Fewer than one in six report rape
Yesterday (18 March 2021) the Office for National Statistics published its annual report on the Nature of sexual assault by rape or penetration, England and Wales for the year ending March 2020. The report contains information from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) on the amount, type and nature of sexual assault by rape or penetration (including attempts) experienced since the age of 16 years. The ONS analysis of the nature of these assaults uses CSEW data from the years ending March 2017 and March 2020 combined and is limited to adults aged 16 to 59 years.
Sexual offences are often hidden crimes that are not reported to the police. Therefore, data held by the police can only provide a partial picture of the actual level of crime experienced. One of the strengths of the Crime Survey for England and Wales is that it covers many crimes that are not reported to the police.
This publication focuses specifically on sexual assault by rape or penetration (including attempts). It contains data from the CSEW self-completion module on the nature of sexual assault by rape or penetration and provides more detail on the circumstances of these types of sexual assaults experienced by respondents since the age of 16 years. Data from the year ending March 2020 have been combined with data from the year ending March 2017 (when it was last previously collected) to provide more robust estimates.
The scale of the findings make for particularly grim reading.
Of victims who experienced sexual assault by rape or penetration (including attempts) since the age of 16 years:
almost half (49%) had been a victim more than once
fewer than one in six (16%) reported the assault to the police and of those that told someone but not the police, 40% stated embarrassment as a reason, 38% did not think the police could help, and 34% thought it would be humiliating
more than four in ten (44%) were victimised by their partner or ex-partner
nearly one in ten (9%) were victimised on the street, in a car park, park, or another open public space compared with over one-third (37%) in their own home
over half (54%) said the perpetrator used physical force, such as holding them down, to make them have sex with them, and 6% said the perpetrator had threatened to kill them
Amount & type of sexual assault
For the year ending March 2020, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated that 3.8% of adults aged 16 to 74 years (1.6 million) had experienced sexual assault by rape or penetration (including attempts) since the age of 16 years (7.1% for women and 0.5% for men. More than one in 20 women (6.2%) had experienced rape (including attempts) since the age of 16 years, and 4.8% had experienced assault by penetration.
Repeat victimisation was very common. In the years ending March 2017 and March 2020 combined, nearly half of victims aged 16 to 59 years had been a victim more than once (49%). This proportion was higher for women than men (51% and 22% respectively). Over one-fifth of victims reported experiencing this type of assault more than three times since they were 16 years old (22%).
The majority of victims had been assaulted by a single perpetrator (66%), with 21% assaulted by two different perpetrators, 8% by three perpetrators and 5% by more than three perpetrators. Almost every victim (98%) reported that the perpetrator was male with 65% saying that the perpetrator was a male aged between 20 and 39 years.
People were most likely to be victimised by their partner or ex-partner (44%). This was closely followed by someone who was known to them other than a partner or family member (37%), which includes friends (12%) and dates (10%). More than one in seven women (15%) reported being assaulted by a stranger, whereas this was true for almost half of male victims (43%). Full details shown in the chart below.
Alcohol and drugs
In their most recent incident of rape or assault by penetration (including attempts), 39% of victims reported that the perpetrator(s) were under the influence of alcohol. The same percentage (39%) reported being under the influence of alcohol themselves.
Fewer victims reported that the perpetrator was under the influence of drugs (8%) and that they themselves were under the influence of drugs they had chosen to take (2%). In addition, 5% of victims reported that they thought that the perpetrator had drugged them during the last incident of rape or penetration they had experienced.
Of victims who reported the perpetrator was a stranger, the majority (64%) reported that they themselves were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the assault, almost half (49%) reported that the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol, and 14% said they thought they had been drugged. For victims who reported the perpetrator was a partner of ex-partner, these percentages were lower.
The impact of rape
Victims were asked questions on physical injury and other, non-physical effects experienced as a result of the most recent incident of assault.
Nearly two-fifths of victims (36%) reported that they suffered some sort of physical injury. The most common types of injuries were minor bruising or black eye (23%) and scratches (15%).
Victims were presented with a list of other non-physical effects and were asked if they had suffered any of these as a result of the assault. For both men and women, the category most likely to be reported was “mental or emotional problems” (47% of male victims and 63% of female victims). Around one in ten victims (12% of men and 10% of women) said they had attempted suicide as a result.
Fewer than one in six victims (16%) had reported the assault to the police. For those that told someone about the abuse, but did not report it to the police, the most common reasons given were: embarrassment (40%), did not think they could help (38%) and thought it would be humiliating (34%). A quarter of victims also thought the police would not believe them.
Victims who did tell the police did so primarily to prevent it happening to others (47%), although, believing it to be the right thing to do (44%) and wanting the perpetrator(s) punished (43%) were similarly common.
In incidents where the police came to know about the assault, respondents were asked what actions were taken by the police. The police took some sort of action in 81% of cases. The most common action taken by the police was to arrest the perpetrator (39%). In 21% of cases the perpetrator was charged, and more than half of cases went to court (55%). Full details in the graphic below.