CW: discussion of sexual assault
EXCLUSIVE: Criminal reports of sexual assault in the city of Exeter have tripled in the past ten years, but the number of successful criminal charges has dropped from 23 per cent to three per cent.
Over 328 reports of sexual assault were submitted to Devon & Cornwall Police between 2018 and 2019, but only three per cent of the reports resulted in a criminal charge, Exeposé has found.
From 2010 to 2011, 121 sexual assaults were reported, with 23 per cent resulting in criminal charges. However, between 2018 and 2019, when reports of sexual assault almost tripled to 328, the amount of successful criminal charges decreased to three per cent.
We acknowledge that the Crown Prosecution Service referral rates are low and we are working to understand the impactBen Deer, Detective Superindendent
Ben Deer, Detective Superintendent, said: “The increase in sexual assault and sexual harassment reports is in part down to improvements in how we record crime which has had a positive impact on these figures, showing that the public have greater confidence in reporting crime to us.
“The upshot of this confidence from our public is that we will also see a rise in the reporting of certain crime types. For example, all incidents of rape are now being recorded as crimes in the control room at the initial report. This change in recording practice has seen a significant increase in the number of sexual offences the Force is recording which has seen a rise.
“We acknowledge that the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) referral rates are low and we are working to understand the impact of this on the service we offer victims.
“It is prudent to state that we are a victim-led police force, meaning that we take into account the victim’s wishes when making decisions regarding individual cases. There is no single response to cases such as these and decision making encompasses a wider range of factors than the single objective of obtaining a conviction. These could include considerations around safeguarding, providing the appropriate support and respecting the wishes of the victim.
“I am confident that not only are my staff and officers working hard to protect and serve the public of Devon and Cornwall, but that this part of the country continues to remain a safe place to live, work, and visit, and that the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime is still very low.”
The Devon & Cornwall Police’s records, obtained by Freedom of Information (FoI), show that out of all sexual assault crimes reported in the last ten years, 98 per cent of all victims were aged between 18 and 25.
I had lost faith by this point with the reporting systems and support on both sidesUniversity of Exeter student
Although the age range most vulnerable strongly converges with the average age of an Exeter undergraduate, according to the FoI, no reports of sexual assault were submitted to the University between 2010 and 2015. From 2015 onwards, the total number of reports of sexual assault made to the University stayed under five per year.
A University of Exeter student, who chose to remain anonymous, shared their experience of assault.
“I was sexually assaulted walking to a pub – they were two men who knew exactly who I was, as they kept making references to me as they were assaulting me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in a well lit area, and there weren’t any cameras there for there to be evidence.
“I reported it to the University, who kept pushing me to report it to the police, as there was apparently nothing they could do except help me report it and provide a support worker to help with the process. I reported it to the police, who said there was nothing much they could do except give me safety advice and provide an on-call service.
Sexual harassment has also increased, from 188 reports in 2016 to 620 in 2018. Despite this tripled figure, only one per cent of those reported were charged in 2018.
“I’ve seen these assaulters on campus numerous times since. They make it impossible for me to carry out my normal tasks at university. I didn’t report it to the Guild, as I had lost faith by this point with the reporting systems and support on both sides.
“Safeguarding means that the student should be made to feel safe on campus in the face of assault and subsequent trauma, and this is where the University should step in instead of dithering around about police reports.”
Another student who experienced assault and chose to remain anonymous shared their story. “I didn’t report the incident to the police, mainly because of the shame I felt, as it happened when I was very drunk and I couldn’t remember every detail.
“I didn’t report it to the uni. I felt ashamed because at the time I had multiple sexual partners so I thought people would think it was my fault for being supposedly promiscuous.”
Sexual harassment, which is defined by Devon & Cornwall Police as a nonviolent charge, has also increased, from 188 reports in 2016 to 620 in 2018. Despite this tripled figure, only one per cent of those reported were charged in 2018.
There were no reports of sexual harassment were made to the University in the past ten years as found from the FoI.
We support students to report to the police but if they do not wish to take their case to the police the University can take formal action where a reporting student chooses to take this routeUniversity of Exeter spokesperson
Another student who was a victim of sexual harassment tells Exeposé “After receiving continued harassment from builders working on an accommodation site opposite mine, I reported my harassment to my accommodation reception and they said they reported to the council. I never received an update. I didn’t say anything to the Guild as it is private accommodation and I didn’t think they could do much to help.”
A University spokesperson said “We actively encourage anyone who has experienced sexual harassment, abuse, violence or sexual misconduct to report it immediately either informally or formally using our Exeter Speaks Out services.
“We support students to report to the police but if they do not wish to take their case to the police the University can take formal action where a reporting student chooses to take this route. We have set up a website to provide comprehensive information on the ways to report and get proper help and advice.
“This includes access to the University’s new sexual misconduct policy and procedure, which is designed to provide reporting students with expert support. We also working with the Devon and Cornwall Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) and the local Sexual Assault Referral Service (SARC) on the appointment of a University Lead for Sexual Misconduct.
There is plenty more work to be done, not just at Exeter but around the UK, to ensure our campuses are as safe as possibleKatie Heard, VP Welfare and Diversity
“We know that many people will report to the police instead of the university and that will be absolutely appropriate in most cases. We are here to support students though and can offer emotional as well as practical support and will often work alongside the police on investigations and actions.
“No-one should suffer in silence and during Sexual Abuse and Violence Awareness Week from 3 February we will be once again highlighting the support available and supporting a screening of a student film about rape followed by a discussion about the help available.
Katie Heard, VP Welfare and Diversity, said “When a student is a victim of a sexual assault, our Advice service is available to provide confidential support. The support that can be offered by Advice is tailored to each case; it is important to note that it is entirely the students’ decision what they decide to do in terms of reporting the crime to the police or the University.
“The low number of students reporting assaults to the University compared with the police shows that students perhaps aren’t engaging with the services available, however I would encourage further investigation into the reasons for this before drawing any concrete conclusions.
“I am committed to making Exeter a safer place for our students, and it has been very positive seeing students, engaging with sexual abuse and harassment training, sexual consent events and the introduction of the Apple Taxi safety scheme so far this year.
“There is plenty more work to be done, not just at Exeter but around the UK, to ensure our campuses are as safe as possible.”
If these issues affect you, you can get in touch with:
Devon Rape Crisis:
01392 204 174
Editor: Harry Caton