The reported use of bladed weapons during sexual violence has increased over the past decade, but Government responses lag behind – Iain Overton and Sian Norris report
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The number of women reporting rapes at knifepoint to the police has increased by 268% in over a decade, analysis of government data has revealed.
Research by Byline Times shows that, whereas in 2012/13, there were a reported 174 incidents in England and Wales of rape involving a knife or sharp instrument, by 2021/22 the numbers over a year had risen to 684.
While this shows a significant increase in reported incidents of sexual violence involving bladed weapons, a note of caution is required: when looking at number of rapes recorded by the police which involved a knife as a proportion of the total number of rapes recorded, that rate has remained stable across the decade (0.7 rounded up to 1).
The data also shows the increase of reported rapes at knifepoint – meaning that the rise could be attributed to factors such as improved reporting and recording mechanisms, as opposed to an increase in prevalence.
Meghan Elkin, at the Office for National Statistics, said: “While police recorded sexual offences are the highest annual figures recorded for England and Wales, the crime survey shows no significant change in prevalence. The police figures are influenced by a number of factors including willingness to report.”
However, even with these caveats in place, the numbers of rapes at knifepoint remains concerning. In total, some 5,173 incidents of reported knife-point rape were recorded in England and Wales over the decade, according to ONS data.
Similarly, sexual assaults using bladed weapons rose in the same period from a reported 81 in 2012/13 to 297 attacks. Overall, there 1,710 sexual knife assault incidents not classified as rape were recorded by the Home Office.
The knife crime data is for all police forces in England and Wales, excluding Greater Manchester Police.
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Reported Rapes on the Rise
The Government does not publicly provide a breakdown of how many women and men were reported raped at knife-point. Recent Crime Survey for England and Wales data on gender and rape, however, shows 7.1% of female adults had experienced sexual assault by rape or penetration (including attempts) since the age of 16, compared to 0.5% for men.
As such, it is certain that the vast majority of those reporting they were attacked with a knife and raped were women at the hands of men.
The police reporting of rapes has also been shown marked increases over the past decade. In 2012, there were 9,646 incidents of rape of adult women recorded in England and Wales. A decade later, 2021 saw 46,919 rape incidents recorded. This is an increase of some 386%.
Indeed, according to the ONS, in the year ending September 2022, overall sexual offences recorded by the police were at the highest level ever recorded within a 12-month period (199,021 offences).
However, while reports of rapes have risen significantly – in part due to high-profile cases and related campaigns encouraging women to come forward if they have been a victim – prosecution rates have plummeted. In 2020-21, only 1,557 rapes were prosecuted – a figure that increased slightly in 2021/22 to 2,537.
This increased confidence of women to report rape can only be applauded, but it also casts a darker shadow. This is because there have been countless women in the past who have never reported rape – including at knife-point – to the police.
What if the current annual figure of 684 rapes with a bladed weapon is a more accurate snapshot of the annual toll of such violence experienced by women in England and Wales? If so, this suggests that, in just the last decade, some 2,541 rapes using a knife never went reported.
Then extend the same logic of under-reporting to all forms of rape of adult women. This means taking the latest figures as possibly indicative of annual rates – some 46,114 women being raped aged 16 and over in England and Wales in 2021/2 – and asking what happens if that many women were raped year in and year out over just the past decade. It works out that as many as 173,511 rapes went unrecorded in England and Wales. An average of 85,000 women and girls aged 16 and over are raped each year.
If this is right, it would mean that in the past 10 years, over a third of all alleged rapes never got to the point of a police complaint.
As with rape, knife crime reporting has risen in the last 10 years. The number of threats to kill with a knife has increased dramatically, from 1,152 recorded incidents in 2012/13 to 5,716 in 2020/21 – a rise of some 396%.
It could also be, though, that rape at knifepoint has become more prevalent in society. This would reflect wider trends: the number of knife homicides rose in England and Wales from 182 to 242 during the same time period – an uptick of some 33%.
The use of a sharp instrument is the most common method by which men kill women. Femicide Census data from 2009-20, a total of 767 women were killed by men in this way.
Why so many women have chosen not to report rape to police is a serious and urgent issue, not helped by the fact that in recent months high-profile stories have emerged of police officers themselves being violent sexual offenders.
Serial rapist and former police officer David Carrick, who this month was given 36 life sentences and will serve more than 30 years in prison for violent sexual crimes spanning almost two decades, used a knife in his attacks. He was found guilty of having “brandished a knife” at one victim, having “slashed her work shirts”.
PC Sam Grigg, of the Metropolitan Police, was also sacked last month after pleading guilty to false imprisonment and actual bodily harm. A Met Police listing for the hearing read that Grigg “unlawfully imprisoned and detained a female against her will… After leaving her restrained for a short period of time he cut her free using a knife, cutting her in the process”.
Political engagement of this terrible reality appears lacklustre. In 2019, then Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced new powers to reduce knife crime, after numerous high-profile murders, in response to the Government’s 2018 Serious Violence Strategy. “I have been clear that I will do everything in my power to tackle the senseless violence that is traumatising communities and claiming too many young lives,” he said.
But there appears to have been little impact, with threats to kill and knife-related homicides continuing to rise.
And while there have been numerous announcements from Government to improve justice for rape victims – including from Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who said in December that “we need radical improvement in the way police handle rape cases” – women are still struggling to access justice.
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