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Government rejects mandatory specialist rape teams in every force

It has today published its response to the Home Affairs Committee ‘Investigation and prosecution of rape’ report which was published in April this year.

The government will not actively encourage forces to have specialist rape teams saying that Chief Constables “remain best placed to make decisions about the local deployment of resources”. 

It follows a recommendation from the Home Affairs Committee that forces should have specialist rape teams where possible. Currently 40 per cent do not.

While acknowledging that specialism is “crucial” in this area, the government has re-iterated that Chief Constables need to have the flexibility to organise their own operational structures. 

It said that the national shortage of detectives is being addressed, as well as the general capacity of the police service (via Uplift). The PEQF was further cited as a means of ensuring officers receive training in areas including vulnerability and risk. 

The Home Office is also providing £2m funding to the NPCC for the Vulnerability, Knowledge and Practice Programme- looking to identify best practice for the response to certain crimes. 

Meanwhile, Operation Soteria focused on RASSO units is due to expand by 14 forces in autumn and formalises a method of including academic input within policing policies and response. The Operation is aimed at informing a national operating model which will be available by June 2023.

It will refine role profiles and inform a “blended learning programme” for officers new to investigating sexual offences and will be piloted in two forces this summer. 

Data on the number of forces with specialist rape teams and the number of officers with RASSO training is not currently collated centrally, but the government has committed to a further update about this. 

Meanwhile, the recommendation of a dedicated commissioner for sexual violence and abuse, or the expansion of an exisiting commissioner’s role to encompass that, was also treated with hesitancy. 

The government’s response recognised the benefits such a role might bring, but said that stakeholders had differing views, with some expressing concerns this may lead to a fragmentation of the approach towards VAWG, DA and sexual violence. 

The Home Office and MoJ are however still considering the recommendation. 

The Home Affairs Committee's initial report had noted that forces recorded an all time high of rape cases within the 12 months leading to September 2021, yet only 1.3 per cent of recorded rape offences resulted in a charge or summons. 

The Committee was critical of the government’s Rape Review, saying that it lacked ambition and that it further had little confidence the target would be achieved. 

Today, further commitments have been made by the government to write to the Committee every six months with updates on the Rape Review, as well as exploring ways of linking criminal justice data across agencies in order to track individual cases. A better understanding of specialist services as well as selective tech extraction tools are also still on the radar. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “We are aiming to effect truly systemic and cultural change through the Tackling VAWG Strategy, Rape Review Action Plan and across a range of related strands of work. We must be honest that it will take time for the benefits of these changes to be felt nationally and be reflected in the data. However, our response to the Committee’s report outlines our commitment to deliver positive outcomes for victims of some of the most heinous crimes.” 

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