There has been a dramatic increase in recorded rapes and other sexual offences in Exeter, data obtained from Devon and Cornwall Police has revealed.
An Exeposé Freedom of Information (FOI) request discovered that there had been a 37 per cent rise in rapes since 2013, with those involving females over 16 nearly doubling.
Sexual assaults have increased by a third according to the FOI, while recorded offences with male victims have tripled.
A second-year Drama student, who recently reported being groped and followed back to her halls, believes that this is evidence of a growing issue. She told Exeposé: “It seems like sexual assaults and girls getting followed is becoming more of a problem. Currently, the thought of walking anywhere and seeing [my attacker] makes me feel sick in the pit of my stomach, but it also makes me angry, upset and scared for others.”
A spokesperson for Devon and Cornwall Police disputed this view, commenting that the statistics were “encouraging” and evidence of “victims becoming increasingly confident in coming forward to the police”.
Another student who reported being followed home by a stranger who was “basically breathing on [her] neck” attributed some of her confidence to report the crime to the #NeverOk campaign launched in October 2014. “I’ve discussed with friends about these kind of experiences, but I feel like #NeverOk took some of the stigma away. Now it feels more acceptable and reasonable to discuss sexual assault in a public forum,” she said.
Devon and Cornwall Police have since launched their own campaigns – #NoBlurredLines and the recent ‘Good Consent Guide’ – to combat stigma and help educate on consent.
Nonetheless, one final-year student felt that the campaigns have been “limited” in their scope so far. “These campaigns have helped students to better identify instances of assault and view them more critically, but the unfortunate reality is that a lot of us are still struggling to report lower-level incidents, like being touched inappropriately in a club.
“We might know that it’s ‘never ok’ to be felt up, but when people think this is ‘normal’ in a club environment, it feels stupid to say something about it.”
Such a view appears to echo the national picture. A 2015 poll by YouthSight found that one in three students had been “a victim of inappropriate touching and groping”, yet almost half had not reported their ordeal. Meanwhile, six in ten men claimed that they had not told anyone about sexual assaults against them.
Despite efforts to encourage students to come forward, one student, who told Exeposé of a shocking islamophobic sexual attack against her in summer 2014, which saw a group of males pull her headscarf and touch her upper chest, did not report her experience to the police and claimed that she would still not do so.
“People I know who have reported it to the police say they have felt victimised as if they did something wrong so it would have been traumatising to have to recall all of it again. I think the better question is, what support would I have to help me make the report?”
Devon and Cornwall Police assure students and members of the public that they have been doing “a large amount of work” to better assist victims of sexual crimes.
“We have always said time is not a factor when it comes to crime and we will always investigate… Be assured that we have dedicated sexual offences liaison officers, both male and female, who offer immediate support to any victim of a sexual crime. We along with the police and crime commissioner launched the Victim Support Unit which offers tailored support to help with recovery.”
The Students’ Guild also has trained Harassment Advisors, though students have suggested that this support could be “better signposted”.
In their #NeverOk pledge, the Guild encouraged students to sign for creating an “inclusive and welcoming campus”.
Naomi Armstrong, VP Welfare and Diversity, commented: “The Students’ Guild is continuing to develop the #NeverOK campaign which will relaunch for 2016/17 to continue to provide students with both support and a voice against sexual crime, violence and harassment.”
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, the Devon Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Services can be contacted on 01392 204174.