DORSET may soon be home to a new centre to provide better care and services to victims of rape under one roof.

The police hope to set up the Family Justice Centre to make the process of being interviewed and examined as comfortable as possible and encourage victims to remain brave and bring offenders to justice.

The centre would offer victims of rape, domestic violence and child abuse the chance to be interviewed and examined in a more comfortable environment as well as access services such as housing, child care and counselling.

It would also house a sexual assault referral centre (SARC) - making it the first Family Justice Centre and SARC in the country to house everything for rape victims under one roof.

Dorset Police have travelled to San Diego in the US to look at a similar model and a project board has been set up with local authorities and primary care trusts.

Detective Superintendent Mark Cooper, head of Dorset Police's public protection unit, said under Operation Opal the force now has specially trained officers who deal with investigations of rape.

"If someone reports a rape it is dealt with utmost importance. It is treated like a murder incident as one of the most serious crimes that has been committed," he said.

Between April 2006 and March 2007, 240 allegations of rape were made in Dorset and 132 of these allegations were recorded as crimes. Of these, 35 were detected, a 26.5 per cent detection rate.

And in the same period the following year, 255 allegations were made in Dorset and 210 were recorded as crimes. Of these, 38 were detected resulting in an 18.5 per cent detection rate.

Det Supt Coooper said that previously, if it was thought that a reported rape hadn't taken place, it wasn't recorded as a crime. But that has since changed and every report is crimed and investigated.

"It is not that we weren't taking rape seriously before, it is just that we have improved the way we deal with rape investigations," he said.

On average, 240 allegations of rape are made in Dorset each year but the British Crime Survey states that the reported figure only equates to between 15 to 25 per cent of the rapes that happen - so up to 1,000 rapes could be taking place in the county.

Det Supt Cooper said he planned to set up temporary SARC centres in the county to assist victims of rape while the Family Justice Centre is being set up.