Rape victims urged to report offences as Horsham figures reach two-year high

Footpath off Hurst Road Horsham where a rape took place in August. Pic Steve Robards SR1518400  11-08-15 SUS-151208-104226001

Footpath off Hurst Road Horsham where a rape took place in August. Pic Steve Robards SR1518400 11-08-15 SUS-151208-104226001

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There were more reported rapes in the Horsham district in August than in any other month over the last two years.

Figures obtained by the County Times from Sussex Police via the Freedom of Information Act reveal that nine people were raped in the district in August.

They include eight women and a boy under the age of 13.

Inspector Clare McKnight of Horsham police has urged victims of similar offences to come forward, though she acknowledged it can be ‘very difficult’ for them to do so.

She said: “Sussex Police take all reports of sexual assault extremely seriously.

“We know that it can be very difficult for people to come forward and tell us what has happened to them.

“However, we would urge any person who feels they have been subject to a sexual assault to report it to the police. We are then able to investigate the incident, as well as gaining intelligence in respect of sexual offences.

“This can enable us to prevent future crimes from occurring and also bringing offenders to justice. We have specially trained staff who can help to support people through this process.”

The statistics released by the force show the number of rapes and sexual assaults reported to police that happened in Horsham each month from September 2013 to August 2015 - as well as the number of people arrested and charged during this period of time.

The County Times requested the figures after the community was rocked by details of three rapes and a ‘serious’ sexual assault that happened within the district in July and August.

Three of these high-profile offences happened in the space of two weeks in August, and two of those took place in or near Horsham town centre.

Sussex Police released the details of the four offences in a bid to aid their investigations. In total, two people have been arrested in connection with the four offences, none of which are linked.

A woman described as ‘vulnerable’ by police officers was raped behind the Sainsbury’s store in Worthing Road on July 12. A man has been arrested on suspicion of rape.

A 21-year-old woman was raped in Horsham Park in the early hours of Saturday August 8, another was raped in Horsham town centre on August 16, and a woman was forced to the ground and sexually assaulted while walking in Billingshurst on August 20.

Officers arrested a man on suspicion of the town centre attack.

The new figures released by the force show these offences were four of 26 rapes or sexual assaults in Horsham in July and August.

The number of rapes reached a two-year peak in August - the previous high was seven in January 2015.

Sussex Police’s attitude to sexual offences is robust and contrasts with the force’s current financial hardship.

Writing in this edition of the County Times, detective chief inspector Jo Banks, Sussex Police’s policy lead on rape and serious sexual assault, explains that the force is investing in additional resources.

Since October, ‘fully integrated safeguarding investigation teams’ for all sexual offences have been introduced, DCI Banks notes.

She also welcomes the rise in reported rapes, and adds the force has a ‘specific objective’ to increase reporting of these offences.

From September 2013 to August 2015, a total of 76 rapes in Horsham were reported to police.

The figures show a general increase during that period of time, with 30 of the offences taking place between September 2013 and August 2014 and 46 over the following 12 months - an increase of more than 50 per cent.

The same is true of sexual assaults, which more than doubled over the time period - from 36 between September 2013 and August 2014 to 73 the next year.

Women are the most common victims - during the two years, 48 of 76 rape victims are listed as a female aged over 16, 63 per cent.

Of the 76 victims, 13 were children aged under 13 at the time of the offence. A further 12 were children aged 13 to 16, while three men aged over 16 were raped in the two-year period.

In her column, DCI Banks explains that the number of convictions for adult offences is at a five-year high.

A person is charged in 17 per cent of cases, the third highest figure among 42 police forces in England and Wales.

DCI Banks writes: “There has been an increase in the number of recorded child rapes, which while naturally concerning may reflect our increasing focus on child sexual exploitation offences.

“And there has also been a significant increase in charges for child offences, fast approaching double that of four years ago.

“The charge ratio of 31 per cent for child offences puts Sussex at fourth from 42 forces.”

Between September 2014 and August 2015, 17 people were arrested in Horsham on suspicion of rape, and 13 were arrested on suspicion of sexual assault.

During this period of time, 46 rapes and 73 sexual assaults were recorded by police in Horsham.

The arrests could relate to historical offences, and do not include arrests made outside of the district concerning crimes that happened locally. It also excludes voluntary attendance records.

For the 12 months ending in August 2014, five people were charged and/or summoned to court on rape offences, and 21 faced a sexual assault charge.

The following year, eight people were charged with rape and 21 with sexual assault. These figures include offenders in the Horsham district and could include historical sexual offences.

Detective chief inspector Jo Banks is the Sussex Police policy lead on rape and serious sexual assault.

She also heads the police West Sussex safeguarding investigations team who work, in liaison with West Sussex County Council and other partners, on reports of serious sexual assaults, child protection and high risk domestic abuse throughout West Sussex.

She says:

Sussex Police performance in the investigation of rape and other serious sexual offences is being sustained as a force priority and compares well in relation to that of other forces in the country.

These can be particularly challenging and complex cases to investigate but it is good that the trend of reporting has continued to rise. It is a specific objective for the force to increase reporting of domestic and sexual violence. We need a full picture of this type of crime so that we can take effective action to safeguard victims and bring offenders to justice, which ultimately increases public safety and confidence.

Despite the significant financial challenge facing the force, this is an area in which we are investing additional resources.

In each of our three divisions, one covering West Sussex, we have since last month fully integrated safeguarding investigation teams for all rapes, other serious sexual assaults, child protection and high risk domestic abuse cases.

Working with our partners in the local authorities and support agencies we are confident that this will drive yet further improvements in our service.

The charge rate of 17 per cent for adult offences, as authorised by the CPS, is the highest in five years and the third highest of 42 forces in England and Wales. The number of convictions for Sussex is the highest in five years.

There has been an increase in the number of recorded child rapes, which while naturally concerning may reflect our increasing focus on child sexual exploitation offences.

And there has also been a significant increase in charges for child offences, fast approaching double that of four years ago. The charge ratio of 31 per cent for child offences puts Sussex at fourth from 42 forces.

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