(POP0068)

Written Evidence submitted by Victim Support (POP0068)

 

Introduction

  1. Victim Support (VS) is an independent charity. We are dedicated to supporting people affected by crime and traumatic incidents in England and Wales, and we put them at the heart of our organisation. Our support and work are informed and shaped by their voices and experiences.
  2. Our services help people affected by all types of crime and we provide free confidential support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for people affected by crime and traumatic events — regardless of whether they have reported the crime to the police or when it occurred. Last year we provided specialist support to 183,000 victims and survivors.
  3. Most of our services are delivered locally through skilled staff and volunteers who are deeply rooted in their communities. We adapt our services to meet local need and pride ourselves on being responsive to local demands. These services are closely linked into the National Homicide Service providing a dedicated, comprehensive service for those bereaved by murder and manslaughter and our national Supportline.
  4. While we are independent of the police, we work closely with them. In many areas of England and Wales, victims who report a crime to the police are referred in to our services by the police, and our trained staff advocate for victims to the police where their rights have not been met or the standard of service provided to them falls short. 
  5. We welcome the opportunity to respond to this inquiry. Our response largely focuses on police functions (topic two of the inquiry) and improving national conviction rates for offences with very poor outcomes (topic six). In particular, we are concerned that police functions are being broadened into areas of support and advocacy that have traditionally been delivered by independent third sector organisations; as well as poor conviction rates for sexual violence, fraud and volume crime.

Sexual Violence

  1. Sexual violence conviction rates have long been an issue of serious concern. In 2021/22 the police recorded 70,600 rape offences, but in the same time period only 1,733 successful prosecutions took place.[1] [2] In addition to poor conviction rates, the police are investigating a greater volume of sexual offences than ever. Police recorded sexual offences are currently at their highest ever levels, and last year increased by 21% compared with the previous non-pandemic year. In recent years, sexual offences recorded by the police have nearly tripled.[3]
  2. These figures represent both a crisis and a challenge for policing. Despite huge rises in reported offices, too few victims and survivors are accessing justice. In response to this, the government has undertaken an end-to-end rape review, publishing an Action Plan in 2021 and a progress update in June 2022.[4] This review had a broader focus than just policing, but made a number of recommendations specific to it. This has resulted in a number of actions to improve the justice system’s response to rape.
  3. Some welcome progress has been made in recent years, including better resourcing and training of the police and a national rollout of pre-recorded cross examination (known as Section 28) for victims of sexual offences. However it is clear from the above statistics that serious improvements need to be made in the way that sexual violence cases are handled by the police. The government has set an ambition for the police and CPS to more than double the number of adult rape cases reaching court by the end of this Parliament, and to increase the number of cases referred to the CPS by the police by two-thirds compared to 2019 levels. Given that the base levels for these improvements are exceptionally poor, these ambitions should be a bare minimum, however CPS and police data show that progress is slow.
  4. Sexual offences have serious and profound impacts on victims and survivors. Many rape victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder and experience symptoms such as anxiety, depression, suicide attempts and sleep disorders.[5] [6] Poor outcomes for victims are unacceptable, and increasing police referrals to the CPS, and increased prosecutions, for sexual offences must be a policing priority.

