Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Next government needs ‘to act on’ rape offences after Essex sees 140% spike

ADDRESSING sexual violence against women has to be a major priority for whoever forms the next government the crime commissioner has said in light of figures that show an almost 150 per cent increase in seven years reports the Local Democracy Reporter.

Between 2015/16 and 2022/23 the number of reports of rape and sexual assault – of whom the vast majority of victims are women – went up from 1,001 incidents to 2,420 – a 140 per cent increase. (For whole of Essex)

Figures for Harlow: March 2023-March 2024

Numbers did fall slightly to 2,171 over the next 12 months.

But Roger Hirst – the newly elected crime commissioner for Essex said the figures represent “there is a problem out there and we have to get to grips with it”.

He added: “That is clearly a reflection of lots of different things happening. On the one hand, we have undoubtedly become more supportive of rape victims. And we have as a result had more women coming forward to report rape because they think there is a greater chance of achieving justice.

“But there is also a very real issue of the fact there is a rise in sexual violence -we don’t know the reasons – over the last ten years.

“It could be the normalisation of sexual brutality on the internet, I don’t know. But it could be a variety of different things. I would hesitate to say the whole story is because the police have got better at helping people come forward.”

He added: “We have been trying to get better and the information we get back from rape victims is that we are better. But I don’t think that is the whole story.”

He said he was pleased that in the last 12 months there has been reduction of cases by 10 per cent – even given an improved rate of reporting.

He added: “It went up by 150 per cent and there is something societal there and there is something about police getting better there.”

He said: “We have a job to do. It’s an issue here. And it’s one to act on.

“The good news is a lot of the work around what interventions work has been done. We are now at the point where we can implement them.”

He added the police need help to bring more prosecutions – hampered currently he said by a chronic lack of capacity in the court service.

He said: “We have a new director of public prosecutions – I have already spoken with him twice about this particular issue.

“We need to be prosecuting more people. At the moment we prosecute when we and the CPS are absolutely sure we have a case which will succeed.

“That is in part it’s good to be successful but it’s also in part because time and pressure on the court system are such.

“We are prosecuting too few. We should be taking more cases where we are sure that where the evidence base is something the jury will have to test, as opposed to simply saying yes to.

“Which is why we need more capacity because we need to be able to bring more cases which are not so clearly evidenced but where we believe the evidence is still sufficient.”

Data shows a 346 per cent increase in the number of adult rape cases in the Crown Court outstanding caseload (from 624 to 2,786) between December 2019 and December 2023.

The victims commissioner said: “Put in perspective, the average rape case now takes 393 days to complete once it reaches the Crown Court — a new record — up on last quarter and 52 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels. For violent offences, the average wait is now 59 per cent higher. Across the board – whatever the crime type – victims are suffering wholly unreasonable delay.

“As court wait times lengthen, frontline victim services also face increasing pressure. Victims remain in the system longer, leading to unsustainable caseloads and ultimately, a reduction in the critical support they need. I fear victim services and the staff who support victims on a daily basis are having to carry the burden of court delays.

“These delays will severely test victims’ resolve and we cannot be surprised if increasing numbers decide they are unable to stay the course. Indeed, the statistics bear this out: 14 per cent of victims withdrew after the defendant was charged in the most recent quarter. With an additional 26 per cent of cases adjourned on the day of trial, the system is further testing victims’ already strained resilience.”

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