The latest statistics from police records and the British Crime Survey show a drop in crime in the 12 months to December 2010. However, the number of sexual offences recorded by police rose from 53,091 in 2009 to 54,602 last year, up 3% – with serious sexual crimes such as rape rising by 6%, up from 42,187 in 2009 to 44,693 last year.

Though gun and knife crime fell by 4% last year, the use of knives in rape went up from 213 in 2009 to 237 in 2010.

In response to the figures, the Home Office acknowledged that “ a high proportion of sexual offences are not reported to the police” and stated that while the latest figures show a sixth consecutive quarterly rise in sexual offences, there are “signs this rise may be slowing”. The spokesperson added, possibly somewhat sceptically   “the police have reported improving their reporting of sexual offences …”.

The comments from senior police officers did not inspire confidence. Chief Constable Jon Murphy, head of crime for the Association of Chief Police Officers, smoothly linked sex offences with the downward trend of most crimes saying: “Increases in sex offences, following efforts nationally to improve all areas of sex offence investigation, are also showing signs of slowing.” –  a stunning piece of spin.

Chief Constable Keith Bristow, head of crime for the Association of Chief Police Officers, thought the police had been doing a terrific job. He said: “Nationally, we have been working to improve all areas of sex offence investigation, with a particular emphasis on rape in domestic abuse cases.

We remain determined to bring to justice people who commit sexual offences and we are making significant progress in this critical area, particularly around giving victims confidence.” In reality, it is difficult to see how these figures could give anyone the confidence to report an offence.

Rob Garnham, who chairs the Association of Police Authorities, seemed a little less complacent, saying: “Whilst the police have made significant improvements to how they respond to sexual offences in recent years, we are concerned to note a rise in the recording of such offences for a sixth consecutive quarter.” As well he might be.

Police complacency is nothing new. Chief constables rarely if ever accept responsibility for failures to effectively police crimes against women and regularly report improvement in the way they handle such crimes. I have never known any one of them offer hard evidence to support reported improvement – or the comfortable assumption that an increase in the reported incidence of sex crimes reflects better levels of care for victims rather than actual increases in the number of assaults.

In fact, given the current low rate of reporting, repeated investigatory failings and the appallingly low rate of convictions – coupled with several high profile reports of police officers convicted of, or colluding with, offences against women – it can perhaps best be assumed that one of the reasons sexist and violent men attack women is because they are so likely to get away with it.

Nick Herbert, the policing and criminal justice minister, said there was  no room for complacency and that while the overall decrease was welcome: “The public rightly remain concerned about levels of crime and particularly antisocial behaviour, (my emphasis) and we are determined to ensure that the police have the right powers to do the job,”.

We have news for Mr Herbert. We think it complacent to emphasise the relatively minor offences involved in anti-social behaviour when there is widespread public concern about sex crimes and other attacks on women.   An increase in sex crimes over 6 quarters, at a time when other crimes are decreasing, is a matter for serious alarm – and is of the gravest concern to those of us who have women’s interests and safety at heart.

Nick Herbert will need to focus his attention much more closely if the government is ever to reach its admirable stated target of ending violence against women and girls.

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