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Demand rising as more victims report serious sexual offences and rape

Serious sexual offences went up 29.5% against a three-year average in the 12 months to April 10 (Picture posed by model). Picture: GARETH FULLER/PA WIRE

Serious sexual offences went up 29.5% against a three-year average in the 12 months to April 10 (Picture posed by model). Picture: GARETH FULLER/PA WIRE

Archant

Almost half of serious domestic sex offences (SSO) and rapes are reported more than a week after taking place – creating “huge frustrations” and challenges around evidence collection.

Detective Superintendent Eamonn Bridger. Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARY Detective Superintendent Eamonn Bridger. Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARY

A report showed that 15% of SSO and 30% of rapes are linked to domestic abuse – but a quarter are reported within the first 24 hours.

A senior Suffolk detective called it the “most challenging area of policing” – with victim credibility under more scrutiny by the justice system than any other offence.

In 12 months to April 10, SSO went up 29.5% against a three-year average (from 1,295 to 1,678).

The solved rate decreased at almost the rate of rising demand – by 32.6% (from 151 to 102) – meaning just 6.1% of SSO were cracked in the last year.

Gareth Wilson, Chief Constable of Suffolk Police. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN Gareth Wilson, Chief Constable of Suffolk Police. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

There was also a 3.6% fall in the number of victims choosing to support investigations (33.7%).

Reporting on SSO and rape to the police and crime commissioner’s performance and accountability panel, Detective Superintendent Eamonn Bridger said: “Having worked in pretty much every area of investigation, these types of crimes are without doubt the most challenging.

“Their hidden harm nature creates huge frustrations and challenges around evidence collection.

“The contribution from domestic abuse crimes is actively rising over time.

Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“We need to understand that the two issues are intertwined and that the contribution we make will have an impact on performance in either direction.

“Half of those offences are reported more than seven days after they have occurred.

“When you build in that time delay from a purely investigative point-of-view – notwithstanding the very good reasons for not reporting immediately – the degradation of evidence increases as more time elapses.

“Disclosure is challenged in every area of the criminal justice process. At the heart of it, the victim’s credibility becomes more important, and more attackable, than with any other crime type.”

After a 2013/2014 review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary estimated that forces were under-recording crime, a number of changes have directly influenced figures – particularly within violence and sexual offence categories.

For example, since 2015, reports by professionals, parents or carers, acting on behalf of vulnerable people, no longer require confirmation by the victim to be recorded as a crime.

Meanwhile, historic reporting remains very high within violence and sexual offence categories.

Det Supt Bridger said: “There is no single cause for rising demand.

“We saw a sharp rise in the middle of 2015. Over the three following years, the demand issue has been across the board, and we are very similar to the national average and our most similar group (Norfolk).

“We were early adopters of the expected way to report crime, and over time, others have converged.

“Compared to 2014, the amount of SSO has doubled. In relation to rape, it’s almost triple.

“If we continue to improve and encourage people to tell us about their experiences, I can only see the trend continuing.”

Although a named suspect is identified in 83% of cases, prosecution is not possible in some because the victim chooses not to engage from the outset.

In others, the victim and offender are under the age of consent, or the victim lacks the mental capacity to engage.

In more than 60% of investigations over the last year, police had no control over whether or not the case progressed all the way through the criminal justice system.

Nationally, it takes an average of 497 days from offence to conviction.

“The victim choice element is rising – in that some victims are choosing they don’t want a criminal justice outcome,” said Det Supt Bridger.

“More people are looking at that 497 days and thinking it’s not what they want.

“It’s important for us to signpost victims to the appropriate agencies from the earliest stage.

“In some areas, we are the envy of other forces. The Rape Scrutiny Panel, which has also existed in a domestic violence space for the last year, includes the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and charitable sector, and carries out deep scrutiny of investigations and decision making.

“We have made real progress in referrals to CPS and have a very high conviction rate in Suffolk.

“We are in a stronger position than ever to capture evidence in interviews, due to the number of people we have trained in safeguarding skills.”

Chief Constable Gareth Wilson said the constabulary had looked into the benefits of having a rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) lawyer embedded in local police accommodation to offer early investigative advice.

Mr Wilson said the idea would be revisited when CPS staffing levels will allow.

Suffolk police will also be carrying out a victim survey to inform improvement and development. Victims of serious sexual offences will be surveyed following extensive case research and safety checks, while a similar approach to domestic abuse surveying will be required.

Mr Wilson said: “If victims think they’re being forced into the criminal justice system all about detections, that’s really dangerous.

“The survey will add so much more to the debate. We want to ensure we’re doing what the victim wants and needs.

Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore added: “This subject is, quite rightly, of major public interest.

“We have to make sure we are truly victim focused.

“In the last five years, I’ve spent about £2.5million on victim support and counselling. It has to be coordinated to get the best value for money for the taxpayer.”

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