Fewer rapes are reported in County Durham than anywhere else in the country, new figures show.
The number of rapes recorded by police forces across the UK and the outcomes of investigations into them have been published together for the first time.
And the new figures reveal that in the 12 months leading to March 2013 there were just 9.8 rapes reported in the Durham Police area, per 100,000 people – less than half the average for England and Wales, which stands at 22.
Top officers in the force say it is difficult to tell whether the low number of rapes means less attacks are happening, or if victims are not coming forward.
But Det Supt Paul Goundry, head of safeguarding for Durham Constabularly said the force is looking into why its figures are so low.
He said: “The number of reported rapes in our area is low, which is an issue we have noted ourselves. While we hope that is because County Durham is generally a safe place, with relatively low overall crime rates we can never ignore the possibility that some victims might be reluctant to come forward and report a crime.
“That is the reason we constantly evaluate not only the way crimes are recorded but how they are being investigated.”
The new figures also reveal how many rape reports were detected and resulted in a conviction or caution, and in what percentage of reports officers determined no crime had been committed.
In the Northumbria Police area there were 12.9 rapes reported per 100,000 population. 23% of these were detected and in 20% it was decided there had been no crime.
Durham Police has a 32% detection rate and a 4% “no crime” rate. Nationally the average detection rate is 18% and the no crime rate is 12%.
Vera Baird, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria has expressed concern that not all rapes in Tyne and Wear and Northumberland are being reported.
“The figures show that there was a lower than average recorded number of rapes in this region,” she said. “That almost certainly is not because we have a lower rate of this crime than elsewhere, nice as it would be to take that view. It means that people are not reporting this crime which I’d seriously urge them to do, if they have been sexually assaulted whether it is recent or historic.
“First if people do not report rape we cannot catch these appalling criminals who tend to be serial offenders and likely to rape others until they are caught.
“Northumbria does have a high rate of convicting rapists so please have the confidence to know that you will be believed, whether the perpetrator is your partner, someone from a date or a stranger, and your case will be pursued with vigour and skill by the Force’s specialist unit of dedicated officers.
“Secondly, as a lifelong campaigner on violence against women and girls, and sharing the historic doubts which women have about the readiness of criminal justice agencies to take on rape cases, I’ve been very cheered by the commitment of Northumbria Police to improve on this during my first year in office as Police and Crime Commissioner and want to pass that view on to the public.”
The figures were released by the Rape Monitoring Group, which is made up of representatives from the criminal justice system, Government and police.