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"Devon and Cornwall Police have released crime figures for 2013 which show that the rate of sexual offences across the peninsula rose by 11.7%.

The figures are not surprising to us at DRCS as we are only too aware of how much sexual violence there is in our communities but it is always difficult to know exactly what these figures could mean. It may be that more women are feeling confident in reporting these crimes to the Police or it could mean that more actual crimes are being committed but the level of reporting is remaining static. We know that the service that women receive from the police has much improved in recent years and that the specialist police officers (SOLOs) and the SARCs (Sexual Assault Referral Centres) have led to a more co-ordinated and thoughtful approach for women coming forward. However, it is still true today that the vast majority of women do not report what has happened to them and that for many of the women using our services, reporting to the police is the last thing on their minds. If women want to report, we will assist them all the way, but we acknowledge the difficulty and distress this causes and never try and steer women into any course of action. For the 90% of women who do not report rape and sexual offences, they say that they fear being believed and judged and blamed for what has happened to them.

And this culture of blaming victims is still very strong in our society and you only have to read news stories in certain sections of the media to see how this plays out (lots of these are covered in older blogs!). News reports that focus on the victim's dress, motives, behaviour and decisions all imply that she is somehow to blame for what happened to her. If we were to focus more on the behaviour and motivations of perpetrators, we would be sending out a much clearer emphasis on where responsibility for rape actually lies. There is clearly always more that the police can do to send out reassuring messages to victims but what is also needed is a cultural shift in awareness and understanding of sexual violence. Because if women fear being judged, even by their friends, then they will find it difficult to tell anyone at all. And if women do report to the police and their case goes forward to court, they will be faced with a jury who live in a world saturated by messages about women. Perspectives on rape that give skewed views on women who are raped ignore male perpetrators completely".

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