A slump in the number of domestic abuse prosecutions is "concerning", a deputy chief constable has admitted.
Convictions for rape and other sexual offences have surged by 48 per cent and 79 per cent respectively over the last decade.
These offences along with domestic abuse, now account for one fifth of the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) total caseload (up from 7.1 per cent ten years ago) according to the tenth CPS Violence Against Women and Girls report.
Although domestic prosecutions have risen by 47 per cent and convictions by 61 per cent compared with 2007/8, convictions have decreased from 75, 235 in 2015/16 to 70, 853 in 2016/17 following a two-year fall in the number of referrals of domestic abuse from the police to the CPS.
Changes in data capture and delays in police response and arrests are likely to have impacted the drop in domestic abuse police referrals to CPS, the report said. The issue has been reported to the Home Office National DA Oversight Group to ensure it is addressed at the highest level.
National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Domestic Abuse, Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe said: “The slight fall in prosecutions this year is concerning and we are already working with CPS to understand why this has happened. We will continue to coordinate with partners across the criminal justice system to hone our joined-up approach to dealing with domestic abuse.
“No one should live in fear of domestic abuse - every victim should be safer for having contacted the police.
“As a service, we have improved our approach to tackling domestic abuse which has resulted in more arrests and prosecutions overall. While pursuing perpetrators, we are also making better use of tools such as Domestic Violence Protection Orders in order to safeguard victims.”
More than a third of the 13,700 defendants who were convicted of sexual offences including rape in 2016/17 had abused children. For the first time the report also showed the ages of rape victims. The data shows more than half of victims (52 per cent) were under 24 years old, 18 per cent aged 14-17 years, and more than nine per cent under 13 years old.
Rape prosecutions have increased by 11.8 per cent and convictions by 11.2 per cent compared to last year.
The conviction rate for sexual offences is now 79.5 per cent- the highest ever recorded.
Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “Over the past ten years the CPS has made significant strides in prosecuting VAWG offences. More offenders are being successfully prosecuted for sexual crimes than ever before.
“We are also prosecuting an increasing number of defendants who have used the internet to target their victims. Our social media legal guidelines were updated last year and we are working with partners in the criminal justice system to ensure that training and guidance keep up with the ever-changing digital landscape.
“Tackling VAWG offences is a priority for the CPS. We will continue to work with victims groups to do everything possible to ensure that victims have the confidence to report their experiences and, where appropriate, pursue prosecutions in the knowledge that they will be supported throughout the process.”
Sarah Green, Co-Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: "What is striking in these figures is how over the last ten years the prosecution of crimes of violence against women and girls has become a much bigger chunk of the CPS' work. These crimes are often hidden and are among the most difficult to get to court, but long-term work by the CPS on delving down into the barriers to getting justice seems to be having a real effect.
"We also commend the CPS for including reporting on their work to prosecute, trafficking, abuse of women in prostitution, forced marriage and 'extreme pornography' offences, alongside the domestic and sexual violence statistics, which recognises the connections between these crimes and women's inequality.
"We urge the CPS to maintain and invest further in its dedicated strategy on prosecuting crimes of violence against women and girls. And we hope that police and others doing frontline work in the community can learn from the strategic approach at the CPS."