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ONS survey reveals just one in six female rape victims report to the police

"In a damning sign of a lack of faith in our criminal justice system, 1 in 4 say they did not think they would be believed if they did report and 39% believe the police could not help in any case."

On Thursday 18 March, the latest Office for National Statistics figures on sexual offences from the year ending March 2020 were released.

The latest estimates from the CSEW showed that fewer than one in six (16%) female victims and fewer than one in five (19%) male victims aged 16 to 59 years of sexual assault by rape or penetration since the age of 16 years reported it to the police.

Responding to the latest ONS figures, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, said: 

“Last summer, I invited rape complainants to share their experience of the criminal justice system. Almost 500 victims of rape and sexual assault responded – and the results were stark.

“Just 1 in 7 told me that they believed they would receive justice by reporting the crime to the police, in a clear sign that victims were losing faith in the justice system.

“We now see these findings borne out in the latest statistics. The latest figures from the ONS confirm the prevalence of sexual abuse and violence remains very high and that women are disproportionately impacted. We know that the majority of victims do not feel confident to report to the police. Fewer than one in six female rape victims reported it to the police. The figure was 1 in 5 for men.

“In a damning sign of a lack of faith in our criminal justice system, 1 in 4 say they did not think they would be believed if they did report and 39% believe the police could not help in any case.

“More worryingly still, there are clear and troubling generational differences. Younger people are even less likely to go to the police, with just 10% of 16-19-year-olds estimated to have told authorities, compared to 27% of 35-44-year olds.

“While these figures are distressing, they are not necessarily surprising. My survey found that being believed is one of the most important things to survivors. Survivors want to be treated sensitively, fairly, respectfully, and to be believed. But many feel their credibility is tested through each stage of the criminal justice process.

“And the disastrously low level of rape prosecutions is undeniably a factor in so few feeling they should report to authorities.

“If you are raped in Britain today, your chances of seeing justice are slim. We have seen a catastrophic fall in rape prosecutions in recent years. The latest data up to September 2020 show just 1.5% of cases result in a charge. That means that an overwhelming majority of cases do not reach court.

“It is perhaps no wonder then that this year’s ONS stats are so bleak. But victims simply must have the confidence to report.

“The less faith victims have in them receiving justice, the less they will report, the less we prosecute, the more this insidious behaviour is allowed to carry on unchallenged.

“But rape or sexual assault is a serious crime and it is often a serial offence. Rapists carry on until they are stopped. Through our failure to prosecute, there is a very real threat that we are giving space for serial rapists to attack again.

“We know that we have a mountain to climb if we are to restore rape victims’ confidence in the justice system. Recent events have only served to underline the challenge before us. We simply must see an urgent escalation of rape up the political agenda. This starts with the government’s end-to-end rape review, which must deliver deep and meaningful change. And it includes drastically increasing the number and proportion of rape prosecutions.”