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Extra police for university area to combat rape threat

Extra police have been drafted into the university area of Belfast to protect women against sex attackers, police confirmed today.

However they insisted there was no "university rapist" operating in South Belfast.

Indeed the number of reported rapes in the area is no higher than in any other part of Northern Ireland, police chiefs told the Policing Board.

Nevertheless Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde said there was understandable widespread public concern over recent attacks in the area which the PSNI had acted to calm.

In the past month there had been three rapes in south Belfast, three people had been arrested and two charged, he said.

"It is a very serious crime which we take very seriously indeed," he added.

The PSNI was working with the Student's Union at Queen's, public and private landlords, taxi firms and the city council he said.

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He said he was determined to "reduce the risk of attacks and ensure Belfast is a safe place."

Sir Hugh said: "In the last fortnight we have increased resources in the university area of south Belfast and there are an average of eight neighbourhood watch officers supported by up to six community safety officers from the council and community wardens patrolling up to 3am to give that vital reassurance."

On top of that from Thursday to Sunday as part of the Get Home Safe campaign there was an average of 35 officers in high visibility uniforms in the main city night-spot area - with a further support group of 25 officers.

Despite the stepping up of protective measures the head of the PSNI's specialist Rape Crime Unit told board members the number of reported rapes was actually decreasing.

However Detective Superintendent Karen Baxter said the vast bulk of rapes went unreported.

Statistics indicated between 70% and 80% of rapes were not reported to police, she said - and only 8% were committed by a total stranger.

Superintendent Baxter said the number of reported rapes and attempted rapes since April in Northern Ireland was 192, and so far 41 of them had been cleared.

Last year there were 420 rapes and attempted rapes - 70 of which were cleared and the year before there had been 457 of which another 70 were cleared up as crimes.

Despite recent public concerns she said: "There is no University rapist. South Belfast does not have a wider problem than anywhere else."

There was justifiable public concern about sex attacks and police were committed to dealing with them, however she said the situation could be improved if people took greater responsibility for their actions.

Ms Baxter said: "I would urge everyone to recognise the dangers and behave responsibly, particularly when out late at night and at weekends.

"This applies to everyone and, for some, it includes how much they drink. It particularly includes young men who need to be sure their 'partner' is able to give consent before sex.

"Sex without consent is rape. Offenders will be arrested, investigated and sent to prison if convicted."

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