Recorded rape numbers hit new high
The number of rapes recorded by police has soared to its highest ever level, as overall crime rose for the first time in more than a decade, official figures have revealed.
Some 26,703 rapes were recorded by forces in England and Wales in 2014, a 40% increase on the previous year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
A total of 80,262 sexual offences were recorded last year - a 32% rise - to reach its highest level since the introduction of the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) in 2002/03.
The ONS said the increasing figures were due to improvements in the way offences were being recorded by police, while charities reported a "dramatic" increase in victims coming forward in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Fay Maxted, chief executive of the Survivors Trust, which represents 130 rape, sexual violence and child sexual abuse charities, said: "We have known for a long time that under-reporting is a real problem in terms of sexual offence cases.
"Previous estimates have suggested just 15% of sexual offences are reported to police for all kinds of reasons. Victims may feel fearful, ashamed or guilty.
"One of the effects of Operation Yewtree, in the wake of Savile, has been it has brought sexual cases to the fore.
"The convictions of Rolf Harris and Stuart Hall have encouraged people to feel justified in coming forward.
"All our agencies have seen dramatic increases in people coming forward - some have seen a rise of 50% - although they may not necessarily have reported to police."
Overall crime recorded by police increased by 2% to 3.8 million offences - the first time it has risen since 2003/04 - with violence against the person offences up 21% and public order offences increasing by 14%.
Although theft offences fell by 5% last year, shoplifting rose to its highest level since 2002/03, with more than 325,000 offences recorded by police.
The ONS said: "This is the first increase in police recorded crime since 2003/04 but needs to be seen in the context of the renewed focus on the quality of crime recording.
"Although the latest figures show a small increase, the level of police recorded crime is still 20% lower than in 2008/09 and 37% lower than the peak in 2003/04."
Police recorded 515 homicides last year, 37 fewer than in 2013 and the smallest number since 1977, the ONS said.
This is compared to 904 homicides recorded from April 2003 to March 2004.
The number of rapes involving knives or sharp instruments recorded by the police increased by 31% to 311 last year. Meanwhile, the number of sexual assaults involving knives rose by 40% to 125 in 2014.
There was also a 9% increase in offences recorded by Action Fraud, the UK's national fraud and internet crime reporting centre.
Meanwhile, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), a separate measure reflecting experience of crime, revealed a 7% fall in crime to 6.9 million incidents against households and adults. This is the lowest estimate since the CSEW began in 1981.
Theft was also the only "statistically significant" fall in crime in the CSEW survey, with a 7% decrease, the ONS said.
Paul Ford, from the Police Federation, said: "Sexual offences are increasing which may be due to increased awareness and reporting but it's an issue we have to take incredibly seriously and monitor the situation.
"We have seen many of our specialist teams and units, who deal with such crimes, cut or under threat.
"There is also evidence that online fraud is increasing and is under-reported so resources need to be looked at carefully in the area of cyber-crime too.
"There are well documented issues of confidence in crime statistics and whether or not they match reality and, whilst it is important to recognise that the vast majority of crime is recorded correctly, there must be a move away from the current over-reliance on crime statistics as the main gauge of policing effectiveness."
Katie Russell, national spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England and Wales, said the charity was "cautiously positive" about the increase in police-recorded rapes.
"I tend to agree that the rise in cases is unlikely to respond to an increase in sexual offences," she said.
"More people are willing to come forward. We have seen an increase in demand for our services, with survivors coming forward to talk about their experiences.
"But the overwhelming majority of survivors don't report to police."
Chief Constable Jeff Farrar, National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) lead for crime recording and statistics, said: "The substantial rise in reports to police of sexual offences shown in today's survey is testament to the hard work of the police service in recent years to improve our recording of these offences.
"It also shows that more victims have greater confidence to report these crimes, past and present, to the police in the knowledge that they will be treated sensitively and their complaint will be fully investigated."