New police training in sexual offences as more offenders convicted

Thousands of police officers receive new specialised training in investigating sexual offences as more sexual offenders are arrested and convicted

Victims of sexual violence will be better protected as thousands more police officers are now specially equipped to investigate rape and sexual offences following the roll out of Operation Soteria to all forces in England and Wales. 

Over 4,500 officers have completed the new in-depth training, known as the rape and serious sexual offences investigative skills development programme (RISDP) – more than doubling the government’s target.

This will mean victims of these harrowing and often complex crimes will receive better support throughout the process as their perpetrators are brought to justice.

Today’s announcement comes one year on from the roll out of a new model for the investigation of rape across England and Wales, developed through the Home Office funded Operation Soteria.

Since Operation Soteria began, progress has been made across policing and the wider criminal justice system:

Arrest rates are up by a quarter. Police are arresting more sexual offenders, with arrests in 2022 to 2023 rising by 25% compared to 2019 to 2020.

More cases are being referred to prosecutors. Police are referring more adult rape cases to the Crown Prosecution Service, with 1,429 referrals in October to December 2023, up 142% from 590 in October to December 2020.

More suspects are being charged. Charges for sexual offences in the year to December 2023 were up by 18% compared with the previous year, and adult rape charges increased by more than a third (38%) in the same period.

Prosecutions are rising. The number of rapists being prosecuted has risen by 110% from 301 in the quarter before Operation Soteria was piloted to 633 in the latest quarter.

The pioneering programme developed by academics and Avon and Somerset Police has transformed policing’s approach to investigating rape and sexual offences. It sees police and prosecutors working more closely together throughout the process and helps ensure investigations are focussed on the actions of the alleged perpetrator, not the victim.  

Home Secretary, James Cleverly said:

"Exceeding the target we set last year for specially trained officers is another significant milestone in our efforts to transform the way the criminal justice system deals with rape and sexual offences.

"As a government 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."

Minister for Victims and Safeguarding, Laura Farris said:  

"We know how important police specialism is in a crime as sensitive as rape. That’s why we set out to ensure that there were specially trained officers in every force in England and Wales.

"We set ourselves a target of training 2,000 by May 2024. I am delighted we have delivered training to over 4,500 officers.

"In addition to the new tools and guidance available through Operation Soteria these specially trained officers, with a relentless focus on the pursuit of perpetrators, will drive significant improvement in the investigation of rape in every force in the country."

It is also now mandatory for all new police recruits to complete learning and development on responding to rape and sexual offences as part of their initial training.  

In order to deliver this, the College of Policing has developed a course on rape and sexual offending for first responders, which will help ensure victims receive the right support from their first contact with the police and lay the groundwork for effective investigations.  

College of Policing CEO Chief Constable Andy Marsh: 

"The College of Policing worked at pace to develop RISDP. Since we launched the programme in September 2023, we have more than doubled the initial target of training 2,000 investigators, which is an incredible achievement.  

"Trained officers are now turning the tables on men who are violent through a better understanding of the psychology of offenders, and how they manipulate victims.    

"RISDP focuses on the whole story surrounding a rape or sexual offence, rather than looking at an incident in isolation. 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 offences."

Siobhan Blake, CPS lead for Rape and Serious Sexual Offences, said: 

"Across the Crown Prosecution Service, Operation Soteria has driven positive changes in how we work with police from the earliest opportunity on rape cases. With closer relationships and clear expectations, we’re able to build strong cases from the outset, working together to make a lasting difference for victims.  

"The impact of this joint working can be seen every day in our specialist units across the country - and in our data - as our prosecutors have consistently seen an increase in the number of cases they are able to charge and send to court. 

"We are clear that more work needs to be done to ensure more victims see justice done, and will do all we can to keep driving the necessary improvements with police."

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Rape and Adult Sexual Offences, and the joint Senior Responsible Officer for Operation Soteria, Chief Constable Sarah Crew, said: 

"Rape is one of the most complex and challenging crimes we deal with in the criminal justice system, and it’s vitally important that as a police service we get our response right from the moment it is reported. 

"Specially trained investigators are pivotal to achieving what we have set out to do through Operation Soteria: build strong cases, relentlessly pursue perpetrators and do better for victims. 

"The data, and the introduction of thousands of specialist investigators, is an encouraging step on our journey to improve the criminal justice system for victims of rape."

Besty Stanko, the senior academic architect of Operation Soteria, said: 

"This is a significant milestone we should celebrate as we start to see the positive impact Soteria is having on victims.   

"The Operation Soteria police-academic teams have made significant strides in changing the investigation of rape and serious sexual offences. Critical to this change is providing investigators with the right specialist knowledge and learning and development to do so. 

"Operation Soteria has shown the police service’s willingness to engage with those outside the police service to find a new way of working. We still have a long way to go, but the journey has begun and we are seeing positive change."

The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Baroness Newlove, said: 

"The announcement marks a significant milestone and a positive step towards a more supportive criminal justice system for victims of rape and sexual assault.

"This pioneering initiative equips all police forces with specially trained officers who can provide victims with the understanding and support they deserve from first contact, and lay the groundwork for effective, offender-centric investigations.

"To ensure Operation Soteria’s lasting impact, continued collaboration between the CPS and police is vital. This rests on commitments from both agencies to dedicate sustained resourcing and leadership for this programme long-term."

The earliest adopters of the Soteria operating model have already demonstrated real improvements in terms of outcomes of rape investigations.   

Today’s announcement forms part of the government’s wide-ranging plan to bring about wholescale change in the way the criminal justice system responds to rape and sexual offences.  

This includes:  

  • legislating to ensure rapists, and those convicted of the most serious sexual offences, remain in prison for the whole of their custodial term and that they are subject to proper supervision in the community on their release
  • offering a 24/7 support line for victims of rape and sexual violence, ensuring victims of these abhorrent crimes always have someone on hand to support them
  • quadrupling victims funding by 2024 to 2025, up from £41 million in 2009 to 2010, including funding to increase the number of Independent Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse Advisors by 300 to over 1,000 – a 43% increase by 2024 to 2025  
  • strengthening support for victims through the Victims and Prisoners Bill, including ensuring that police requests for third party materials are necessary and proportionate to an investigation  
  • providing over £10 million in funding to assist forces to uplift their technical capability and improve their ability to extract evidence from digital devices, specifically those that belong to adult victims of rape
  • training more than 500 people through the Crown Prosecution Service’s specialist Rape and Serious Sexual Offences training
  • rolling out an enhanced service for adult victims of rape and sexual assault through the Crown Prosecution Service, including the offer of a meeting with a member of the prosecution team once a victim has been notified that their case is proceeding to trial (this will be a new entitlement available nationally by the end of Autumn enabling victims to discuss what happens next and ask any questions they have about the process)
  • launching the CPS guide to transform the victim’s journey through court, providing additional support for victims of rape and serious sexual offences

From: Home Office