'When you are ready, reach out to get emotional support': SARC Co-ordinator offers advice as sexual offence crimes rise in Oxfordshire
Data indicates that violence and sexual offences are rising in Oxfordshire. As the crime trend arises, the Co-ordinator for Thames Valley's Sexual Assault Referral Centre offers her advice.
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What is happening in Oxfordshire?
Sexual offence crimes have been rising in Oxfordshire since March 2021. Combining this data alongside first-hand accounts and opinions from those living and working in Oxfordshire, it is clear that violence and sexual offences are a real crime trend.
Data.police.uk provides ‘open data about crime and policing in England, Wales and Northern Ireland’. Using data analysis of crimes reported within Oxfordshire in March 2021, 2022 and 2023, it becomes obvious that there is a significant rise in violence and sexual offences – many of the reports receiving a final outcome in which the suspect was unable to be prosecuted.
March 2023 saw the highest amount of violence and sexual offences reported, reaching a total of 1390 crimes by the end of that month alone. This is an increase in the reported crimes, compared to the 1307 reported to Thames Valley Police in March 2022 and 1276 in March 2021.
Infographic credits: Jessica O’Rourke with Flourish
When looking at the geographical locations attached to these reports it becomes clear that areas in West Oxfordshire reported much higher numbers of violence and sexual offences across the three years than areas in South Oxfordshire. West Oxfordshire reported 195 crimes in March 2021, 226 in 2022 and 254 in March 2023. Contrastingly, data shows that South Oxfordshire reported 226 in 2021, 271 in 2022 and 292 in March 2023.
However, it is central Oxford whose numbers of reports skyrocket above the other districts. In March 2021, central Oxford reported 456 violence and sexual offences. This steadily increased to 545 in March 2022 and peaked at 636 in March of this year.
The geographical areas included in this central Oxford district, covered by Oxford City Council, include Headington, Cowley, Marston and Oxford City Centre. These are also the places with the highest number of students from both Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University.
As highlighted in a survey that was distributed on social media to those living in Oxfordshire, results showed that participants most commonly lived in Cowley and Headington, with Oxford city centre and Rose Hill also being mentioned.
93.8% of survey participants said they have experienced unwanted sexual touching
Of all the people the survey was distributed to, the vocal respondents were all women, aged between 18 and 24 years old. Of these survey participants, 75% of them said they believed they have experienced violence and sexual assault whilst 12.5% said they were not confident in saying they knew whether or not they had experienced it.
These shocking statistics stemmed from the kinds of experiences these women have had whilst living and/or working in Oxfordshire. 93.8% of those who answered the survey said they have experienced cat-calling and unwanted sexual touching. 68.8% said they had experienced verbal abuse whilst 43.8% feel they have experienced harassment.
Infographic credits: Jessica O’Rourke with Flourish
Data.police.uk provide data containing all the necessary information surrounding each crime that is reported to Thames Valley Police. Included in this is what they call the ‘last outcome category’. This places each crime into a category according to how the report was resolved as a final stage of the process.
Unfortunately, in recent years, data shows that many violent and sexual offences in Oxfordshire have been allocated a last outcome category of ‘unable to prosecute suspect’. In March 2021, there were 1276 violence and sexual offences reported to Thames Valley Police and, shockingly, 706 of those reports resulted in a last outcome where the police were unable to prosecute the suspect.
Despite these numbers, the data also reveals that the number of reports that have been unable to prosecute the suspect of a crime has significantly dropped despite the number of reports continually increasing. In March 2022, the number of reported violence and sexual crimes rose to 1307 but the number of reports that were unable to prosecute a suspect dropped to 632. This is a decrease of 74 compared to the previous year.
Additionally, whilst March 2023 reports the highest number of violence and sexual offences, it also highlights the lowest number of ‘unable to prosecute suspect’ outcomes at 122. However, because March 2023 is currently the most up to date data available on the data.police.uk website, this could explain the low number of unprosecuted suspects.
