At least two-fifths of police forces in England and Wales do not have specialized rape and serious sexual offenses (Rasso) units, the Guardian can reveal.
Gender-based violence activists said the absence of such units was of deep concern at a time of low public confidence in the police and with rape prosecutions at historically low levels.
The England and Wales Crime Survey previously estimated that 510,000 women are sexually assaulted or raped in one year. Police recorded 55,696 rapes in the year 2020-2021, but only 3,539 were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), resulting in only 1,109 convictions.
Of the 43 territorial police forces, 17 said they did not have a Rasso unit, while five did not respond to access to information (FoI) requests submitted by the Guardian prior to publication. , which means that the actual number could be higher.
Jayne Butler, Managing Director of Rape Crisis England and Wales, said: “The lack of rape and serious sexual offense units is of great concern. At a time when public confidence in the police is at an all-time low, it is imperative that the police force deal with all allegations of rape and sexual offenses with the utmost care and diligence.
“We know that properly trained and specialized police can play an important role for victims and survivors, making them feel believed and supported on their journey to criminal justice.
“The closure and lack of units will have a detrimental effect on those who wish to report and may prevent victims and survivors from coming forward.”
Four of the responding forces said they had closed units in the past decade. They included one of the largest forces in England and Wales, the Greater Manchester Police (GMP), which shut down its Rasso unit in 2018. Cheshire shut down its unit in March, while the other two, Gwent and Warwickshire both shut down their Rasso units in 2014. GMP, Gwent and Cheshire all said they had instead placed specialist Rasso officers in local police units. In its FoI response, Gwent said it was intended to “provide the best service to victims”.
But Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said: “It is of great concern that two-fifths of the police forces in England and Wales do not have a specialized rape unit. have lost vital expertise in investigating and prosecuting sexual violence following the disbandment of several of these units due to funding cuts in recent years.
“This is concerning at a time when rape prosecutions remain at their lowest levels on record. If we are serious about prioritizing the fight against sexual violence against women and girls, we need to ensure that police and prosecutor responses continuously improve and that it is essential to develop a specialization in these types of crimes. “
Police investigation into violence against women received renewed attention amid accusations of institutional misogyny following the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a Met officer in service and the holding by officers of a vigil in his memory, during which demonstrators were forcibly taken away.
The Labor Party blamed the government squarely. Shadow Attorney General Ellie Reeves said: “This government is failing women and girls on all fronts. Rasso units are crucial to improving detection and pursuit levels, and it is shocking that two-fifths of the forces do not.
“As stated in our plan to support survivors, Labor would ensure that the work of the Rasso prosecutions is a clear and appointed permanent specialty within the PSC and we would ensure that each police force has a specialized unit. Rasso. “
Police Chief Sarah Crew, chief of the National Police Chiefs Council rape officer, admitted there was more to do, but said: “The police take these offenses incredibly seriously and our plan of action to solving problems throughout the criminal justice system is showing signs of success. For example, the number of cases that police refer to the CPS for a decision on whether to charge a suspect has increased by more than a quarter in the past year.
“Treating rape more effectively is not simply a matter of having a team of specialists, but rather of highly qualified and trained officers, access to new investigative techniques and close links with independent counselors. matters of sexual violence and the Crown Prosecution Service. We are committed to making this a reality for every victim across the country. “
The Interior Ministry has been approached for comment.