman says the force has made notable improvements to how crime is investigated within the Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) arena over the past year.
They added that dedicated teams, led by Detective Superintendent Zara Brown, and Detective Chief Inspector Marie Gresswell, have made significant developments in victim care, which have resulted in increased positive outcome rates.
A dedicated point of contact with the CPS for RASSO has seen a vast improvement in seeking early investigation advice, which in turn has assisted with investigation progression.
Detective Superintendent Zara Brown, head of the force’s Public Protection Unit, said “Although we recognise that improvement is needed both nationally and locally, we have made significant strides towards this, of which my team and I, are extremely proud.
“We care enormously, and want to help and support anyone who has experienced such serious crimes. We work hard to support our victims, and would encourage anyone to report offences at the earliest opportunity.
“We continue to work alongside our partners and the CPS to increase our positive outcome rate and continue to invest in this area to build public confidence.”