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Commissioner urges sexual assault victims to seek support as Government highlights ‘systemic failings’ in criminal justice system

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has urged victims of sexual assaults to seek support as a Government report criticises prosecution rates for violent sexual offences.

Commissioner urges sexual assault victims to seek support as Government highlights ‘systemic failings’ in criminal justice system

The Rape Review found that nationally there had been a sharp decrease in the number of prosecutions since 2016-17 and that victims too often felt their recovery was at odds with continuing to pursue their case.

The report says ‘urgent, sustained change’ will be taken to roll out a new approach to investigations, reduce the number of victims withdrawing from the process, increase the volumes of trials being heard, protect the public and put more rapists behind bars.

Alison Hernandez, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, said it was vital people understood that high quality support services were on offer to victims of sexual offences, whether incidents had been reported to police or not.

“Too many cases fail because prosecutors don’t have the evidence they need to secure conviction,” she said. “We have to do more to put victims in touch with the services that are there to support them, to gather evidence soon after an offence is committed and to provide emotional and practical support.

“When victims take the brave step of reporting crime it is vital that they are believed, that they are supported and they have confidence in the police and Crown Prosecution Service.”

The latest data shows that for the year ending May 2021, 1,693 rape offences were recorded by Devon and Cornwall Police. This is a 8.6% increase (+134) on the same period the previous year. A total of 4,213 sexual offences were recorded by the force in the same period, equating to 2.4 offences per 1,000 people, compared to a rate of 2.5 nationally.

In Devon and Cornwall there are Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) in Exeter, Plymouth and Truro. These offer medical, practical and emotional support, with specially trained doctors, nurses and support workers to work with victims.

If victims decide to report the assault to the police, they can arrange for victims to attend a SARC for medical care and, if they wish, a forensic medical examination. If they have not reported the assault to the police, they can still self-refer to a SARC for assessment and medical treatment to prevent some sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.

If victims self-refer to a SARC and are considering reporting the assault to the police, the centre can arrange for them to have an informal talk with a specially trained police officer, who can explain what is involved.

The Devon and Cornwall sexual assault helpline can be reached on 0300 3034626 and information for victims of recent or non-recent sexual assaults can be found at www.sarchelp.co.uk.

Free practical and emotional help and advice for crime victims, whether or not it has been reported to police, is available from the Devon and Cornwall Victim Care Unit on 01392 475900 or via Victim Support 24/7, on 0808 1689 111 or online at www.victimsupport.org.uk.

Police can be reached by calling 999 in an emergency or 101 in a non emergency, using the online crime reporting form or WebChat at www.devon-cornwall.police.uk or by dialling 101.