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Fears over true toll of sex crimes as reports of rape soar

SCOTLAND is experiencing a historic surge in reports of rape, new figures have revealed.

Nearly 1300 of the crimes were recorded between April and December 2013, almost as many as in the whole of the previous year.

The new numbers suggest a rise of about one-third in total reporting of the crime in the period - a trend insiders say has continued so far this calendar year.

Police insiders and campaigners hope the increase shows new confidence from victims in the way detectives handle such complaints.

But they also believe official reports still fail to reflect the true toll of rape in Scotland. Sandy Brindley of Rape Crisis Scotland said it was worrying to see such a rise.

"It is certainly true that victims now have more confidence in the police, thanks to the efforts that have been made to increase reporting, and that will have had an impact on the figures," she said. "But it is also likely there are more of these crimes taking place."

The figures were revealed in a ­quarterly performance report from Police Scotland to its watchdog, the Scottish Police Authority.

There were 1293 rapes recorded from April to December 2013, compared with 1372 in the 12 months up to April 2013.

Police stressed their detection rate for the crime - when they are satisfied they know who committed it even if prosecutors cannot secure a conviction - had jumped, with almost three-­quarters of the 1293 "detected", a rise of nearly 11% on the same period in 2012.

The new single police force has set up dedicated investigation units in each division, backed by a national task force.

"Police Scotland's pledge to tackle rape can be demonstrated by the investment and commitment to the review of all unsolved rapes," the force said in its performance report. "At December 31, 2013, the National Rape Task Force had conducted 330 full investigatory reviews, the learning from which has been promulgated throughout the force to ensure continuous improvement."

Police insiders acknowledge their efforts could be driving up official numbers - but stress that, while making difficult reading, it could be good news.

The number of rapes and attempted rapes recorded in Scotland hovered at around 1000 a year until 2009/10 when it started to creep up. The law was changed in December 2010 to redefine the crime to include other non-consensual sex acts. Since then the number of rapes and attempted rapes has risen, from 996 in 2009/10 to 1462 in 2012/13.

Ms Brindley says the law change does not explain recent hikes. She said: "You wouldn't have thought that would make any difference now since we are now comparing like-with-like figures."

The Herald understands the so-called "Jimmy Savile effect" - when police received a flood of historic abuse cases after publicity about the predatory DJ - is also unlikely to explain the rise in rape figures because too few reports are historic.

Ms Brindley and Rape Crisis Scotland are particularly concerned about the effects of extreme pornography on figures for rape and other sexual assaults.

"We are worried about young men in their formative years seeing images of women being raped and this being associated with arousal from a young age. This could give us significant problems," she said.

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