Official Statistics

An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales

This is an Official Statistics bulletin produced by the Ministry of Justice, Home Office and the Office for National Statistics.


Sexual offending overview

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Sexual offending overview tables

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This is an Official Statistics bulletin produced by statisticians in the Ministry of Justice, Home Office and the Office for National Statistics. It brings together, for the first time, a range of official statistics from across the crime and criminal justice system, providing an overview of sexual offending in England and Wales. The report is structured to highlight: the victim experience; the police role in recording and detecting the crimes; how the various criminal justice agencies deal with an offender once identified; and the criminal histories of sex offenders.

Providing such an overview presents a number of challenges, not least that the available information comes from different sources that do not necessarily cover the same period, the same people (victims or offenders) or the same offences.  This is explained further in the report.

Victimisation through to police recording of crimes

Based on aggregated data from the ‘Crime Survey for England and Wales’ in 2009/10, 2010/11 and 2011/12, on average, 2.5 per cent of females and 0.4 per cent of males said that they had been a victim of a sexual offence (including attempts) in the previous 12 months. This represents around 473,000 adults being victims of sexual offences (around 404,000 females and 72,000 males) on average per year. These experiences span the full spectrum of sexual offences, ranging from the most serious offences of rape and sexual assault, to other sexual offences like indecent exposure and unwanted touching. The vast majority of incidents reported by respondents to the survey fell into the other sexual offences category.

It is estimated that 0.5 per cent of females report being a victim of the most serious offences of rape or sexual assault by penetration in the previous 12 months, equivalent to around 85,000 victims on average per year. Among males, less than 0.1 per cent (around 12,000) report being a victim of the same types of offences in the previous 12 months.

Around one in twenty females (aged 16 to 59) reported being a victim of a most serious sexual offence since the age of 16. Extending this to include other sexual offences such as sexual threats, unwanted touching or indecent exposure, this increased to one in five females reporting being a victim since the age of 16.

Around 90 per cent of victims of the most serious sexual offences in the previous year knew the perpetrator, compared with less than half for other sexual offences.

Females who had reported being victims of the most serious sexual offences in the last year were asked, regarding the most recent incident, whether or not they had reported the incident to the police. Only 15 per cent of victims of such offences said that they had done so. Frequently cited reasons for not reporting the crime were that it was ‘embarrassing’, they ‘didn’t think the police could do much to help’, that the incident was ‘too trivial or not worth reporting’, or that they saw it as a ‘private/family matter and not police business’

In 2011/12, the police recorded a total of 53,700 sexual offences across England and Wales. The most serious sexual offences of ‘rape’ (16,000 offences) and ‘sexual assault’ (22,100 offences) accounted for 71 per cent of sexual offences recorded by the police. This differs markedly from victims responding to the CSEW in 2011/12, the majority of whom were reporting being victims of other sexual offences outside the most serious category.

This reflects the fact that victims are more likely to report the most serious sexual offences to the police and, as such, the police and broader criminal justice system (CJS) tend to deal largely with the most serious end of the spectrum of sexual offending. The majority of the other sexual crimes recorded by the police related to ‘exposure or voyeurism’ (7,000) and ‘sexual activity with minors’ (5,800).

Trends in recorded crime statistics can be influenced by whether victims feel able to and decide to report such offences to the police, and by changes in police recording practices. For example, while there was a 17 per cent decrease in recorded sexual offences between 2005/06 and 2008/09, there was a seven per cent increase between 2008/09 and 2010/11. The latter increase may in part be due to greater encouragement by the police to victims to come forward and improvements in police recording, rather than an increase in the level of victimisation.

After the initial recording of a crime, the police may later decide that no crime took place as more details about the case emerge. In 2011/12, there were 4,155 offences initially recorded as sexual offences that the police later decided were not crimes. There are strict guidelines that set out circumstances under which a crime report may be ‘no crimed’. The ‘no-crime’ rate for sexual offences (7.2 per cent) compares with a ‘no-crime’ rate for overall police recorded crime of 3.4 per cent. The ‘no-crime’ rate for rape was 10.8 per cent.

