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Police need a greater focus on sex crimes

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 13/10/2016

Sexual offences, including rape and abuse of children, are increasing in frequency in Northern Ireland more rapidly than any other kind of crime
Sexual offences, including rape and abuse of children, are increasing in frequency in Northern Ireland more rapidly than any other kind of crime

Sexual offences, including rape and abuse of children, are increasing in frequency in Northern Ireland more rapidly than any other kind of crime.

The Chief Constable's report to the NI Policing Board makes shocking reading. The number of offences investigated by the Rape Crime Unit topped 600 in 2014/15, up 24% on the previous 12 months; more than 4,700 child abuse referrals were made, up 23%, and child sex crime was also more frequent.

The number of rapes involving attackers not known to the victims - so-called stranger rapes - have risen by 50% in the past year.

Behind these statistics are real victims, the vast majority of them women and children. These are among the most traumatising offences which can leave their mark on victims for many years to come.

There are several factors which help to explain the increase. One is that post-Jimmy Savile there is a greater willingness for victims of historic sex attacks to report the offences to the police. Secondly women are more confident in making complaints about attacks given the more sympathetic treatment of victims in recent years.

Those are positive developments but can only account for some of the increase. Unfortunately it appears that pornography, particularly violent pornography, plays an important role in fuelling attacks.

While the Chief Constable made it clear that the PSNI is reviewing how it deals with such offences and the resources it needs to tackle this burgeoning area of crime, the fact remains that bringing offenders to justice remains a difficult task for the police.

Less than 10% of rape cases are cleared up and only around 15% of other sexual offences. These are notoriously difficult cases to successfully prosecute as they often boil down to one person's word against another. Finding collaborating evidence is often impossible.

There is a perception also that even when offenders are found guilty, the sentencing guidelines often preclude deterrent punishments being meted out.

It is clear that the PSNI is going to have to give greater priority to this area of crime. The sheer scale of the offences demands additional resources being directed towards apprehending offenders and bringing them before the courts. It doesn't necessarily mean a bigger budget - given the restraints on the public purse that is unlikely - but a redeployment of existing funds.

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