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Rise in sexual crimes across north-east ‘tip of the iceberg’ warns Rape Crisis Scotland

The north-east division recorded 1,302 sexual crimes between April 2021 and December last year.
The north-east division recorded 1,302 sexual crimes between April 2021 and December last year.

A huge rise in the number of sex crimes recorded by police across the north-east is “likely to be the tip of the iceberg,” a leading charity has warned.

Police Scotland’s latest crime figures for the region revealed the total number of sexual offences rose by more than a quarter in the space of a year.

The north-east division recorded 1,302 crimes between April 2021 and December last year – up from 1,020 the previous year and an increase of almost 28%.

Even worse were the number of indecent/sex assaults which rocketed by more than a third (34%).

It contrasted with the north where the total number of sex crimes fell from 501 to 494, including reductions for rapes and attempted rapes.

North-east sex crime ‘far higher’

The quarter three performance report showed a five-year-high for recorded sexual offences across the whole of Scotland.

Overall sexual crimes increased by 13.7% (1,360 crimes) compared to the previous year and by 18% against the five-year average.

But Rape Crisis Scotland, which supports survivors, believes it’s “very likely that the actual level of sexual crime in the north-east is far higher than these figures tell us”.

The charity’s chief executive Sandy Brindley explained: “What’s really hard to know for sure is whether or not this means there’s more rapes happening or whether or not it’s about people having more confidence to report.

Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland.

“Rape and sexual crime are particularly under-reported. That means it’s really hard to say with any level of confidence how much rape is happening within communities.”

Speaking about the north-east sex crime statistics, she added: “Even though these figures are a significant increase, they’re still likely to be the tip of the iceberg”.

The leading women’s safety campaigner said she wants more research into the actual levels of sexual crime across Scotland.

And Rape Crisis Scotland called for research into policing responses to reports of sexual crime.

Return to pre-pandemic crime levels

“We’ve seen really significant improvements in police responses to rape, but we do still hear of some negative experiences,” Ms Brindley said.

“More and more people are reporting rape, but it remains the case that the conviction rate for rape is the lowest of any crime type.

“It’s all very well people having the confidence to report what’s happened to them, but if they’re completely failed by the criminal justice process, I think that is a great concern.”

Chief Superintendent Kate Stephen

Chief Superintendent Kate Stephen, Divisional Commander for North East Division, said: “What we are now seeing with the continued easing of Covid restrictions is a return to pre-pandemic crime levels, but nonetheless, we treat all increases in reported crime with the utmost seriousness and dedicate appropriate time and resource to addressing these.

“Much of our recorded sexual crimes are non-recent incidents and we welcome hearing from all survivors of sexual abuse, as we know that there are many reasons why a person is unable to report the offence at the time.

“In addition, Deputy Chief Constable Taylor has already confirmed that cyber offending is now becoming ever-more prevalent and this is also a contributing factor in the rise in recorded sexual crime.

“Investment is being made to target criminal activity taking place online as part of Police Scotland’s Cyber Strategy.

“We strive to build public confidence in policing so that survivors can feel assured that their reports will be listened to and investigated thoroughly and professionally.

“I would urge anyone who has experienced sexual abuse to come forward so we can bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Calls for a culture change

The new crime figures are a wake-up call for public spaces across the country where it’s claimed certain kinds of behaviour are being normalised.

Rape Crisis Scotland called for a “culture change” supported by taking a “zero-tolerance approach” towards any form of sexual harassment or sexual assault.

Ms Brindley said: “Girls and young women in school regularly describe, as part of their everyday life, incidents which would meet the definition of sexual assault.

“It’s become so normalised, so much a part of what school life is like, that they wouldn’t even consider reporting it.”

She added: “I worry at the moment our justice system is not acting as an effective deterrent because so many guilty men are walking free from our system.”

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