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Key areas: Legal and physical security

Legal and physical security

Violent crime and sexual assault affect only a small proportion of the population. Most of us do not greatly fear becoming victims and are confident that those accused of crime will be treated fairly.

Some groups, however, are more likely than average to experience physical, sexual or hate crime, and are more worried about the possibility of becoming victims: they have only limited confidence in the system’s ability to protect them.

While men are more likely to experience physical assault than women, they are less likely to experience rape, domestic violence or partner abuse, forced marriage and so-called ‘honour’ crimes; women are uniquely affected by female genital mutilation (FGM). Despite a rise in the number of cases of ‘intimate violence’ reported to the police, under-reporting is still a problem and high attrition rates in moving from report to conviction give cause for concern.

While older people are generally less likely to be affected by violent crime, they are more likely to worry about it: older and disabled people who experience domestic abuse by carers or relatives are particularly vulnerable to repeat occurrences. Meanwhile, newer data suggest that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people are more likely than average to have experienced sexual assault and domestic violence during their lifetimes: they are also more likely than average to be worried about crime.

Racist and religiously aggravated attacks are a persistent phenomenon in Britain: as a result, people from ethnic minority backgrounds are roughly twice as likely as White people to report being worried about violent crime. People who are not Christian are roughly 10 times more likely to report being attacked or harassed because of their faith than Christian people. Attacks directed against disabled, LGB and transgender people are now being recognised as specific forms of hate crime and this helps to encourage victims to report such incidents and ensure they will be dealt with appropriately. However, a large proportion of victims of hate crime are still reluctant to report such attacks, creating a justice gap.

Some ethnic groups continue to experience events such as stop and search more than others. While its degree has fluctuated, it remains a broadly constant feature of the justice system. On average, five times more Black people than White people in England and Wales are imprisoned.

Women are much less likely to go to prison than men, but the rate of imprisonment of women is increasing faster than the rate of men – many for relatively minor offences.

Many prisoners face particular risks when imprisoned. Young inmates are often particularly damaged by their experience of custody, and there is a strong link between young people experiencing the care system and being incarcerated. Ex-prisoners can experience difficulties finding work and accommodation once they leave prison. The higher rate of repeat offending of those encountering such problems suggests that better support for prisoners, particularly those serving short sentences, would help break offending cycles.

Significant findings and headline data

Significant findings

Trends measured in crime surveys suggest that levels of violent crime are falling overall in England and Wales: this is not reflected in the number of incidents targeting particular groups such as hate crime and ‘intimate violence’ (including rape, domestic and partner abuse).

Headline data

  • Recognition in law of hate crimes based on disability, sexual orientation or transgender status is relatively new: there is now more reliable data about the incidence of racially and religiously motivated crime, which shows that it remains a persistent issue.
  • Although levels of ‘less serious sexual assault’ have fallen dramatically in England and Wales since 2005/06, levels of rape have remained stable over this period.
  • Levels of domestic and partner abuse recorded in crime surveys have fallen only slightly. The number of cases being reported to the police or referred for prosecution is rising.

Significant findings

The prison population in England and Wales is growing. Ethnic minorities are substantially over-represented in the custodial system in England and Wales. Evidence suggests that many of those who face sentences have mental health conditions, learning disabilities, have been in care or experienced abuse.

Headline data

  • The number of women prisoners has nearly doubled since 1995 in England and Wales, and since 2000 in Scotland: currently around 5% of prisoners are women. There is evidence that a higher proportion of women in prison have experienced domestic violence than have women in the population as a whole.
  • On average, five times more Black people than White people are imprisoned in England and Wales, where 1 in 4 people in prison is from an ethnic minority background.
  • Muslim people currently make up 12% of the prison population in England and Wales. 
  • There is now greater disproportionality in the number of Black people in prisons in Britain than in the USA.

Significant findings

Women are disproportionately affected by sexual assault and domestic abuse. People with mental health conditions report higher than average levels of abuse – as do LGB people. There has been a large rise in the number of rapes of children aged under- 16 reported to the police.

Domestic violence has a higher rate of repeat-victimisation than any other violent or acquisitive crime. It is under-reported in general, particularly amongst women from ethnic and religious minority communities. It is also under-reported
by disabled women abused by, but dependent on, their carers. Evidence suggests new immigrants and asylum seekers may not know what support is available.

The number of rape cases being prosecuted and convicted has not kept pace with the increase in the number of rape cases reported to the police since 2002: the attrition rate is significant and overall the reporting and conviction rate is stubbornly low.

Headline data

  • Women experience over three-quarters of domestic violence and sexual assault, and encounter more extreme forms than do men.
  • 1 in 4 women have experienced some form of domestic abuse in England and Wales since reaching the age of 16; and 1 in 7 women in Scotland have experienced a physical form of partner abuse since reaching the age of 16.
  • Over a quarter of all rapes reported to the police in 2009/10 in England and Wales were committed against children aged under 16: over half of all male rapes reported to the police that year were of children aged under 16.
  • Three-quarters of domestic violence offences in England and Wales are repeat offences: the rate of repeat-offending is higher for domestic violence than for most other crimes.
  • Despite some improvements in levels of reporting, the rate of conviction for rape is lower than for similar crimes.

Significant findings

Incidents targeting people because of who they are (e.g., hate crimes) are under-reported, meaning many victims are unable to access the support they need, or to secure justice. Nevertheless, for those cases that are prosecuted, conviction rates are rising, apart from disability hate crime where the conviction rate fell by 1% between 2007/08 and 2008/09.

Headline data

  • In England and Wales, the number of cases of racially and religiously motivated crime being reported to the police has fallen slightly since 2006/07. However, the conviction rate for racially and religiously motivated and for homophobic and transphobic crimes has risen in England and Wales.
  • The number of racially motivated crimes reported to the police has risen in Scotland – as have the numbers of cases resulting in court proceedings: the number of cases of religiously motivated crime resulting in court proceedings, meanwhile, has fluctuated.
  • The majority of incidents recorded by the police involve harassment, but the majority of cases that are prosecuted are crimes against the person. Incidents targeting different groups take a variety of forms: for example, religiously motivated crime affects community institutions as well as individuals; hate crime targeting LGB people can involve sexual assault; and disability related hate crime often targets people’s property.

Significant findings

Experience of the criminal justice system – either as victims or as suspects – can be markedly different depending on social group with a consequent impact on confidence in the system.

Headline data

  • Rates of stop and search for Black and Asian people suggest that there may be disproportionality; and Black people are much
  • less likely than White people to believe that their complaints about the police will be taken seriously, and are more likely to worry about police harassment.
  • Young people with limiting long-term illness (LLTI)/disabilities are significantly less likely than those without to believe that the criminal justice system is fair, or that it meets the needs of victims.
  • Survey data suggests that LGB people are more likely to worry about and to experience discrimination by the police, whether they were reporting a crime or suspected of committing one.
  • A small-scale study of the attitudes of transgender people suggest that while the majority expect fair treatment, around 1 in 5
  • have experienced problems when reporting crimes.

Last updated: 25 May 2016