The latest Crime Survey for England and Wales has found that sexual offences have reached the highest volume recorded since the introduction of the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) in April 2002.
Published in April 2017, the quarterly independent survey of crime also stated that there had been a 12% rise in the number of sexual offences in 2016, compared to 2015.
These findings are supported by the 2015/2016 Rape Monitoring Group (RMG) digest from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).
The group, which independently assesses police forces and policing activity, stated in its October 2016 digest that the number of reported rapes has risen by 123% since 2011/2012.
Addressing these findings, a further ONS report ‘Overview of violent crime and sexual offences’, published in February 2017, says the increase may “reflect both an improvement in the recording of sexual offences by the police and an increased willingness of victims to come forward to report these crimes to the police.”
It is indeed the case that 2012’s Operation Yewtree signalled a turning of the tides and a shift from the negative trends of old. Formed in response to mass claims of sexual assault on children by Jimmy Savile, the operation resulted in the jailing abusers including Gary Glitter, Rolf Harris and Max Clifford.
Not only was attention now being paid to the historical, but also the pertinent. When a drop in the number of reported cases referred by police to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was noted in 2014, action was once again taken.
In response, a National Scrutiny Panel met and formulated a detailed action plan of improvements and deadlines. This was published the following year.
It was not just the criminals who were, at last, being held to account either, but also those who had stood by and failed to act sufficiently or appropriately.
The pressurised resignation of South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Shaun Wright acts as a prime example. Between 2005 and 2010, Wright headed up Rotherham council’s children’s services, before being made PCC in 2012.
The Jay Report followed, with what the then-Home Secretary Theresa May called “damning revelations” about the sexual abuse of 1,400 children in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.
PCC Alan Billings took over Wrights role, writing in December 2016: “mistakes have to be admitted if the service is to learn from the past and make improvements.”
Support for victims of all ages has been demonstrated by Billings since his appointment, with budget allocated in 2016 to partially fund a new Sheffield Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC).
Michelle Challis, Manager of a Dorset Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) The Shores, states how crucial SARCs are to victims: “if there is any uncertainty around making a report, we can support them with that decision or still support them without the police.”
Meanwhile, London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, stated in the capital’s Police and Crime Plan for 2017-2021 an intention to ensure “harmful but often less visible crimes are treated as priority in the coming years.”
Indeed, various sexual abuse support centres have reported an improvement in the experiences of those who do report.
Brian Jones, Senior Helpliner at Survivors UK, a charity male assault victims, say: “more recent experiences of reporting are generally more positive as the police have a better understanding and training around the issue.”
However, Joan Smith, the author of 2016 Guardian opinion piece “What if there’s more sexual violence now, not just reports of it?” says:
“I recently asked a senior police officer his thoughts on these figures. Like me, he suspects it may reflect an actual increase in sexual assault. Rapists are opportunistic, blame victims and know that conviction rates are low. My fear is that a sense of impunity is driving higher levels of sexual violence.”
It is not even the case that a successful conviction means closure and justice for the victim. When footballer Ched Evans was re-trialled after serving two and a half years in prison for rape, the prosecution used intimate details of the victim’s prior sex life. Almost identical evidence was presented, yet Evans was found not guilty.
Despite a right to lifetime anonymity, the victim was named in some media and received death threats. Evans, on the other hand, is now reported to be re-signing with Sheffield United in a £1 million deal.
There is also the uncomfortable truth that over the period of time that reports of rape rose by 123%, convictions only rose by 11%.
This isn’t a finding that shocks those on the frontline. Charity Rape Crisis England & Wales say: “large numbers of victims drop out of the criminal justice process after reporting. Survivors feeling both uninformed and unsupported are common reasons.”
Additional reasons suggested by the aforementioned RMG digest are a victim changing their mind, the CPS advising no further action, the offence being changed, the defendant being acquitted following a trial and police not recording the incident as a crime.
This last reason has proved a contentious point in recent years. Following a 2014 Crime Data Integrity inspection of crime recording by all 43 police forces in England and Wales, HMIC announced a rolling programme of re-inspections to check progress.
Recently released data shows disappointing results. Greater Manchester Police (GMP), who were embroiled in the Rochdale child sexual assault scandal, which in 2012 saw 12 men convicted and jailed, were in 2016 accused of ‘systematic’ failures. 500 reports of sex offence crimes had not been recorded, and neither had 11 out of 111 reports of rape audited by HMIC.
According to the BBC, Tony Lloyd, the then-interim mayor of Greater Manchester blamed “inadequate IT systems."
Report rates may be on the rise, but it still appears that those who speak out face a road paved with insensitive police behaviour, unscrupulous crime recording, low conviction rates, immoral court decisions and shame.