Fraud

  1. The scale of fraud in England and Wales is so staggering that it has reached epidemic levels. It is by far the most common crime in the country, with an estimated 3.8 million fraud offences taking place last year. Over the same time period, just over a million fraud and computer misuse offences were recorded by the police. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, fraud now constitutes 41% of all crime.
  2. Fraud is not just the most common crime type in the country, but also one that has experienced long-term growth. This is highlighted by Victim Support figures showing that the number of fraud victims we have supported has more than doubled in the past five years. VS supported 9,566 victims in 2021 compared with 4,190 in 2017, a rise of 128%.
  3. Fraud also has serious financial and emotional impacts on victims. It can seriously impact on victims’ mental health – Cabinet Office research found that fraud can result in anxiety, depression and suicide – and physical health, with symptoms including sleeplessness, nausea, heart palpitations and chest pain. [7] [8] [9] Financial impacts of fraud can range from small short-term costs to long-term impacts such as losing life savings and pension pots, going bankrupt or being made homeless.[10]
  4. Despite the scale and impact of fraud, it is fair to say that policing has not met the challenge posed by it. The majority of fraud goes unreported, and only around 4% of reported frauds receive a criminal justice outcome.[11] It is also concerning that approximately only 1% of the police workforce is primarily focused on economic crime, despite fraud constituting four in ten offences. A Police Foundation survey in 2018 found that ¾ of police officers felt they did not have enough time to deal with a fraud case. [12]
  5. This needs to change. There is a need to invest in the policing capabilities and infrastructure to properly tackle and investigate fraud. The resources currently allocated to tackling fraud do not go far enough to meet demand, and capacity to investigate fraud needs increasing.
  6. Improved police training on investigating fraud is also a necessity. Fraud requires specialist knowledge and skills to investigate, however given that many officers feel that they are not equipped to investigate complex fraud, improving professional knowledge and upskilling the police could improve the quality of cases being put forward to the CPS, and improve justice outcomes.
  7. Given that nearly two thirds of fraud is cyber-related, and offenders can work across national borders, increased international co-operation in tackling and investigating fraud is also key. We regularly hear from victims in cases where the offenders are based abroad that the police place the onus on the victim to contact and co-operate with foreign law enforcement agencies. This should not be the case. Policing must improve cross-border working on fraud, and stronger participation in international frameworks such as the Budapest Convention will allow the police to better share evidence, intelligence and information.
  8. Finally, policing has a role to play in driving up the low reporting rates, and fraud information and campaigns must move beyond educating the public on preventing fraud, and towards raising awareness of how to report fraud and access support. The fraud landscape is a complex one, with many agencies operating within the law enforcement space and fraud terminology is often unclear and confusing. Clear, simple and consistent messages on reporting fraud may help to improve reporting rates as well as ensuring that messaging around prevention does not blame the victim.

Volume Crime

  1. We recognise that the police are tackling and investigating increasing incidents of complex offences, such as sexual offences and fraud, and that this requires considerable time and resource commitments. Victims of these offences are too often let down by the justice system and steps need to be taken to improve the police response to these offences, as outline above. However we are also concerned that the police response to so called ‘volume crime’, such as burglary and theft is too often lacking, and that outcomes are poor.
  2. A welcome HMICFRS investigation into acquisitive crime, published in August 2022, found that the police response to these offences “is not consistently good enough” and “must improve”. [13] In the majority of cases victim are not given crime-scene preservation advice, opportunities to catch offenders are routinely being missed and police forces lack investigative capacity and capabilities. This is reflected in criminal justice data; analysis by the Times newspaper found that the percentage of solved burglaries nearly halved between 2014/15 and 2021/22 – from 9.5% to 5.6%.[14] Home Office data reveals that only 4.2% of theft offences and only 6.6% of robbery offences result in a charge or summons.[15] This is a dramatic fall on 2015 levels, where 11.5% of theft offences and 19.1% of robberies resulted in a charge or summons. [16]
  3. Given that last year the police recorded 1.6 million theft offences, this means that far too few victims are able to access justice.[17] While these offences are often referred to as ‘low level’ crimes, they have a high impact on victims and this impact can be compounded by a poor response from the criminal justice system. Research into the emotional effect of burglary found that 73% of burglary victims reported considerable fear of re-victimisation - 70% of which were distressed following the burglary and 40% were afraid to be alone in their property for some weeks following the incident. Burglary victims also reported long-term worry.[18]
  4. There are some positive recent steps being taken to improve the police response to volume crime, not least the NPCC’s commitment for the police to attend all home burglaries.[19] The 2022 HMICFRS report also sets out key recommendations for the police to improve their response to acquisitive crime, and action must be taken on each of these.
  5. However we believe that further action is needed. A commitment to attend burglaries in person must be accompanied by a target to increase the number of burglary and theft cases resulting in a charge or a summons. We recommend that nationally forces are set a target of returning to 2015 levels, when 11.5% of theft offences and 19.1% of robberies resulted in a charge or summons.

