Sex crimes soar by 60% in Northern Ireland - reported rapes hit record high
Sex crime in Northern Ireland has risen by more than 60% in the last six years.
The number of reported rapes has reached an all-time high, including cases of stranger rapes which have doubled in the space of 12 months.
Police have seen a year-on-year increase in sexual offending, Chief Constable George Hamilton said.
He also revealed officers had recently dealt with a case of a 16-year-old boy who attacked his partner after watching extreme pornography. The PSNI chief disclosed details of the shocking rise in cases after being questioned by members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
Mr Hamilton revealed:
- The number of offences investigated by the Rape Crime Unit topped 600 in 2014/15 - up 24% on the previous year;
- More than 4,700 child abuse referrals were made - up 23%;
- And child sex crime, including peer-on-peer offending, is also on the rise.
Jim Gamble, former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), said: "It should be a concern.
"The statistics across the UK show there has been an increased level of reporting (of crimes)."
In a written question from the Policing Board, Mr Hamilton was asked to explain the rise in violent sexual offending linked to pornography.
He revealed how police were now swamped by cases.
Mr Hamilton said: "Overall sex offending has increased by 61% over the last six years, with a year-on-year increase.
"The number of stranger rapes is also increasing year-on-year; currently we are seeing a 50% increase on the same period last year.
"The number of Rape Crime Unit offences has increased steadily in the last five years, reaching 611 cases in 2014/15, which is the highest recorded and compares to 492 in 2013/14.
"Up until August 31, 2016, the number of recorded offences amounted to 255 compared to 207 in the previous year to date."
Mr Hamilton said the number of child abuse referrals received in 2015/16 was 4,723 - up 23% on last year. "This demand is continuing to grow, with an increase rate of 38% in 2016 compared with the last financial year to date," he added.
"This includes child sex offences, including peer-on-peer offending."
Mr Hamilton goes on to explore some of the reasons for the increase.
"Advances in global technology mean that the use and popularity of social media and internet sites has risen at an unprecedented rate over the last 10 years," he adds.
"It is difficult to determine what causes sexual violence. A number of recent studies are looking at the possibility of whether interest in extreme pornography might be a factor.
"As an illustration, the PSNI have recently dealt with a case where a 16-year-old male claimed to have watched extreme pornography online and believed this to be normal and acceptable behaviour and went on to offend against his partner."
Mr Gamble is now chief executive of Ineqe Group, which focuses on child protection.
He said publicity surrounding high-profile cases such as former BBC presenter Jimmy Savile had encouraged more people to speak out.
"Post-Savile, the benefit has been people feel more comfortable coming forward," he added.
"I know the Public Protection Unit in the PSNI has been working hard with its partners ... that survivors are treated credibly.
"That's the positive side of it. The fact remains that there is a lot of work to be done. We want to see more people coming before the courts."
Mr Gamble wants those committing offences to be put in prison "for a significant period" to act as a "deterrent".
"The fact remains we are seeing an increase across the board, which is deeply concerning," he added.
He said there needs to be "better levels of training and victim engagement".
In May legislation in Northern Ireland was brought into line with England and Wales to extend the definition of "extreme pornography". The same legislation, the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2016, also included provision for revenge pornography.