Voyeurs and flashers were reported to Bedfordshire police more than 100 times during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic – but justice will be served in few of those cases, past figures suggest.
Campaigners calling for a "radical overhaul" of the response to low-level sex crimes say the criminal justice system is failing victims, after just 14 per cent of voyeurism or indecent exposure crimes across England and Wales ended with a charge or court summons in 2020-21.
The most recent Home Office recorded crime data shows Bedfordshire Police received 101 reports of voyeurism or flashing crimes in the year to March 2021 – though this was down from the 147 recorded the year before.
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Different data shows cases of this nature are often shelved before reaching a courtroom, with 11 of the 105 investigations (10%) closed during the same period in the area resulting in a suspect being charged or summonsed.
Forces across England and Wales recorded 10,200 such crimes in 2020-21, again down from 10,800 the year before.
And another 3,300 were recorded between April and June 2021 – 22 in Bedfordshire.
Only last month, Bedford Today revealed how a serial flasher had struck three times in Bedford
Detective Superintendent Will Hodgkinson said: “Offences which in their nature threaten women and girls are taken extremely seriously by Bedfordshire Police, and there is no place for indecent exposure in our society.
"Such crimes can cause alarm, distress and ultimately cause victims to feel unsafe in the areas they live, work or go to school. We are also concerned about the potential escalation of offending should someone think it appropriate to ‘flash’ at innocent members of the public.
“In force we are committed to reviewing offences of this type as well as other forms of sexual and violent cases against women and girls, improving our approach to the identification of offenders and the investigation of crimes to increase our rate of bringing offenders to justice – specifically male offenders.
"We are also passionate about victim care and ensuring that anyone who bravely comes forward to report a sexual offence is offered specialist support.
“It’s important that anyone who witnesses sexual or threatening behaviour of this kind reports it to police. We do treat reports with the utmost importance and are committed to pursuing perpetrators to make our streets safer for women and girls, and indeed all in our county.”
Prior to the impact of the pandemic, which led to crime rates dropping, the number of offences in England and Wales had been climbing steadily in recent years.
Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens was accused of indecent exposure six years before he murdered Sarah Everard and was said to have exposed his genitals in a fast-food restaurant just days before the killing.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct is now investigating allegations that officers failed to adequately probe the claims.
Campaign group End Violence Against Women and Girls called for more research into the response to "lower level" sex offences and whether that response contributes to a sense of impunity in men who go onto commit more serious crimes.
Deputy director Deniz Ugur said: "It's abundantly clear the current system is failing women and girls when incidents like street harassment, groping and flashing are almost universally experienced by women and girls across their lifetimes, and then are so often trivialised or dismissed if reported."
She said a radical overhaul of the policing and criminal justice system's response to violence against women was needed to ensure the "drivers and actions of perpetrators" were properly investigated and victims supported to access justice.
A Government spokeswoman said police forces "must tackle violence against women and girls head on".
She said the Government is funding a new national policing lead to tackle violence against women and girls in recognition of the seriousness of the issue and the need to drive improvements.
She said: "We expect forces to take the necessary action to treat reports of these crimes with the care and sensitivity they deserve.”