Police increasingly carrying out the function of victims services

  1. Pertinent to the topic of police force functions is our concern that the police are increasingly being made responsible for delivering victims’ support services. These services are distinct from the traditional services to victims provided by the police – such as updates on investigations – and refer to the care and support services that are commissioned by PCCs using a central government grant.
  2. Up until 2015, when the commissioning model changed and responsibility for commissioning victims’ support services were devolved to the police, these services were delivered by independent organisations. While the police only deliver victims’ support services in a minority of areas, in the areas where the police do provide this service it represents a huge change in police functions as they are responsible for providing care and support services that have been built and developed by third sector organisations. 
  3. We are seeing two main models nationally. Firstly, the insourcing to the police of the initial victim contact function to determine support needs, usually to be absorbed into police control rooms or contact centres. This is not a function related to crime investigation but to the support requirements of the victim, and has historically been delivered by external organisations.
  4. The second model is the wholesale insourcing of the victims’ service, so that the community based support service is delivered by police staff rather than an external victim specific provider. These models are in operation in a number of police forces nationally.
  5. We are seriously concerned by these developments as we believe they deter victims who do not want to engage with the police from accessing support, and are depriving victims and the public of access to independent support. The police’s focus should be on preventing and investigating crime, not carrying out the support functions of the voluntary and community sector. Our concerns with this approach are set out below.
  6. In places where the independent support service has been replaced with a police delivered service, we are concerned that victims may refrain from seeking support if they choose not to involve the police. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, only approximately four in ten crimes are reported to the police. A three-year research project by Victim Support and Mind also found that under half of victims of crime with a mental health problem report to the police, and black people report lower levels of confidence in the police.[20] [21]
  7. Academic research has also found that victims may not engage with support services as they believe that formal support services are not independent organisations but government-backed or part of the police and thus perceived negatively.[22]
  8. There is also substantial evidence that victims of serious offences such as domestic abuse and sexual violence are less likely to contact the police than victims of other crimes. Only 15% of victims of serious sexual offences ever report to the police as do only a small number of domestic abuse victims. The most commonly cited barriers to reporting domestic abuse include fear that they will not be taken seriously by the police, distrust of the police and poor previous experience of the police. While these victims may not wish to have involvement with the police, many still require access to a support service that can provide support, help and advice. This may include counselling, information and advice on how to safely leave their partner, support their children and/or find alternative accommodation.
  9. Additionally, evidence suggests that victims want support that is delivered by an independent organisation, not the police. A YouGov poll found that 71% of adults in England and Wales said it was important for victims of crime to receive help and support from a victim service that is separate and independent from the police, with 41% saying it was very important. This figure rises to 87% among victims of domestic abuse and/or sexual violence.[23]
  10. We also believe that police delivered support services are in direct contradiction to the Ministry of Justice’s Supporting BAME Victims of Crime: Guidance for Commissioners. This sets out quality standards for commissioning support services for BAME victims and survivors, but none of these can be effectively met by an in-house, police delivered service.
  11. For example, the first quality standard requires commissioners to consider and capture the needs of BAME victims in planning services. We believe a police delivered service cannot have considered BAME victims’ needs as evidence indicates that needs include service provision that is independent of the police. This includes the evidence cited within the guidance itself. Another quality standard compels commissioners to provide messaging about the independence of victims’ services from the police; again this is impossible to deliver if the service is delivered by the police, and we are concerned that victims are not being fully informed about the proximity of the victim service to the police, including their information being on police systems.
  12. We believe that the removal of independent support services stifles the ability of victims to receive support and alienates those who do not want to engage with the police or statutory services. We strongly urge action from government and commissioners to ensure that victims in all parts of England and Wales are able to access services that are independent of the police.

