Friday, September 9, 2016

Balancing the books? Starting to understand the reality of sexual harm in the UK

A recent report from the Crown Prosecution Service [CPS] for England and Wales shows an upturn in reporting, recording, prosecutions and convictions in sexual harm [including, Rape, Child Sexual Abuse, Prostitution, Honour based offences, etc.] for the year 14/15 for women and girls. Although the report indicated that the largest increases were for women and girls as victims of sexual harm and for males as perpetrators, it does also show that there was an increase for men and boys as victims as well as for females as perpetrators too. The data came from the CPS case management system, which means that the results and analysis were based upon what was recorded by CPS staff via the existing databases and systems.

The report signals that:
- The volume of referral’s to the CPS for Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence and Rape decreased by 3.3% to 124,737 compared to 14/15;
 The volume of individuals charged with Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence and Rape by the CPS increased by 0.5% to 86,067 compared to 14/15;
- The volume of individuals prosecuted by the CPS for Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence and Rape increased by 9.8%, to 117,568 defendant’s, from 14/15 to the highest level ever recorded; and
- The volume of individuals convicted of Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence and Rape also rose by 10.8%, to 87,275, from 14/15 to 87,275 in 15/16, to the highest level ever recorded.

The main take-home message from the report is that the volume of prosecutions and convictions across the violence against women and children spectrum is the highest that they have been over the last nine years that the CPS has been recording them in this fashion and that new, as well as relatively new, offences (e.g., Female Genital Mutilation, Honour Based crimes and revenge porn offences) have shown increasing referral’s, charges, prosecutions and convictions. The report highlights, what we have often suspected, that the rates of sexual harm and violence against women and children do not match the reality of sexual harm in society. However, it’s important to put these findings into context as we need to recognise that 15/16 was not necessarily a peak year for sexual harm, but rather that it is an indication of a turning tide in society;

- There seems to be a growing trust in the Criminal Justice System epically the police; the public seems to be more willing to report crime and seek prosecutions.
- An increased awareness of violence against women and children in society because of high profile media cases, the IICSA investigation and a series government reviews (inc, prostitution, hate crime, etc).
Updates and changes to crime recording (including, the recording of new crimes and a change in terminology in existing ones) means that some offences may have not been recorded previously, or if they had been recorded they may have been recorded in a different category.
- A review of sentencing guidelines for sexual offences.
- The increase in historical sexual harm offences being reported and processed by the police, CPS and Courts.
- A commitment from the CPS to offer more support to victims of sexual harm, with the former Prime Minister calling  sexual abuse a national threat.
- An increase in funding to understand, prevent and respond to FMG, honour-based violence and trafficking from the UK government.

This highlights a commitment from the Criminal Justice System in England & Wales and UK government to respond to sexual harm, and related offences, resulting in increased reporting, recording, prosecutions and convictions. The increase revealed by the CPS report is not surprising given the under-reported nature of sexual harm and starts to help us understand the nature of these offences in society; the take-home message seems to be the more we talk, the more we see and the clearer picture we get. Therefore it’s not so much an increase, potentially, but rather a reality check and call for more preventive work and public/societal engagement work to be done.

Kieran McCartan, PhD

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