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Concerns over impact of coronavirus lockdown on reporting of sexual offences in Norfolk

Police officials have expressed concerns that, during the coronavirus lockdown, victims of sexual offences in Norfolk may have been "less able to come forward" and report them.

It comes after the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that more sexual offences were recorded in West Norfolk – and Norfolk as a whole – over the last year to March. That is despite an overall drop in recorded crime in the borough.

Norfolk Police recorded 437 incidents of sexual offences in West Norfolk in the 12 months to March, according to the ONS – an increase of 11 per cent compared to the previous year.

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At 2.9 crimes per 1,000 people, that was in line with the rate across England and Wales, which stood at 2.7.

In Norfolk as a whole, the number of reported sexual offences rose from 2,503 in the year to March 2019 to 2,947 in the 12 months to March 2020 – an increase of 14 per cent.

The total number of offences in West Norfolk fell by two per cent, with police recording 9,651 crimes over the course of the year.

This puts the overall crime rate at 63.6 per 1,000 people, compared to a national average of 88.9.

Other crimes recorded in West Norfolk over the 12 months to March included: 3,650 violent offences, a rise of nine per cent; 2,542 theft offences, down nine per cent; 1,259 incidents of criminal damage and arson, up five per cent; 471 drug offences, up one per cent; 107 possession of weapons such as firearms or knives, up 10 per cent; and 830 public order offences, down one per cent.

Andy Coller, Norfolk Police’s head of safeguarding, said there are a number of factors which will have contributed to the increased number of reported sexual offences.

He said: “These latest statistics continue to show a rise in sexual offences, a trend which is reflected across the country.

"Although there will be genuine increases in crime, there is also a greater confidence in victims to come forward and the continued improvement of recording standards.

“However, we do have concerns that during the lockdown period, not fully represented in the statistics, victims will have been less able to come forward and report sexual offences.

“Some will have been trapped at home with their abusers or unable to access services as easily.

“Every effort has been made during lockdown and as social restrictions ease, to encourage victims and survivors to report their abuse to the police and seek specialist support.”

Mr Coller said this included providing information to family, friends, neighbours and professionals to encourage the reporting of domestic and sexual abuse in circumstances where it is difficult for victims to do so.

There has also been further investment in sexual abuse services to ensure that support will be available and accessible to those that need it.

He added: “We are very aware of the pressures people are under, particularly if they are vulnerable, and would urge them or family, friends, colleagues and neighbours to report any incidents of abuse to us or seek help through one of the organisations signposted on our website.

“These latest statistics account for a small part of the restrictions put in place on March 23 to prevent the spread of coronavirus. We do acknowledge this will have a disparate impact on crime figures in the future.”

Help and support can be found at https://www.norfolk.police.uk/advice/assault-abuse-threats/domestic-abuse.

The ONS said crime figures were largely unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic, as the period covered was mostly pre-lockdown.

However, the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) says its own provisional figures, which cover the four weeks to July 5, show crime has fallen by 14 per cent compared to the same period last year.

This was the fourth update in crime trends the council has released since the beginning of lockdown restrictions, with this month's figures showing the smallest year-on-year drop so far.

Previous updates had shown recorded crime was down by 28 per cent for the four weeks to April 12, 25 per cent down for the four weeks to May 10, and 18 per cent down in the four weeks to June 7.

While marked reductions were seen in residential burglaries, rape, vehicle crime and shoplifting, incidents of domestic abuse rose by six per cent.

NPCC lead for crime, Chief Constable Andy Cooke, said: “The vast majority of the public continue to follow the rules in place to limit the spread of the virus, and as a result, we have seen sustained reductions in crime over the course of the lockdown period.

"It is no surprise that as more people are able to move around freely, we will begin to see movement towards previous levels. However, this is a gradual change."

Previous reductions in reports of rape appeared to be slowing, he added, suggesting they may soon return to 2019 levels.

He said: "This is likely to be a combination of increased opportunities for wider social contact and easing of restrictions, making it easier for victims to report rape and assault.

“Please report to us if you have been a victim of rape, assault or domestic abuse – wherever or whenever it happened.

"We will do all we can to investigate and there are many excellent organisations who can provide support and advice."

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