Today (21st July) marked the release of new data for the year ending March 2022 that showed:
- A 32% jump in the number of sexual offences recorded by police from the previous year to 194,683 – the highest number recorded in a 12-month period to date.
- A 26% increase on the number of rapes recorded by police from the previous year to 70,330 – also the highest number recorded in a 12-month period to date.
Despite these record numbers, however, new data from the Crown Prosecution Service for the same time period revealed that the numbers of police referrals, charges, prosecutions and convictions for rape cases were still a long way off from the Government's own target 2016 levels.
As the End Violence Against Women coalition (of which we are a member), clearly states on its website:
- Just 4,049 rape cases were referred to the police, compared to 6,611 in 2016 – despite record numbers of recorded offences.
- Charges were brought in just 2,223 rape cases, compared to 3,671 cases in 2016.
- 2,537 prosecutions for rape were completed, nearly half as many as the 5,190 completed in 2016.
- There were just 1,733 convictions for rape, compared to 2,991 in 2016.
With all of this in mind, it's incredibly important to properly unpack figures like those released today. We must do so in order to get an accurate picture of the state of our criminal justice system and the many ways in which it is failing victims and survivors of rape and other sexual offences.
Here, Jayne Butler, CEO of Rape Crisis England & Wales, does just that:
“It’s really important to note that it is the number of sexual offences recorded by police that has increased by 32% for the year ending March 2022, not the number of sexual offences perpetrated overall. This distinction is important because we know that the vast majority of victims and survivors of sexual violence never report what happened to them to the police – estimates from the Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year ending March 2020 (the most recent CSEW figures reliable enough to be considered ‘National Statistics’ by the Office for National Statistics) revealed that 5 in 6 women and 4 in 5 men who had experienced rape, assault by penetration or attempts of either hadn’t reported what happened to them to the police.
As the ONS says in today’s release, ‘sexual offences recorded by the police do not provide a reliable measure of trends in these types of crime’, while ‘The CSEW provides a more reliable measure of long-term trends in domestic abuse, sexual assault (including rape, assault by penetration, sexual assault, indecent exposure and attempts of all), stalking, and harassment than police recorded crime data’.
What all of this tells us is that the significant increase in reported sexual offences, including rape, represents a closing of the gap between the numbers of rapes and other sexual offences happening and the numbers reported. This gap exists for a number of reasons, including the huge number of rape myths that are still widely believed in society, as well as victims and survivors fearing that they won’t be believed or taken seriously, and knowing that they are highly unlikely to ever see someone charged – let alone convicted or imprisoned.
So, why has there been this closing of the gap in the past year? As the ONS points out, this may reflect ‘a number of factors, including the impact of high-profile incidents, media coverage, and campaigns on people’s willingness to report incidents to the police, as well as a potential increase in the number of victims’.
“The murder of Sarah Everard tragically brought increased media and public attention to these issues at the start of the data year, and this attention has more or less remained ever since. This is almost wholly in thanks to the increasing number of disclosures made by extremely brave victims and survivors who are shifting the public and media agenda.
Sadly, however, this bravery has not been matched by an increase in efforts by members of the criminal justice system to bring perpetrators to justice. Last year, just one in 100 rapes reported to police resulted in a charge that same year. And, while CPS figures from April showed that there had been some increase in rape prosecutions from the previous year, levels are still a long way off the Government’s own unambitious target of 5,190.
Not only do prosecution levels remain woefully low, there also long delays in cases reaching court and insufficient funding for specialist, trauma-informed support services for victims and survivors. This means that those who experience sexual violence and abuse not only wait for criminal justice but must also wait to begin their journey of recovery.
Victims and survivors are coming forward in increasing numbers to report the sexual offences they are experiencing – and the Government have promised to act on this. That bravery deserves real and meaningful action in response. We need to see swift, sustained and ambitious action from both the Government and justice agencies in response to these increased reporting figures.”