Supt Kerry Cutler speaks of how Suffolk Police is working to keep women safe from abuse and assaults
Five out of every six women who are raped do not tell the police. Given the devastating conflict of emotions suffered by victims that figure, while shocking, is probably not all that surprising.
Embarrassment, humiliation, and the belief that officers cannot help are the biggest reasons given for not reporting the crime, according to official data published by the charity Rape Crisis.
It reveals how challenging it can be not just to bring offenders to justice but even more importantly to make sure victims of rape or any sexual assault get the support they need.
Nationally, the horrifying facts around Sarah Everard’s killer Wayne Couzens, and serial rapist David Carrick - both serving officers - have knocked confidence in the police.
But what matters most of all, according to Suffolk Police, is that women know how to access help regardless of who they choose to speak to. The same applies to those who suffer domestic abuse.
Keeping them safe and feeling able to seek support - whether it comes from police or from another service - is a key area of concern for the county’s force.
Countrywide, recent years have seen the highest number of sex assaults against women, including rape and attempted offences, ever recorded. A 2023 estimate from the Office of National Statistics was 798,000 a year.
Meanwhile, Supt Kerry Cutler from Suffolk Police says that domestic abuse accounted for around a fifth of all the county’s recorded crimes and numbers have soared over the past few years.
In 2022 Suffolk recorded more than 5,000 cases of domestic violence against women, who make up the vast majority of victims.
Those who suffer domestic abuse are also often reluctant to report it, although more are now doing so than in the past which could partly account for the rising figure.
Supt Cutler said it is important for victims to remember they are never to blame for what has happened to them, and they should never feel bad about not wanting to report their ordeal to police.
“If someone abuses or sexually assaults you, that is not your fault. We need to keep you safe, and give you your choice back and even if you don’t want to report to police there are people who can help you.
“I absolutely get that someone might find it really difficult to come and speak to police particularly if they are victims of sexual assault.
“But that should never be a criticism. There is no judgement in not reporting to police. Making sure they get help is what is important.
“I think we are very open-minded in that we absolutely accept with everything that’s going on nationally women and even men feel reluctant about reporting certain types of offence. We have to work with other agencies to help.”
“There is a sexual offence referral centre in Suffolk. People don’t have to speak to police but that gives them a pathway to care and help.”
The Ferns referral centre in Ipswich offers free support to anyone who has been subject to sexual assault.
Victims, or their friends or family, can call for advice on 0300 123 5058. Lines are open 24/7 every day, and will be answered by a specially trained female crisis worker or nurse.
“If the offence has recently happened and they are within a forensic window they can be examined, or the details can be held on file. They are given a choice about what is happening to them.” said Supt Cutler.
“They may decide ‘I don’t want to speak to police at the moment but I’d be happy for them to have my file’, and maybe we can link it to another case, or they might decide six months on they want to go to the police.”
She added that the Rape Crisis website rapecrisis.org.uk was also a very good source of help.
Suffolk police have also been piloting live chats through their control centre.
“We have found a number of victims have reported sex offences and domestic abuse in that way because they find it easier to report in writing rather than verbally.”
Nationally one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse, which includes coercive control as well as violence, in their lifetime.
“In simple terms domestic abuse is targeted abuse by one person who has power and control over another,” said Supt Cutler.
“More people are reporting now - before it was more hidden. But many charities’ research will tell you a victim will have been abused many times before they call the police.
“It’s not as simple as people like to think. Trying to break free of abuse can be very complex. It can be tied up to money, housing … they are all things that are going through people’s heads.
“Some people will be thinking ‘I am going to put up with it for the sake of the children.
“And some don't realise what’s happening to them is wrong
because of their background and cultural aspects.
“Or they may come from other countries where policing is very different. We have had people saying how much do we have to pay for you because they are used to that kind of police corruption.”
People reporting domestic abuse can also have the option to talk to an officer via a rapid response video link.
“If an offence is happening to you now dial 999,” said Supt Cutler. “But there are a number of ways people can get help in Suffolk.”
One is the domestic abuse helpline, with a 24/7 web chat, commissioned by Suffolk County Council and run by Anglia Care Trust, on 0900 977 5690 or suffolkdahelpline.org.uk/contact. The website has a safe fast exit button.
“It is free and confidential for anyone, victims themselves, a family member, friend or colleague can ring for help and advice, and people may feel more comfortable calling that first, rather than the police.
”Women’s Aid also has advice online. Go to their website womensaid.org.uk.”
Helping perpetrators of domestic abuse to change their behaviour is another important goal for Suffolk Police.
“We have specially trained police staff who do one to one work. But there is also a community programme on a group basis run by Iceni, a really well regarded charity, and we work together with them.
“There is also a charity called Respect and we give that number out in custody as well, which is 0800 802 4040.
“The more we can do to get people to come forward and get people within society to say this behaviour is not acceptable, the better … for instance teaching people respect for one another at school.
“We work with Suffolk County Council. There are programmes going on in schools aiming to make sure people grow up so they don’t assault another person, or use power and control over a person in a relationship.
“This is not just a policing problem it is a societal problem - making sure we do as much about prevention and deterrent.
“It’s also about not putting all the onus on the victim to come forward but putting onus on the people around them.”
Safety for women going out at night is another focus.
“Our officers will give advice around things like street lighting, licensing, and help in the night time economy like ensuring door staff in premises know what to do if someone is vulnerable through drinking too much.
“With taxi operators it means making sure they are properly licensed. There are town pastors in a lot of towns who patrol at night and help people get home.
“It’s all to do with making a town feel safe at night. We would far rather prevent a crime taking place.”