Sexual offences detected by the police

If the police ‘clear up’ the crime, then this is called a detection. There are a number of ways that the police can detect a crime, including by charging a suspect, issuing a summons, or administering a caution. Sanction detections are where offences cleared up by the police result in a formal sanction issued to an offender. These can take the form of a charge or summons, a caution, a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PNDs), or offences that are asked to be taken into consideration by a court (TICs).

The sanction detection rate for all recorded crime was 27 per cent in 2011/12. Around 16,100 sexual offences were detected by sanction detection, equivalent to a sanction detection rate of 30 per cent. In the vast majority of cases (86 per cent of the total), the method of detection for sexual offences was by charge or summons (13,800 offences).

While the sanction detection rate for sexual offences was higher than for a number of other offences, such as robbery (21 per cent) and burglary (13 per cent), it was lower than other contact crimes such as violence against the person (44 per cent). This may in part reflect the greater challenges associated with investigating sexual offences and the reluctance of some victims to proceed with prosecutions.

The police work with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in deciding the most appropriate course of action in each case. The CPS may decide that the police should charge an offender with a lesser offence than the one originally recorded. This does not mean that the police have incorrectly recorded the crime but rather that the CPS have applied their own charging standard which takes into account additional factors, such as whether there is a realistic chance of obtaining a conviction on the basis of the admissible evidence. Once a suspect has been identified, arrested and charged, they can either be cautioned by the police or prosecuted at court.

In 2011, there were 1,500 offenders cautioned having admitted committing a sexual offence. The most common offence for which a caution is given is sexual assault on a female, which covers offences involving touching in a sexual manner without consent. 19 offenders were cautioned for rape, almost half that of the previous year when 35 were administered. Of the 19 administered in 2011, the majority, 16, were for offenders under the age of 18.

Court proceedings and convictions for sexual offences

Virtually all criminal cases start in magistrates’ courts - in 2011, 9,900 defendants were proceeded against at the magistrates’ court accused of sexual offences.

Of those individuals prosecuted, three quarters were committed for trial at the Crown Court, reflecting the serious nature of the offences each was accused of. This proportion has ranged from 69 to 77 per cent over the last six years. Rape accounts for around three in ten defendants prosecuted for sexual offences each year. In 2011 the 2,900 defendants prosecuted for rape were prosecuted, on average, for 2.3 rape offences each.

Of those cases that completed to the point of guilty or acquittal at the magistrates’ court or Crown Court in 2011, just under two thirds were convicted. This is eight percentage points higher than 2005. Over the same period the most common sentence was immediate custody with around three in five offenders sent to prison.

Reflecting the seriousness of the offence, nearly every convicted rapist received a custodial sentence. In 2011, only 40 such offenders out of 1,200 received a non-custodial sentence for rape. The average custodial sentence length (ACSL) for those offenders convicted of rape in 2011 was in excess of eight and a half years, an increase of nearly 21 months since 2005. The ACSL across all sexual offences was just under four and a half years, an increase of almost a year since 2005.

Aside from fraud and forgery cases, sexual offences take on average longer to complete in court than any other offence type, from the time the offence was committed to the final outcome at court. This reflects the complexities in these types of cases. In 2011, both offence types took on average more than one year and four months to reach their conclusion. However, at least half of the sexual offence cases took less than ten months from offence to completion at court. For rape cases, it can take even longer, with at least half taking more than one year to complete, and on average cases taking around one year and ten months.

Specifically for those defendants initially proceeded against for rape (2,800) in 2009, nearly all (2,700) were committed to the Crown Court for trial. Over the following three years, 49 per cent of those proceeded against were convicted and sentenced at the Crown Court, and just over 12 per cent of cases had yet to reach a final conclusion. Of those offenders convicted at all courts, six in ten were convicted of rape and three in ten were convicted of another sexual offence.

Offenders in prison for sexual offences tend to spend more time in prison than for other offence groups. In 2011, sex offenders spent on average 32 months in prison, including time spent on remand, compared with an average of 10 months for all other offences.

A large majority of offenders sentenced for sexual offences each year had not previously been cautioned or convicted of a sexual offence - over 80 per cent in each of the last seven years. Around four per cent of those convicted had five or more previous cautions or convictions for a sexual offence and, in 2011, just under 80 per cent of those people received a custodial sentence. Of those convicted of rape in 2011 who had five or more previous cautions or convictions for a sexual offence, nearly all (97 per cent) received a custodial sentence.

Published 10 January 2013