Hundreds of rapists have been allowed to walk free from court following their convictions, Yahoo News UK can reveal.
Some 406 adult offenders convicted of serious crimes including rape and rape of a child have been handed non-custodial sentences – such as community service – in the past 10 years.
In 14 cases, offenders were handed an absolute discharge, meaning the court believed it was not necessary to impose a punishment.
Campaigners have described the findings as a "real concern" and questioned under what circumstances a crime as "traumatic and severe" as rape could end up with the rapist not going to jail.
Labour has described the numbers as "staggering" and criticised the government for letting down rape victims.
It comes amid a growing crisis over the government and police's handling of rape cases, with plunging levels of prosecutions and convictions.
According to data published by Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and analysed by Yahoo News UK, 2,648 convicted adult rapists have been handed a jail sentence of 6 years or less since 2010.
The figures also show that the number of adults sentenced for rape offences has decreased dramatically in recent years.
57 rapists have been given a community sentence since 2010, a punishment which can consist of community service, a curfew, or having to attend a programme to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.
When child offenders are included in the figures, a total of 957 rapists have walked free in the last 10 years.
In 2020, 491 people were sentenced for rape, compared to 1,210 in 2016. Fewer than 1,000 people have been sentenced for rape in the last three years running.
Katie Russell, national spokesperson for Rape Crisis, called for a review into the situation.
She told Yahoo News UK: "It’s hard to imagine a circumstance where this would be appropriate for a crime as serious as rape, which is so traumatic and can have such wide-ranging, severe and long-lasting impacts on the lives and health of survivors and victims.
"As many rapists are repeat offenders, there’s also the question of whether these offenders pose a continuing risk to the public, and how that has been assessed. Rape Crisis would welcome a specific review into this situation.
"It is clear this is only one of many ways in which the criminal justice system is currently failing on rape and all forms of sexual violence and abuse, and we continue to call on the government to take an holistic approach to implementing the urgent and radical changes needed to address this situation.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “While sentences are determined by judges, sexual offenders are spending longer in prison than they were 10 years ago and will serve even more time behind bars under our new legislation.”
David Lammy MP, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said: "These figures show once again how badly the government is letting down victims of rape.
"It's staggering that since 2010 almost 1000 rapists have been given a slap on the wrist for one of the most sickening crimes possible to commit.
“Labour would introduce a new minimum sentence for rape of seven years to ensure the punishment for this crime properly reflects the devastating impact it has on victims”
In June, the government apologised for "failing" rape victims, with justice secretary Robert Buckland and home secretary Priti Patel saying they were “deeply ashamed” of how few sexual offenders were being brought to justice.
Watch: Boris Johnson apologises to victims and survivors following Rape Review
There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape each year, but only 1.6% of reported cases currently results in a charge.
The percentage of reported rapes resulting in a charge has halved since 2015/16.
Prosecutions for rape have hit a record low, dropping by more than a quarter in the year 2020/21 to 1,557, down from 2,102 the previous year.
These woeful statistics led the victims' commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, to warn last year that the crime of rape was being "effectively decriminalised".
A spotlight was shone on the issue of violence against women by the case of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by serving police officer Wayne Couzens.
Mass protests against the magnitude of violence against women and girls followed her death.
Labour MP Jess Philips said her murder resonated with so many women because it spoke to the fear and anger “that there’s nothing we can do to keep ourselves safe”.
Deniz Uğur, deputy director of End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “This data highlights what we have long known: that women and girls who are victims and survivors of rape have very little chance of seeing the man who raped them ever being brought to justice, making rape effectively decriminalised.
"We raised this alarm some years ago and have been calling for an urgent overhaul across the whole criminal justice system to build trust and secure justice.
"Just last month, independent assessments looking into how effectively the police and Crown Prosecution Service respond to violence against women and girls found that they need to fundamentally change their approach to working together on rape cases and that immediate radical reform into how police engage with women and girls is needed.
"The government has acknowledged that the current system is failing women and girls. If this is to be meaningful for victims of rape, we expect to see real, tangible improvements in justice outcomes.”
Watch: Sarah Everard – how the case unfolded