Four forces pilot online sexual assault reporting tool

Four UK forces are piloting a new service to report sexual assault online – with the option to do so anonymously.

Dec 6, 2021
By Tony Thompson

The new online Rape and Sexual Assault reporting service is now live on the websites of British Transport Police (BTP), Merseyside Police, Dyfed-Powys Police and Leicestershire Police.

It was created by the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s (NPCC) Digital Public Contact Programme (DPC) and will run for six weeks.

Up until now those wishing to report sexual offences have been directed to phone police forces, text 61016 or dial 999 in an emergency.

From now, when visiting the websites of those four forces, options are available to report a sexual offence themselves, on behalf on another person, or as a witness. People can choose to report in English or Welsh.

They will find advice and details of charities and other organisations that can help. The forces will ask, if the person is willing, for details of what has happened. There is an option to report the offence anonymously.

If reported anonymously, the police will only contact that person if there is believed to be an immediate threat to their life.

If the pilot is successful, it will become a permanent reporting feature and will be available for other forces to adopt nationally.

Detective Chief Inspector Sarah White from BTP said: “We know from extensive research that there are a number of reasons why survivors and witnesses are not comfortable in reporting sexual offences to the police.

“One of the common factors remains the unwillingness to provide personal details. We understand this and have been working to look at how we can invite greater reporting, which can help us prevent further crimes and bring offenders to justice.

“Every report provides us with valuable information. And if people aren’t comfortable with making that report, then we want them to know how they can get the support and help they need.

“This new service in not only innovative in the way it has been designed – from the ground up in consultation with more than 40 organisations (including Rape Crisis, End Violence Against Women and the Survivors Trust) – but also in the way it is being deployed – online where people, especially younger people, increasingly are.”

Det Chief Insp White added: “We’re absolutely committed to ensuring our railways are a safe place for people to travel and we hope this is just another tool in our armoury against sexual offending.”

Millie Gant, Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) manager at Leicestershire Police, said: “Online reporting of sexual offences offers a safe, clear and effective way to report and share information with the police.

“I am impressed with the ‘Support before Report’ approach, which is a first for policing. The provision at every stage offers information and links to access specialist support, with no pressure to formally report until ready.

“This demonstrates how committed the police are in ensuring that support is prioritised over a formal police report.”

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