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After taking over as ACPO lead for adult sexual offences about seven months ago, I have been assessing, learning and thinking about how best to take this work forward in the coming years. All of that thinking has been brought into a sharp focus by the events in relation to Jimmy Savile and all that has emerged as a result of that investigation. While the revelations are shocking and disappointing, the level of public interest, government concern, and victim confidence that they have generated do present us with an opportunity to move forward in the way that we deal with these most serious crimes. And they relate not just to child sexual offences but victims who are now adults.

The central theme of my reflections on how the service, with partners, attempts to tackle adult sexual offences is that we need to take more practical action to prevent offences. In almost any other area of crime, prevention is the central element of our approach. In relation to adult sexual offences, and particularly rape, we have, for understandable reasons placed great emphasis on the investigation process and our joint victim care with partners. This is incredibly important work and I will be driving hard for us to continue to improve the service we provide, especially with colleagues in Health and the Crown Prosecution Service. But it is not enough.

If we accept that perhaps that only 30 per cent of victims ever formally report a rape or serious sexual offence, then the vast majority of victims never receive this service. Where we can help them is by working to control as many factors as possible in an attempt to prevent offences in the first place. None of this thinking is particularly innovative or clever - it is more about applying the crime prevention principles and practice that we are familiar with in other areas to this type of crime.

So what does it all mean? Initially, we are working within the Metropolitan Police Service to produce a prevention plan that drives some achievable actions to deliver in four key areas:

  • Managing offenders
  • Managing dangerous places
  • Delivering effective investigations and criminal justice outcomes
  • Reducing vulnerabilities (of victims)

I will be very keen to learn from good practice around the country in all of the four key areas of activity. To summarise where I think we are, we need to understand as much as possible about the actual level and patterns of offending, and that will mean more than just reported crime.

We then need to manage the offending groups. Some of that will be about education and awareness, and some will be about proactive targeting in the way that we would for a gun supplier or drug importer.

We need to understand where the dangerous places are - public, private, virtual - and exert control where we can. We then need to conduct effective prosecutions. It is a very brave action to report a rape and we must do everything to ensure that the system supports those that come forward.

Finally, we want to do everything we can to protect people and reduce vulnerabilities which we know offenders look to exploit. Getting this message right is difficult: we acknowledge that police failings in the past have damaged confidence, and that some campaigns run by the police on rape prevention have been criticised because of their focus on potential victims, rather than offenders. But we are very clear that alongside the other aspects of our approach, protecting people is a critical part of the police’s duty. There are practical steps that people can take to reduce their vulnerability. Education about this does not in any way remove the sole culpability for crime from those who commit it.

Many forces across the country are actively engaged in these public awareness campaigns to help us with prevention and many also actively working with partners over the festive season to raise awareness of what is sexual abuse. This work will continue into 2013 and beyond. Police campaigns are linked to the Home Office prevention advice at which offers advice for victims, busts myths about rape and helps identify abusive behaviour.

So we need to move forward and ensure the lessons from the past drive us in the right direction. That direction is targeting offenders and ensuring that victims are never left feeling they are to blame.

Martin Hewitt is ACPO lead on adult sex offences and Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Metropolitan Police Service.