Two rape reports a day: Reality of violence against women in Norfolk

Michelle Brown, 26, wearing her Not Powerless t-shirt, victim of a sexual assault by Gary Nathan. Pi

Michelle Brown is still putting her life back together after surviving a horrific sex attack in her home - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

The death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who disappeared while walking home in South London on March 3, has reignited a nation's soul-searching over the safety of women.

The government has since vowed to ask police to record violent crimes against women motivated by gender.  

But what does the latest data tell us about how common attacks in women in Norfolk and Suffolk are?

Sex attacks on women are increasing

There were 911 reports of sexual assault against women in Norfolk in the year ending March 2020. That is one every three days and compares to 493 in the year ending March 2016 – a huge increase of 85pc. 

And there were 637 reports of rape made by women in Norfolk in the year ending March 2020, compared to 273 in 2016 – a rise of 133pc, and the equivalent of almost two a day.  

In Suffolk, 774 reports of rape were made in the year to March 2020, while 741 reports of sexual assault were made in the same period.

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The latest police data suggests the number of rape reports in the year ending in March 2021 will be even higher in both counties.

Meanwhile, fewer attackers are being brought to justice.

In 2016 one in four reported sexual assaults led to a charge. But by the end of March 2020, that had dropped to a mere 7pc, while just 2pc of rape reports led to a charge in the same period.

While rising reports point to a growing willingness of victims to come forward, campaigners say the low charge rate is partly down to a lengthy and often traumatic process that leads survivors who do come forward to drop out of the process.

Sarah Everard, 33, whose body was found in Kent Woodland on March 10.

Sarah Everard, 33, whose body was found in Kent Woodland on March 10. - Credit: PA

Just under half of all women who reported rapes in Norfolk and Suffolk last year later withdrew from the process while 24pc of cases in Norfolk and 20pc of cases in Suffolk fell through because of evidential difficulties.

Michelle Brown waived her right to anonymity to share her experience of being sexually assaulted in the hope of helping other victims, after her attacker was jailed in November 2019. 

“A few weeks ago I had a panic attack on my way to work because a man walked towards me carrying a mask, which looked like those zip-tie handcuffs from a distance,” said Ms Brown.

“All of my female friends have stories, they have all had something happen to them.

“The Sarah Everard case is a lot closer to home and it feels like it has resonated more because of that, but I just hope that things actually begin to change this time.” 

Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey said the increase in reports was a sign of greater confidence in victims to come forward, and stressed most victims knew their attackers, with most violent crimes against women happening in the home.

“However, there is a problem with attitudes towards women in this country which is about more than just crime," he added. 

Chief Constable Simon Bailey at Norfolk Constabulary Headquarters, Wymondham. Photo : Steve Adams

Chief Constable Simon Bailey said the availability of pornography and a lack of sufficient sex and relationship education was a problem that needed to be tackled - Credit: Steve Adams

"The people at fault are men and the focus from here on in should be about how men can change their behaviour and not how women can make changes to keep themselves safe.

“I have particular concerns that boys and young men are being regularly exposed to pornography and sexualised images, which in the absence of sufficient sex and relationship education, is providing them with the wrong impression of how girls and women should be viewed and treated.

“This problem will only be solved with good parenting, better education and an intolerance to the misogynistic attitudes which remain too prevalent in our society."

Katie Russell from the charity Rape Crisis said any improvement in the way crime data is collected and recorded was “welcome news” but stressed that most rapes are still unreported, with only an estimated one in six victims going to the police. 

Katie Russell of Rape Crisis England and Wales

Katie Russell of Rape Crisis England and Wales - Credit: Rape Crisis

“Better crime recording and reporting is just a part of the puzzle,” she said.

“We need better resourcing for places like Rape Crisis centres, and ultimately we need to see better justice outcomes for survivors too.” 

Rape Crisis has previously called for changes in policy within the CPS to tackle falling charge rates, and accused the organisation of not processing cases that it might perceive to be more difficult to get a conviction.

The CPS said it was focussed on improving its rape conviction figures.


Related offences are also soaring in the county. The number of domestic abuse crimes now accounts for just under a fifth of all crimes in Norfolk in the year ending in March 2020.

And the number of reported stalking incidents has also surged, with 265 reported last year - up more than 500pc from 2016.

Broadland councillor Natasha Harpley, 41, said early education is key to changing attitudes. 

Natasha Harpley

Natasha Harpley, councillor for Sprowston Central, has been campaigning in recent years to make sending "dick pics" illegal - Credit: Natasha Harpley

“It’s about the low-level stuff that women are subjected to every day and told to be grateful for the attention.  

“It’s got to be about education, and it needs to be about what is consent. Men and women need to recognise from a young age what is right and what is wrong.”

Analysis – Lauren Cope

The recent outpouring of anger and pain from women on violence and intimidation they face has proven one thing: We have a long way to go.

Lauren Cope, staff byline picture. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Lauren Cope is the chief reporter for Norwich at the EDP - Credit: Archant

For some men, these last few weeks will be the first time they have heard, and truly understood, experiences of women they love, work alongside and live with.

While there is an obvious quick fix to making women feel safe (offenders stopping committing crimes), in reality we know that's not going to happen overnight. It is a deeply complex issue, but one rooted in centuries of societal norms.

These figures, though, show there are obvious changes to be made. The increase in sexual assaults on women is frightening enough, but the paltry conviction rate is heartbreaking.

We are facing what amounts to the decriminalisation of rape and sexual assault. What confidence should anyone who has been attacked have that the culprit will be brought to justice?

And why would they, knowing the odds of success, face a trial in which their own actions, clothing and decisions will be torn apart?

Reform in the way trials are handled is key, and investment a must. Delays - faced by victims of every type of crime - must be cut and those working in the judicial system must be given the resources they need.

It's not the solution, of course. But it plays a part.

And at the very least it would send a different message than the one we have now: If you rape someone, you'll probably get away with it.

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