Women's Safety: Crime figures reveal the risks women face in Warwickshire

Our investigations and data teams have been looking into the alarming numbers, following the tragic death of Sarah Everard

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 9:34 am

The death of Sarah Everard has triggered a public outcry about the safety of women and how offences against them are dealt with.

An analysis of figures from Warwickshire Police reveals the risks that women face, with murder, rape and abuse contributing to what campaigners describe as a deadly 'global pandemic' of violence against women.

The most recent official statistics at police force level show that nine women and girls were killed in Warwickshire between April 2016 and March 2019.

The latest data suggests that stalking offences are set to hit a record high this year in Warwickshire.

According to a report from the Femicide Census, a research and campaigning organisation, 11 of those killed in Warwickshire in the decade to 2018 were females aged over 14. They were all killed by men.

And Warwickshire Police figures show that more than 500 women and girls reported rape in just a year.

Home Office statistics show that women are disproportionately impacted by sex crimes and are more likely to be victims of stalking, harassment and domestic abuse than men.

A spokeswoman for Rape Crisis called for radical action in the fight to end violence against women and warned that the scope of the problem is much higher than official figures suggest.

Of the 554 rape cases recorded in Warwickshire in the year to March 2020, 91% involved female victims, as did 87% of 439 sexual assaults dealt with by the force in that time. The force area has among the highest rates of sexual assaults against women and girls in the country.

There were also more than 7,000 crimes flagged as domestic abuse by officers in that period – the equivalent of 13 in every thousand people being violently or psychologically abused by someone they know.

Figures for the whole of England and Wales show that at least two-thirds of domestic abuse victims in that period were female.

More than 70% of the 2,075 women and girls killed in the decade to March 2020 knew their murderer, compared to almost half of the male murder victims. Women are more likely to be killed in a domestic setting, while men are commonly killed on the streets.

Domestic abuse has increased during the coronavirus lockdowns but a Rape Crisis spokeswoman said: “Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic that long pre-exists Covid-19.

“In this country alone, it severely and negatively impacts millions of lives, communities and society as a whole – and it is deadly.

“The vast majority of it is never reported to the police and when it is, it rarely ends in criminal justice being served.”

She called on society to come together to “end the narrative that tells women they are responsible for preventing male violence and instead tell perpetrators and potential perpetrators that we will not tolerate violence against women and girls any longer.”

Surveys suggest that women and girls are also regularly harassed in public, with a recent YouGov poll for UN Women finding that at least seven out of 10 in the UK had experienced sexual harassment on the street.

Official statistics do not reflect the scale of this specific issue but do show that Warwickshire officers investigated 1,306 harassment allegations and 325 stalking cases - but the latest data suggests that talking offences are set to hit a record high this year in Warwickshire.

Home Office data shows that the number of stalking offences recorded in the six months between April and September by Warwickshire Police, is already 58% higher than the amount recorded during the whole previous year.

The force recorded 515 stalking offences between April and September – in the 12 months to March 2020 there were 325.

It means that in the first six months since the coronavirus pandemic hit, stalking was reported three times a day on average.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust said calls to its National Stalking Helpline have risen since the start of the pandemic, with cyber stalking cases also surging.

As lockdown restrictions eased, a higher number of victims came forward to report stalking, compared to the first lockdown months. Between July and September, 270 such crimes were reported in Warwickshire – 25 more than the previous three months.

Across England and Wales, 44,990 stalking incidents were reported to police between April and September – 39% more than in the whole of 2019-20.

Changes in law and procedures may have had an impact on the figures.

In January 2020, the Home Office introduced Stalking Protection Orders, which ban perpetrators from approaching their victims and may also force them to seek professional help.

Changes to the way stalking is recorded were also introduced in April 2019, with the crime being recorded in addition to the most serious offence involving the same victim or offender.

Since April 2020, all cases of harassment reported between ex-partners must also be recorded as stalking, unless the police are satisfied stalking is not a factor.

However, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust said that while these changes may have contributed to a rise in reports, there was still significant underreporting of the crime.

A spokesman for the charity said: "Since March 2020 we have seen a rise in calls to the helpline, clients are more distressed and are requiring much greater support, we have also seen an increase in cyber stalking cases.

"Demand has fluctuated to the helpline over the course of the pandemic, in some periods it has tripled on pre-covid levels.

"The introduction of Stalking Protection Orders has been very much welcomed, though we do still hope to see more police forces issuing them.

"According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales there are around 1.5 million victims of stalking each year and as such we believe there is still significant underreporting of this crime."

Victoria Atkins, Safeguarding Minister, said: “The Government introduced Stalking Protection Orders last year to crack down on this deeply distressing crime, and I know that police forces are making good use of them.

"These orders are designed to stop perpetrators at the earliest opportunity and prevent them contacting victims - for those who refuse to be rehabilitated, we have doubled maximum sentences for stalking and harassment to 10 years.

"The Home Office also part-funds the National Stalking Helpline and has allocated £211,000 to stalking-focused charities to help them to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.

"The increased reporting in this instance demonstrates greater public awareness around stalking offences and the commitment of the police to tackle this abhorrent crime."

Home Secretary Priti Patel urged people to share their views with the Government after thousands shared their experiences of violence and abuse following the death of Sarah Everard.

She said: “So many of you have bravely shared your own experiences of harassment, abuse and violence online over recent days, so today I am re-opening our nationwide call for views on tackling violence against women and girls. The government is listening.

“Everyone should be free to walk our streets without the slightest fear. With Sarah and her family in my thoughts and prayers, I will continue to do all I can in my role as Home Secretary to protect women and girls.”

Assistant Chief Constable for Warwickshire Police, Alex Franklin-Smith said: “We recognise and understand the strength of feeling that has come about as a result of Sarah Everard’s tragic death. We share the commitment of all those who want to see a legacy of meaningful change come from this.

“While being abducted from the street is incredibly rare, sadly there are certain categories of crime, for example domestic abuse, harassment and coercive and controlling behaviour, that disproportionately affect women and girls. We know they are also disproportionately affected by crimes such as stalking where the perpetrator becomes fixated on the victim, exhibiting behaviour that is obsessive, unwanted and repeated.

“For this to change, there is a need to talk about it, to make clear it is not acceptable and to encourage those affected to ask for help and support.

“No-one should ever find themselves on the receiving end of harassment, abuse or violence. It is in no way acceptable and anyone who does so should immediately report it. It is vital that every possible step is taken by our force to protect potential victims and to provide them with the information they need to make an informed decision. Whether it’s the first incident or not, we will always do everything we can to support them.

“We remain committed to protecting the most vulnerable people in our communities, responding to concerns of abuse, supporting victims and bringing perpetrators to justice. Please speak out and seek help. No-one should ever have to suffer in silence.”