After visiting the North East on Thursday (May 16), Home Secretary James Cleverley set out Operation Soteria as a way of tackling sexual assaults and rape across the UK. Mr Cleverly has written for The Northern Echo on the Operation and how it can help officers across the UK.

Rape has a devastating impact on victims and a corrosive and terrifying effect on society. It is one of the worst crimes anyone can commit, and anyone could be a victim of. It is a priority for me and for this government to tackle it. Key to this is getting more arrests, and more convictions.

There is much more work to be done, but we have seen positive progress through what we call Operation Soteria.

Developed by academics and policing, and first piloted by Avon and Somerset Police, this is a new model of investigation of rape cases that sees police and prosecutors working more closely together throughout the process and helps ensure investigations are focused on the actions of the alleged perpetrator, not the victim.

In Durham, the effects can be seen clearly. Charge volumes have increased from 3 in the quarter before embracing Operation Soteria, to 18 in October to December 2023, and the number of cases referred to the CPS increased from 8 to 26 over the same time period. It is success like this which is why it is now the national operating model for the investigation and prosecution of rape funded by the Home Office.

Every force in England and Wales now has officers with the specialist skills and knowledge to respond to what are harrowing and often complex cases. Their increased training will have a transformative effect on the investigation of rape in this country. More than 4,500 officers have completed new specialist training in investigating rape and sexual offences, and new training – developed by the College of Policing - will

be undertaken by all fresh recruits. It is vital that all victims receive the right support from their first contact with the police.

During my visit to Durham this week, I saw first-hand how investigators are benefiting from in-depth, highly specialised training founded on the latest academic research in this area. I have also been hearing harrowing personal stories from survivors; too many have lost faith in seeing justice done, something we are now working to change. Operation Soteria is committed to repairing some of that trust.

Arrests, police referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service, charge rates, and prosecutions have all increased since the roll-out of Operation Soteria. Better-trained officers will more readily understand the psychology of offenders, in particular how they manipulate victims. They will consider the whole story surrounding an alleged rape or sexual offence, rather than simply looking at an incident in isolation. This victim-centred approach will continue to mean more victims are seeing justice done, and more perpetrators are facing the consequences of their actions.

Closer relationships and shared, clear expectations from different parts of the criminal justice system from the outset will mean stronger cases. Prosecutors are already seeing an increase in the number of cases for which they are able to press charges. Success breeds success, and momentum is being created in the way we tackle rape.

Our support for Operation Soteria is part of the Government’s work to reduce rape, sexual offending, and violence against women and girls. We have also changed the law so that rapists, and those convicted of

the most serious other sexual offences, remain in prison for the whole of their custodial term and are subject to proper supervision in the community on their release.

There is a 24/7 support line for victims of rape and sexual violence, so they always have someone on hand to support them. We are also quadrupling victims funding by 2024-25, including to increase the number of Independent Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse Advisors to over 1,000.

We have invested to improve police forces’ technical capability and to improve their ability to extract evidence from digital devices, boosted specialist training in the CPS, and launched a huge programme of work to transform the victim’s journey through court, including the rape and serious sexual offences specific victims guide.

I want nothing less than a radical improvement of victims’ experiences of the justice system and a major reduction in rape. We are on our way to achieving this but there is much further to go, and we are not slowing down.

James Cleverly, Home Secretary