Addressing inequalities

  1. Addressing inequalities within police, especially racial inequalities, and improved data collection must be a policing priority. We welcome many measures in the NPCC and College of Policing Police Race Action Plan and believe that many of the commitments and objectives represent a wide-range of improvements. However we have a number of suggestions as to how policing can do more to improve trust and outcomes for BAME victims and communities.
  2. Firstly, there is a need to improve the recording, analysis and monitoring of the ethnicity of victims of crime when an incident is reported. To do so, targets and ambitions must be set around increasing data capture. This is needed to ensure that progress is able to be measured; without accurate, standardised and relevant data capture any progress on many ambitions in the plan will be difficult to evidence.
  3. Additionally, steps must be taken to improve reporting rates for BAME victims of crime. While the Race Action Plan has some important actions to improve trust among BAME people, police forces must also focus on improving reporting rates among BAME victims of crime. This must include research and analysis to understand the needs of BAME victims, and the barriers they face in reporting.

 

 

November 2022


[1]https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/crimeinenglandandwales/yearendingjune2022#domestic-abuse-and-sexual-offences

[2] https://www.cps.gov.uk/publication/cps-data-summary-quarter-4-2021-2022

[3]https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/sexualoffencesinenglandandwalesoverview/march2020

[4]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1083955/rape-review-progress-update-june-2022.pdf

[5] Rothbaum, B. O., Foa, E. B., Riggs, D. S., Murdock, T. B., & Walsh, W. (1992). A prospective examination of posttraumatic stress disorder in rape victims. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 5(3), 455–475.

[6] Chen, L. P., Murad, M. H., Paras, M. L., Colbenson, K. M., Sattler, A. L., Goranson, E. N. … Zirakzadeh, A. (2010). Sexual Abuse and Lifetime Diagnosis of Psychiatric Disorders: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 85(7), 618–629.

[7]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/866608/2377_The_Impact_of_Fraud_AW__4_.pdf

[8] https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/documents/files/VS_Understanding%20victims%20of%20crime_web.pdf

[9]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263328450_Not_a_victimless_crime_The_impact_of_fraud_on_individual_victims_and_their_families

[10] https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/documents/files/VS_Understanding%20victims%20of%20crime_web.pdf

[11] https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs/wp-content/uploads/fraud-time-to-choose-an-inspection-of-the-police-response-to-fraud.pdf

[12] https://www.police-foundation.org.uk/news/policing-fraud/

[13] https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs/publications/police-response-to-burglary-robbery-and-other-acquisitive-crime/

[14] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/burglars-go-unpunished-with-only-5-of-cases-solved-sk0p0wjmv

[15] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/crime-outcomes-in-england-and-wales-year-to-december-2021-data-tables

[16] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/crime-outcomes-in-england-and-wales-year-to-september-2015-data-tables

[17]https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/crimeinenglandandwales/yearendingjune2022#theft-offences

[18] https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/documents/files/VS_Understanding%20victims%20of%20crime_web.pdf

[19] https://news.npcc.police.uk/releases/all-home-burglaries-in-england-and-wales-will-be-attended-by-the-police

[20] https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/4121/at-risk-yet-dismissed-report.pdf

[21] Cabinet Office. (2017) Race Disparity Audit. London: Cabinet Office

[22] Zarafonitou, C. (2011). Punitiveness, fear of crime and social views. In H. Kury, & E. Shea (Eds), Punitivity. International Developments Vol 2: Insecurity and Punitiveness. Bochum: Universitatsverlag, pp. 269-294.

[23] YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,934 adults from England and Wales. Fieldwork was undertaken between 6-7 February 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted to GB adults, filtered by adults in England and Wales (aged 18+).