DAMNING figures have revealed that the number of sexual offences reported to Thames Valley Police increased by 31 per cent in the past year – but a charity supporting survivors has warned this is just ‘the tip of the iceberg.’

Home Office data shows the number of sexual offences reported to the force, which covers Oxfordshire, went from 5,104 to 6,669 between March last year and March this year.

But Beki Osborne, who works as a development manager for Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre, said that the figures do not accurately reflect the situation the charity is facing.

She said the number of people seeking help from the centre had tripled since the beginning of the pandemic and that the centre had experienced a growth in the demand for their services. 

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She said: “We have experienced a growth in the last few years and we are definitely seeing an increase in demand for our services year-on-year.

“We are the only official organisation in Oxfordshire that supports survivors of sexual assault and we can support people from the age of 14, whether they have reported the assault to the police or not.

“We have a therapeutic service for women and a listening service for people of all ages and we have been running for more than 40 years, having started as a volunteer collective.

“These figures are just the tip of the iceberg and there’s a whole range of reasons for it. We know that there are survivors who are being held in abusive relationships because of the cost of living crisis and in the past because of the pandemic, but there’s many reasons that can cause people to shift their motivation to report, and it’s hard to put a finger on it.

“When we talk about sexual violence, we know we are talking about a public health issue too. If we focus more on preventing it, we are improving people’s health as a result – but people don’t see it that way.

“There is a focus on the night-time economy and how sexual violence happens in those settings and in dark alleyways – but we know it can happen to anyone, everywhere.

“The majority of victims experience it in private settings, by someone they already know. There’s no excuse for it and we need to look at it more generally, instead of focusing only on the night-time economy.”

Oxford Mail:

A spokesperson for Thames Valley Police said: “The tackling of sexual offences remains a priority for the force, and we would continue to encourage victims of such crimes to please come forward and report if they’ve been a victim of sexual abuse, so that we can investigate it thoroughly and bring offenders to justice.

“We are also working hard to improve our service to victims of sexual offences. Senior officers dedicated to these areas are working on improving our training, crime management and our use of civil orders, as well as closely monitoring the performance of officers and teams.

“Additionally, in March, we launched our strategy to tackle violence against women and girls. It sets out the force’s plan aligned under the pillars as defined in the national VAWG strategy.

“One of those pillars, ‘The relentless pursuit of perpetrators', is centred on bringing sexual offenders to justice.

“The plan contains several strands of work for dealing with perpetrators and working with partners to identify sexual and violent offending at the earliest opportunity.

“It also demonstrates our commitment to listening to the experiences of women and girls and maintaining excellent victim care to those who find themselves navigating the criminal justice system.”

The same figures also show that about 40 per cent of crimes (a total of 64,700) reported to Thames Valley Police over a year went unsolved.

There was a 17 per cent increase in the number of crimes reported: 176,131 from March 2021 to March 2022, whereas 149,920 were reported to the force in the previous year.

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A force spokeswoman said: “Investigation is at the core of what we do to catch criminals and provide the best service we can for victims of crime in our communities.

“On occasions, however, cases remain unsolved. This can be for a number of reasons, such as formal action not being in the public interest, further investigation is not in the public interest, no suspect is able to be identified, or insufficient evidence is available to prosecute a suspect.

“However, investigations that are filed are done so pending any further information coming to light, and can be reviewed should any new evidence or information become apparent. Thames Valley Police remains committed to bringing offenders to justice.”

Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre has created a support group for survivors who feel they have been ‘failed’ by the justice system. It calls it ‘the NFA group’ – referencing the police’s acronym for ‘no further action’.

Ms Osborne said: “We have seen a number of people experiencing that feeling of injustice against them, and who feel that their perpetrators were not held accountable. Most of them say, ‘I came to you [the police] for help but justice has not been served for me’. They feel like they are being let down by the system.”

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This story was written by Anna Colivicchi, she joined the team this year and covers health stories for the Oxfordshire papers. 

Get in touch with her by emailing: Anna.colivicchi@newsquest.co.uk

Follow her on Twitter @AnnaColivicchi