Analysis of government data shows that the number of women reporting rapes at knifepoint to the police has increased by 268% over the last decade.
In 2012/13, there were 174 incidents in England and Wales of rape involving a knife or sharp instrument, whereas by 2021/22, this number had risen to 684 over a year. However, when looking at the number of rapes recorded by the police that involved a knife as a proportion of the total number of rapes recorded, that rate has remained stable across the decade (0.7 rounded up to 1). Thus, the increase in reported incidents of sexual violence involving bladed weapons could be attributed to factors such as improved reporting and recording mechanisms, rather than an increase in prevalence.
Despite the above caveat, the numbers of rapes at knifepoint remain concerning. Some 5,173 incidents of reported knife-point rape were recorded in England and Wales over the decade, according to ONS data. Similarly, sexual assaults using bladed weapons rose in the same period from a reported 81 in 2012/13 to 297 attacks. Overall, there were 1,710 sexual knife assault incidents not classified as rape, as recorded by the Home Office. Recent Crime Survey for England and Wales data on gender and rape shows that 7.1% of female adults had experienced sexual assault by rape or penetration (including attempts) since the age of 16, compared to 0.5% for men. As such, it is certain that the vast majority of those reporting they were attacked with a knife and raped were women at the hands of men.
Although the increased confidence of women to report rape can be applauded, it also casts a darker shadow. Countless women in the past never reported rape, including at knife-point, to the police. If the current annual figure of 684 rapes with a bladed weapon is a more accurate snapshot of the annual toll of such violence experienced by women in England and Wales, then it suggests that in the past decade, some 2,541 rapes using a knife never got reported. By extending the same logic of under-reporting to all forms of rape of adult women, the latest figures may be indicative of annual rates, with some 46,114 women being raped aged 16 and over in England and Wales in 2021/22. If that many women were raped year in and year out over just the past decade, it works out that as many as 173,511 rapes went unrecorded in England and Wales. An average of 85,000 women and girls aged 16 and over are raped each year, further indicating the potential scale of unreported sexual violence.
There could be multiple reasons why rape at knifepoint has increased in society. The number of threats to kill with a knife has increased dramatically from 1,152 recorded incidents in 2012/13 to 5,716 in 2020/21, a rise of some 396%. The use of a sharp instrument is the most common method by which men kill women. Femicide Census data from 2009-20 shows that a total of 767 women were killed by men in this way. The reporting of rapes by police has also shown marked increases over the past decade. In 2012, there were 9,646 incidents of rape of adult women recorded in England and Wales. A decade later, 2021 saw 46,919 rape incidents recorded, representing an increase of some 386%. However, while reports of rapes have risen significantly, prosecution rates have plummeted.
Furthermore, it is important to note that rape at knifepoint is not the only form of sexual violence that has been on the rise in England and Wales. According to the same Byline Times report, sexual assaults using bladed weapons have also increased in the same period, from 81 in 2012/13 to 297 in 2021/22. In total, there were 1,710 sexual knife assault incidents that were not classified as rape, as recorded by the Home Office.
It is concerning that despite the increase in reports of sexual violence involving bladed weapons, prosecution rates have actually plummeted. In the 2020-21 period, only 1,557 rapes were prosecuted, and this figure only increased slightly in the following year to 2,537. This suggests that while more women are coming forward to report rape and sexual violence, the criminal justice system is still failing to adequately respond to their reports.
The rise in reporting of rape and sexual violence involving bladed weapons must be applauded, but it also highlights the darker reality that countless women in the past have never reported such incidents to the police. It is estimated that around 85,000 women and girls aged 16 and over are raped each year in England and Wales, and if this figure is accurate, it would mean that over the past decade, as many as 173,511 rapes went unreported. This means that over a third of all alleged rapes never made it to the point of a police complaint.
In conclusion, the rise in the number of women reporting rapes at knifepoint to the police is deeply concerning. While it is possible that the increase is due to factors such as improved reporting and recording mechanisms, it is also possible that rape at knifepoint has become more prevalent in society. The fact that prosecution rates have plummeted despite the increase in reports of sexual violence involving bladed weapons underscores the urgent need for the criminal justice system to better respond to the needs of survivors. Finally, it is crucial that we continue to raise awareness about sexual violence and work to address the societal and cultural factors that contribute to this issue.
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