Claims by victims of sexual violence have soared since the Jimmy Savile scandal and the charges brought against celebrities, doubling in Wiltshire in the past year.
Angus Macpherson, the elected Police and Crime Commissioner for the county, has revealed the sharp rise, which has itself demanded the need or more professionals to support the survivors of past sex attacks.
He has paid tribute to the work of the Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAS), but speaking at the annual meeting of the Wiltshire Rape and Sexual Assault Centre he said there were not enough advisers now to cope with a “rapidly increased caseload.”
The Commissioner told the Centre’s annual meeting: “Recent publicity about historical cases of sexual abuse has led to referrals going through the roof.
“The last figures I have are that that, between April and September 2012, there were 95 referrals to the IDVAs in Wiltshire against 180 in the same period this year.”
Asked to address key changes that would put victims of sexual crimes at the heart of the criminal justice system, Mr Macpherson declared there was a need to train a range of people in whom survivors might confide, such as health visitors, GPs, children’s centre or Home Start workers.
“Given the personal and distressing nature of sexual violence, victims may not necessarily speak to specialist workers,” he said.
“As a society we should ensure that the people to whom victims are likely to speak have sufficient knowledge and training. They must be able to help those who come forward, and encourage those who have not.”
He outlined the skills that were likely to be required:
• Identifying risk factors clearly and early
• Resolving credibility issues – assessing the credibility of the allegation, not the credibility of the victim
• Exploding myths and stereotypes and raising awareness
• Identifying patterns of offending behaviour, particularly involving children and young people
• Supporting the victim all the way through
And he acknowledged that many survivors of sexual violence were unwilling to report what had happened to them.
He explained: “Is it because of a misconception that they have about the process which an experienced worker could explore and reassure them about, or because victims are simply unwilling to make such a large and potentially traumatic investment for what they might see as a low chance of conviction?”
Turning to the help needed by victims who decide to make a complaint and go through the criminal justice system, the Commissioner added: “Many victims of crime find it hard to understand the criminal justice process, such as who is responsible for charging, what happens at different court hearings.
“This is particularly so for victims of sexual violence. Much of this is down to media coverage. A lot of victims of sexual violence fear they will be cross examined in court on their previous sexual history (because this is what is portrayed on TV).
“But the reality is the defence must make an application to court before this could happen and it will only be permitted where it is of relevance to the case.”
He pointed out: “We do therefore need to provide a much better understanding of what happens in court. That information is available but we need people who are able to explain the information simply to people who are distressed and may have other issues that impact upon their ability to understand and process information.”
Mr Macpherson criticised the court system itself, revealing: “I heard of a case recently where sentencing was postponed on three occasions. The perpetrator had pleaded guilty.
“The victim wanted closure so she could get on with her life. We need to ask whether such delays can be avoided.
“As Police and Crime Commissioner, I have a role to improve our criminal justice system. I am pleased with some recent developments – such as digital evidence and more video links. I am less pleased with others – for example focusing the vast majority of contested summary cases in Chippenham.”