Sexual offences reach three-year high in Bedford

Stalking and harassment also rose

Police-recorded sexual offences have reached a three-year high, new figures show.

As the total number of reported sex offences peaked across England and Wales, charities have urged the Government to do more to protect victims who feel unsupported by the criminal justice system.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows Bedfordshire Police recorded 472 sexual offences in Bedford in the year to March.

A woman shelters looking scared on a bed (Picture posed by model)

This was up from 381 the year before, and the highest number since 2019, when there were 506.

Across England and Wales, 194,683 sexual offences were reported in 2021-22 – a 32% increase on the year prior and the highest number since records began in 2003.

Reported sexual offences have increased more than three-fold in the last decade, though the impact of high-profile cases and campaigns on victims’ willingness to report incidents is a factor, the ONS said.

Ruth Davison, CEO of domestic abuse charity Refuge, said: "We need system-wide reform to ensure that survivors are supported and believed when they make the brave choice to report the abuse they’ve experienced and the crimes committed against them.

"Without it, women will continue to lack confidence in the system and be less inclined from seeking the justice they deserve."

Detective Chief Superintendent Dee Perkins, from Bedfordshire Police, said: “Every victim who comes forward and reports sexual assault to us will be believed and supported.

“It is encouraging to see that more people are finding the courage and confidence to come forward. I cannot reinforce the message enough that victims will be supported.

“We have specialist victim engagement officers working with us, as well as the fantastic Bedfordshire Victim Care Services. We have one of the country’s highest conviction rates for rape and serious sexual offences, however, I am under no illusion that we must improve.

“Our response to male violence against women and girls has put a rigorous focus on perpetrators and our investigations. We want to work with our communities to continue building trust and confidence so more people speak out and challenge bad behaviour.”

The Home Office said more victims coming forward is "encouraging", but admitted more must be done.

A spokesperson added: "The police and the Crown Prosecution Service must continue to raise the bar in handling such cases, so victims know they will be taken seriously and the criminals responsible are put behind bars.

"Through our Rape Review Action Plan, we are working to make sure the system works better."

The number of reported rape offences across England and Wales has also reached a record high, topping 70,000 for the first time in 2021-22 – an increase of 26% from the year before.

Rape Crisis warned the number of recorded rape offences does not tell the entire story as victims and survivors fear they won’t be believed or taken seriously, and know that they are "highly unlikely" to ever see someone charged.

Chief executive Jayne Butler said: "Victims and survivors are coming forward in increasing numbers to report the sexual offences they are experiencing – and the Government have promised to act on this.

"That bravery deserves real and meaningful action in response.

"We need to see swift, sustained and ambitious action from both the Government and justice agencies in response to these increased reporting figures."

The National Police Chiefs' Council said: "Rape is a devastating offence, and we are committed to improving every aspect of how these life-changing crimes are dealt with.

"We remain positive about the progress that is being made but recognise there is still a long way to go so more victims come forward and report with confidence."

Recorded stalking and harassment offences also rose by 15% in the last year, from 630,000 to 720,000.

Of these, 1,689 were reported in Bedford – up from 1,509 in 2020-21.