Hundreds of cases of sexual offences on public transport have been dropped due to no suspect being identified, Yahoo News UK can reveal.
In the year to March 2021, out of 881 sexual offences reported to British Transport Police (BTP), 42.81% were closed due to no suspect being identified, according to exclusive analysis of Home Office data.
Some 18.35% of reports led to a person being charged in this period.
These offences covered rape, sexual assault and indecent exposure.
The majority of these offences (581) were cases of sexual assault, out of which 42% were closed due to no suspect being identified.
Experts warn the figures are another sign that sexual violence against women has become normalised.
After a sharp fall during periods of national lockdown, BTP records show that recorded sexual offences on public transport are back up to pre-pandemic levels.
Between October and December 2021, there were 482 reports of sexual offences on public transport, compared to 196 in the same quarter in 2020.
Between October and December 2019 there were 485 reports of sexual offences.
Responding to the figures, Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “Women have fundamental rights to exist freely in public space and travel without facing threats of violence.
“But this is not the daily reality for women and girls everywhere. Investigating and tackling these unacceptable acts of violence against women and girls must be a priority.
“But no amount of surveillance or police on patrol will end this violence, because these approaches fail to get to the root of the problem.
“Instead, we need to see attention focused on preventing abuse from happening in the first place. We can do this through education and public campaigns to shift attitudes, so that this abuse is no longer normalised.
“This is a systemic issue of how gender roles are socialised and men have a collective responsibility to end violence against women.”
It comes as government data shows that the proportion of rapes and sexual offences leading to a charge has tumbled to a record low, with experts warning the justice system is letting victims down on an unprecedented scale.
The dire figures led victims’ commissioner Dame Vera Baird to warn in 2020 that rape is being ‘effectively criminalised’, as so few perpetrators are ever brought to justice.
Meanwhile, the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard at the hands of serving police officer Wayne Couzens shone a further spotlight on dangers women face – including at the hands of those meant to keep them safe.
Since Couzens’ crime came to light, public trust in the police to properly handle cases and sexual violence has tumbled.
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A recent YouGov poll showed that 64% of people do not think police take sexual assault seriously enough.
In response to concerning numbers of sexual offences on the transport network, Transport for London (TfL) launched a campaign last October in a bid to "stamp out sexual harassment on public transport".
The campaign, launched in partnership with BTP, highlighted several “unwanted sexual behaviours that can take place on public transport”, such as cyber-flashing, pressing, touching and up-skirting, with the aim of “sending a strong message to offenders that sexual harassment is not tolerated on TfL's services”.
Responding to the figures, BTP Detective Chief Inspector Nia Mellor told Yahoo News UK: “Our officers work extensively to gather evidence to support prosecutions for sexual offences.
"BTP is also unique in policing a transient population, covering varied demographics across three countries.
“We are absolutely committed to reducing sexual offending on the rail network and victims and survivors remain at the heart of our strategy.
"We are working tirelessly to deter and identify offenders, increase positive judicial outcomes, provide increased reporting mechanisms and engage with victims on how we can improve.
"We’re continuing to increase the number of officers who are specially trained to investigate sexual offences across England, Scotland and Wales. We also have covert, plain clothes officers who are trained in identifying suspects and gathering intelligence out across the network every day.
“All closed cases are subject to a full investigative review by senior detectives, and will be considered for further review in the future as technology and investigative tactics develop.
“We would urge anyone who has been a victim of a sexual offence to report it to us in the confidence that we will extensively investigate and do everything possible to support them.
"Whether something is happening to you at the time or has happened to you recently text us on 61016 or call 0800 40 50 40. We will always take you seriously. In an emergency always dial 999.”