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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Highest number of sexual offences ever still tip of the iceberg

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Despite this very substantial rise in the number of sexual offences recorded by the police, it's important to remember that sex offences remain the most under-reported crime.

More sex offences reported

A recent (12 February 2015) report from the Office for National Statistics on violent crime and sexual offences draws on both the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) and police records (see this recent post for the difference between these two main sources for crime figures). This post deals with the findings relating to sexual offences ( I dealt with the violent crime figures in this post last week).

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Highest ever figures

The number of police recorded sexual offences in the year to March 2014 showed a 20% increase compared with the previous year, rising to a total of 64,205 incidents across England and Wales. This is the highest ever figure recorded on a financial year basis.

sex offences trends

Within this, the number of offences of rape increased by 26% to 20,745 incidents, and the number of other sexual offences increased by 17% to 43,460 incidents. These increases should be seen in the context of Operation Yewtree and other high profile cases involving sexual abuse. While some of these increases will be a direct consequence of the historical crimes reported as part of Operation Yewtree, there is evidence to suggest that there has been a wider ‘Yewtree effect’. This refers to an increased willingness on the part of victims of sexual offences that are not directly connected to Yewtree to come forward to report both historical and recent sexual offences.

The ONS report also concludes that several police forces may have improved the way they record crime (see this post for recent failings in recording crime) and that this may also account for some of the dramatic rise in figures.

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Still a hidden crime

Despite this very substantial rise in the number of sexual offences recorded by the police, it’s important to remember that sex offences remain the most under-reported crime.

A joint statistical bulletin published by the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Office of National Statistics on “An overview of sexual offending in England and Wales” in 2013 found that, based on findings from the three CSEWs between 2009/10 and 2011/12 around 404,000 adult women and 72,00 adult men were victims of sexual offences on average per year.

The same report found that only 15 per cent of female victims said that they had reported the most recent sexual offence they had been victim of to the police. The main reasons cited for not reporting were:

  1. That it was ‘embarrassing’,
  2. They ‘didn’t think the police could do much to help’,
  3. The incident was ‘too trivial or not worth reporting’, or that
  4. They saw it as a ‘private/family matter and not police business’

It’s a sobering and fairly terrifying thought that almost half a million adults are the victims of sexual offences every year.

 

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