Rape offences recorded by police hit new annual high

·5 min read

Police forces in England and Wales have recorded the highest number of rapes and sexual offences in a 12-month period, figures show.

There were 63,136 rapes recorded in the year to September, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), up 13% from the previous period (56,119).

This was the highest recorded annual figure to date and included 17,419 offences between July and September – the highest quarterly figure.

Police-recorded sexual & rape offences in England and Wales
(PA Graphics)

The highest number of sexual offences was also recorded in the 12 months to September (170,973), a 12% increase compared to 152,620 in the same period the previous year. This is driven by “noticeable increases since April 2021”, the ONS said.

Rape accounted for 37% of all sexual offences recorded by police.

It comes as separate figures showed the proportion of suspects being taken to court has fallen to a new record low and remains the lowest for rape cases.

Despite a fall in most crimes during coronavirus lockdowns, some are now reaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels – with rises in some offences offsetting reductions seen elsewhere, the ONS said.

Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted the figures showed the Government’s approach “is working” while the Home Office said they demonstrated “crime continues to fall” under this administration.

But Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, said there was “no escaping the numbers”, adding: “Record highs in reported rapes and sexual assaults and charging rates so low as to be barely discernible. This is of grave concern and a depressingly familiar story.”

Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said the figures should be a “wake-up call to government that our justice system is broken and needs a radical overhaul”, adding: “Otherwise, despite the government’s commitments and promises, justice for women will continue to be out of reach.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “These damning figures show the Conservatives have no grip on law and order, with more criminals being let off, more victims being let down, and a shameful failure to tackle violence against women and girls”, adding that the further drop in rape prosecution rates is “truly shocking”.

The ONS said the latest figures 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”, and it urged caution when interpreting the data.

The figures cover the months following the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard in March.

Sarah Everard
Sarah Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered by police officer Wayne Couzens last March (family handout/CPS/PA)

The 33-year-old was attacked and killed by Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, prompting a national debate about sexual violence, the safety of women and the response from government, police and prosecutors.

The ONS added: “The overall trend is also currently difficult to disentangle from the impact of lockdowns. Offences recorded by the police dropped noticeably during the spring 2020 lockdown before rebounding to previous levels in the July to September 2020 quarter.

“The winter 2020 to 2021 lockdowns saw a smaller reduction in the number of sexual offences recorded by the police but a greater level of increase in these offences in the subsequent quarters.”

While many types of crime decreased during lockdowns, police records show “indications that over the last six months, certain offence types are returning to or exceeding the levels seen before the pandemic”, the ONS said, adding that an increase in fraud and “computer misuse” offences during the pandemic “more than offset the reductions seen for other types of crime.”

Police recorded 5.8 million crimes in England and Wales in the 12 months to September, a 2% increase compared with the previous year (5.7million). Excluding fraud and computer misuse, the figure falls 1% (to 4.9 million).

There were 872,911 offences (not including fraud crimes) flagged as domestic abuse-related for the 12-month period, representing a 5% increase from 835,319 offences in the previous year.

Stalking and harassment also rose by 21% from 539,586 offences recorded by police in 2019/20 to 655,322 in 2020/21.

The ONS said it “cannot conclude whether there has been an increase in the number of victims of domestic abuse” because of changes in the way the crimes are reported and recorded, but added: “Data from victim services suggests that experiences of domestic abuse may have intensified during periods of national lockdown and that victims faced difficulties in safely seeking support under these conditions.”

Stalking and harassment also rose by 21% from 539,586 offences recorded by police in 2019/20 to 655,322 in 2020/21.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Nobody should have to experience the horror of rape and other sexual crimes.

“It’s encouraging that more victims of sexual violence are coming forward, and we’ve been clear that police must raise the bar in handling such cases so victims know that they will be taken seriously and criminals responsible are put behind bars.

“And we are taking long-term action to prevent violence against women and girls, bringing the perpetrators to justice and ensuring victims get the support they need.”

A rape action plan will “make the system work better for victims and put more rapists behind bars” and recruiting more police officers and making the process less intrusive will give victims “the confidence their cases will be rigorously pursued with support available at every stage”, a Government spokeswoman added.