Thousands of police officers specially trained to investigate rape

The Home Secretary has vowed to put more sex offenders behind bars after thousands of police officers were specially trained in investigating rapes.

James Cleverly hailed the figure as a “significant milestone” in the bid to overhaul how rape and sexual offences are handled.

It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was forced to reject claims that rape had effectively become “decriminalised”, instead insisting in the Commons earlier this week that “significant improvements” had been made in police probes.

According to the College of Policing, 4,540 police officers in England and Wales have completed specialist training on investigating rape and sexual offences.

This is more than double a target set by the Government to train up 2,000 by May, amid efforts to boost the number of successful rape investigations.

The Home Secretary
Mr Cleverly said the Government has gone further than ever before to protect women and girls (Lucy North/PA)

Mr Cleverly said exceeding the target was “another significant milestone in our efforts to transform the way the criminal justice system deals with rape and sexual offences”.

While visiting a training centre for police in Durham, he told the PA news agency the course has “significantly improved the police’s ability” to investigate rape, which he branded a “very positive step”.

“We have gone further than ever before to protect women and girls, but we are not slowing down.

“Building on the progress we have made so far, we will continue to drive up prosecutions, protect victims and put more sex offenders behind bars,” he added.

(PA Graphics)

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper welcomed the “limited progress” but warned: “It has been far too slow and goes nowhere near far enough to tackle serious violence against women and girls or to reverse all the failings of the last 10 years.”

Adult rape prosecutions are at their highest level in 13 years, according to the latest Ministry of Justice figures.

There were 2,558 prosecutions last year, up 44% on 2022 (1,778). In 2023, 636 convictions and 627 sentences for adult rape were recorded – still slightly below the most recent peak in 2016, PA analysis of the data shows.

But according to Home Office figures for the same period, the proportion of suspects being taken to court for rape is still among the lowest levels recorded, with a charge rate of 2.6%.

Baroness Newlove
Baroness Newlove is the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales (PA)

The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Baroness Newlove, said the number of officers being specially trained was a “positive step towards a more supportive criminal justice system for victims of rape and sexual assault”, but stressed it was “vital” the Crown Prosecution Service and police continued to work together to make sure the work has “lasting impact” as she called for “sustained resourcing and leadership” to be dedicated to the programme long term.

Officers have completed “new in-depth training”, known as the “rape and serious sexual offences investigative skills development programme” which means victims of “often complex” offences will “receive better support throughout the process as their perpetrators are brought to justice”, the Home Office said.

The College – the body responsible for police training – said officers have now been trained in each of the 43 forces across the two nations but has not disclosed how many officers per force have received the training.

New police recruits also now face mandatory training on responding to rape and sexual offences.

The announcement marks a year since Home Office-funded Operation Soteria was rolled out across forces to improve how police investigated sexual offences.

As Mr Cleverly met with police, he heard from a woman who was raped 20 years ago and now trains officers on how to speak to victims.

Part of the work being carried out is to create a “supportive” environment, Mr Cleverly said as he urged victims to come forward and report sexual offences to police.

“The more people that come forward, the more investigations can be pursued, the more offenders and criminals can be brought to justice.

“There is still of course, a long way to go. We seek constant improvement, but it starts with reporting and that’s why we want to encourage victims to come forward,” he said.

Andy Marsh, chief executive of the College of Policing, said trained officers now have a “better understanding of the psychology of offenders, and how they manipulate victims” and the course focuses on the “whole story” and not just the incident in insolation.

“Our training ensures officers are taking a victim centred approach, and as a direct result an increasing number of individuals are rightly being brought to justice for these very serious offence,” he added.