This is further supported by the data also revealing that March 2023 has the highest total of reports that are currently ‘under investigation’ at 1141. An explanation for this could be that, due to only 2 months passing since the data collection, the police are still actively working on these reports. This means that the last outcome categories for the March 2023 reports could still shift significantly.
Infographic credits: Jessica O’Rourke with Flourish
When it comes to understanding the full impact of crimes like violence and sexual offences, and understanding how it makes local people feel, hearing it directly from those that live in Oxfordshire can make it easier to understand the extent of the data.
‘Nothing they say will shock us, and we are non-judgemental to anything they may tell us.’
When asked what could be implemented to make them feel safer about these crimes occurring in Oxfordshire, a high percentage of respondents said educating the public, and men specifically, about consent and what classes as assault. With this being such a common response, Kimberly Tompkins, the co-ordinator for Thames Valley’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre, provided her assistance in discussing the importance of education.
When it comes to the importance of educating students on the topic of sexual assault, she believes ‘that this is one of the most important things that needs to improve. I feel that the more people who are aware of the definition of consent, your ability to withdraw it at any time, and knowing how to help a friend or yourself if an assault did take place would make a massive difference.’
Kimberly further explained, ‘I know that when I went to school and had sex education classes, consent wasn’t really a topic that was discussed, and I had to do my own research (Hello Tea video!) to understand truly what consent is and isn't, and I feel this is so confusing for individuals who aren't sure where the lines are with consent.’
She continued to explain the services SARC offer and her advice when it comes to violence and sexual offences. She explained that the organisation has between 2-3 clients attending their service within the regular 8:30-5pm but that they are a 24/7 service so people are welcome throughout this time. She further explained that ‘some days the phone doesn’t stop ringing with people asking for advice, and there can be three members of staff speaking to clients at the same time.’
When discussing the kind of support that the Thames Valley SARC offer and the process in which this takes place, Kimberly explained that ‘depending on the regency of the assault would depend on what sort of support we can offer.’
She highlighted that ‘regardless of how recent an assault was, people can call us and get some advice and be referred to services such as Counselling, ISVA’s (Independent Sexual Violence Advocates) and sexual health services.’ Services are available to everyone and anyone and there is a range of support for all variations of assaults to help victims in whatever way possible.
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Sometimes, understandably, victims are not comfortable talking to anyone about their experience – including organisations like Thames Valley SARC. In these circumstances, Kimberly gave her recommendations for individuals to still feel as supported as possible. She explained that ‘we are a specialist service with trained individuals who support people such as them every day.’ She ensured that ‘nothing they say will shock us, and we are non-judgemental to anything they may tell us.’
There are many different ways available to receive help and support
If an individual still does not feel like they can speak to the organisation directly, Kimberly had a handful of suggestions for the victim to keep their safety a top priority. She said, if you are injured, ‘seek medical assistance as a primary step’ as she also highlighted the importance of making sure you are physically safe. If the threatening individual has access to your home, ‘please speak to the police or ISVA/IDVA services.’
She continued to talk about a three step plan. Firstly, if there is any possibility you may want to speak to the police, ‘keep any evidence in a bag, for example bedsheets, pants from the assault, screenshot any text messages etc.’
Secondly she said, ‘book a GUM appointment and speak with them about the assault as much as possible, this can help with getting any medication and emergency contraception’, as well as getting you checked over as much as possible. Thirdly she emphasised, ‘when you are ready, reach out to get emotional support. This may be informally through friends or family, or you could approach your GP for support.’
For assaults that happen in Oxfordshire, aside from reporting a crime to the police, there are a couple of charity organisations who can provide support and assistance to victims. Thames Valley Sexual Assault Referral Centre, Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre and Horizons (for children and young people under 18) are the most notable charities that have services available.
Many organisations like Thames Valley SARC exist in Oxfordshire but also country wide. They are there to provide as much support as possible and can be a great help in dealing with violence and sexual assaults.
Do not hesitate to contact Thames Valley SARC on 0800 970 9952 for their 24 hour helpline, or access services elsewhere in the country such as Women’s Aid and SOLACE, should you require any support or assistance.