'Distressing and disturbing' violence against women report published

Thursday, 31 March 2022 07:37

By Karen Dunn - Local Democracy Reporter

A report about violence against women and girls has been described as ‘distressing and disturbing reading’ by a Sussex Police and Crime Panel.

The national report, from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, was discussed during a meeting with Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne on Friday’s (March 25).

Mrs Bourne, who was part of the expert reference group which helped to write the report, told the meeting that the risk of rape in Sussex was lower than average.

She reported that there had been an almost 25 per cent increase in the reporting of rape across the two counties but added: “That is a positive – it’s not because there’s more of it happening.

“It shows that members of the public who, unfortunately, are victim to this do feel more confident in coming forward.”

While the number of reports had increased, Mrs Bourne told the meeting that the ‘solved’ rate for rape as of February had fallen 1.6 per cent to 3.7 per cent across the year. The ‘solved’ rate for rape and sexual offences fell by 2.4 per cent to 6.3 per cent. She said the complexity of cases and the backlog at Crown Court – which had been exacerbated by Covid – had not helped with the number of successful convictions or with the time taken to conclude cases.

Mrs Bourne added: “There is a huge amount of work happening in this area.

“We are moving in the right direction, but it is nowhere near as good as I would like it to be.”

Laying out some of the work being carried out to help rape survivors and to protect women and girls from violence, she said: “Rape is a horrific crime and police officers are working tirelessly to make sure that those victims, when they do come forward, are fully supported.”

Part of that work has included the development of the Safe Space Sussex app. The app – which is available to download free from the Apple App and Google Play stores – guides women and girls concerned for their safety to businesses where they can get support. To date, some 200 businesses have put themselves forward as safe spaces.

The Do The Right Thing campaign – which encourages men to call out misogynistic behaviour – has been supported by Weatherspoon and Harvey’s Brewery.

The force has also been running a pilot scheme with the Crown Prosecution Service called the Early Advice Protocol.

The idea of the scheme is to reduce the amount of time it takes for a rape charge to be made.

Mrs Bourne said it had reduced the investigation time from 148 days to 109 days, which was ‘quite positive’ and ‘not insignificant’.

As for the work being carried out within the force itself, she said education about behaviour and standards was being delivered by senior officers to every police officer and member of staff.

She added: “It’s important that the force looks inwards as well as outwards.”

Speaking after the meeting, panel chairman Christian Mitchell said: “These matters are very distressing and sobering but it is so important that we talk about them and bring them to the forefront of people’s minds.
“One positive that we can take from this is the scale of work being carried out by Sussex Police to tackle the issue of violence against women and girls and I would commend officers and the commissioner for their efforts.”

The next meeting of the Panel will be held on Friday, June 24 at 10.30 a.m. at County Hall in Lewes.

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