Cameron to call for tougher rape penalties

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LONDON, Nov 12 (Reuters) Conservative leader David Cameronis calling for a tightening of rape laws to reverse a decline in the number of convictions and a feeling among many men that they can ''get away with it.'' He will point to figures showing that less than 6 per cent of reported rapes result in a conviction, down from nearly 33 per cent in 1977.

''Studies have shown that as many as one in two young men believe there are some circumstances when it's OK to force a woman to have sex,'' he will tell the Conservative Women's Organisation conference in London.

''To my mind, this is an example of moral collapse.'' ''We need widespread cultural change, and addressing this moral failure represents a real challenge to British society, to families, schools, local communities and businesses.'' Cameron will quote statistics that one in 20 women have been the victim of rape but less than a quarter are ever reported.

''Taken together, this means just 15 in every 1,000 women who get raped in the UK see justice done,'' he will say.

Conservative Justice Spokesman Nick Herbert is to conduct a review of rape penalties to make sure they are proportionate to the crime.

Sentences given to convicted rapists have fallen over the past three years to an average of just under 7 years, Cameron will note.

He will also call for the issue of sexual consent to be taught as part of sex education classes at school.

But Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker told BBC television that the government is already taking measures to encourage more rape victims to come forward.

He said the average length of rape sentences has doubled over the past 20 years.

''We all want to see more rapists convicted and certainly the government does,'' said Coaker Rape is one of the most difficult cases for courts to deal with, lawyer Paul Gilbert of law firm Finers Stephens Innocent told BBC television.

''Most rape cases involve a victim and an accused who know each other,'' he said.

''The issue that the jury have to decide in that situation is consent ... it's one person's word against another's.'' REUTERS PD HS1837

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