Police data, gathered together for the first time using the Freedom of Information Act, highlights the extent of a ‘hidden’ serious sexual offence.
This offence, ‘causing a person to engage in (penetrative) sexual activity without consent’ is the third penetrative sexual offence, alongside those of rape and assault by penetration.
The data shows that men make up a larger proportion of victims here than in other reported sexual offences while children and young people make up a substantial number of offenders .
Women are recorded as the offenders in two fifths of cases involving male victims
Research by Lancaster University into figures, which have never been publicly available before, has been published in the British Journal of Criminology.
The study, one of the first in the UK to use data from police forces in England and Wales gathered under the Freedom of Information Act, brings section 4(4) of the Sexual Offences Act (SOA) 2003 under the microscope.
The severity of offending captured under this offence, say researchers, cannot be underestimated with the Crown Prosecution Service stating that ‘one of the purposes of (the section 4 penetrative) offence…is to create a female equivalent of the offence of rape, which carries the same level of punishment for what amounts to the same type of offending behaviour’.
By excluding this specific section of the Act from public data sources, adds the study, a serious sexual offence, and the associated victims and offenders, are being overlooked.
“This section of law has always existed – it’s not a new section,” said lead researcher Dr Siobhan Weare, from Lancaster University Law School.
“But while the police have been recording crimes under this offence they have never been publicly reported despite being one of the most serious sexual offences.
“This is problematic because excluding these cases prevents an accurate picture of the most serious sexual offending from being painted in relation to who the victims and offenders are.
“By not analysing this data we do not see the full picture and we are missing key issues. This is high level data which raises a lot of questions.”
FOI requests were made to 43 police forces in England and Wales. Each force was asked to provide data from 2005/6 to 2017/18, looking at the total number of recorded offences, victim and offender demographics, and outcomes in cases.
37 forces provided varying amounts of data on the total number of recorded offences over the 13-year period. Over the timespan 1763 section 4 (4) penetrative offences were recorded, 1,039 (58.9%) involving a female victim, and 724 (41.1%) involving a male victim.
Whilst the majority of victims were women, from 2013 to 2018 the number of recorded cases involving male victims increased by 66.3%, and in 2017-18 more offences were recorded against male victims than females.
Whilst men represented 93.4 per cent of offenders in cases where the victim was a woman, they represented a much smaller proportion (60.1 per cent) where the victim was a man.
In contrast, women only made up 6.6 per cent of the offenders in cases involving female victims but represented 39.9 per cent of the offenders in cases involving male victims.
“From this we can see that women infrequently offended against other women, but they made up a substantial proportion of the offenders in cases where men were victimised,” added Dr Weare.