A RECORD number of rapes and sexual assaults were recorded in south Essex last year.

Essex Police recorded 776 incidents of sexual offences in Southend, and 610 in Basildon, in the 12 months to December, according to the Office for National Statistics.

That equates to a 16 per cent rise in Basildon and 29 per cent rise in Southend compared to 2020.

Bosses at Essex Police accept there is “work to do” to tackle the issue, but say that supporting victims would remain “at the heart” of their approach.

“We are very proud of the work we’re doing to deliver justice for survivors,” an Essex Police spokesman said.

“We know that rape and sexual offences have a lifelong impact on survivors and our specialist detectives work closely with those affected to guide them through the criminal justice system.”

Over a three-month period between July and September, 89 per cent rape cases that went to court across the county resulted in a guilty plea or in a guilty verdict; the force did not reveal the figures for the full year.

The rising toll in Essex is part of a national trend, with the number of sex crimes recorded across England and Wales also reaching a record high in 2021.

Police recorded 183,587 rapes and sexual offences in the year to December 2021, up 22 per cent compared to 2020 (150,748), which was previously the highest annual figure to date.

In a bid to address the issue, Essex Police has launched its Synergy Essex First Responders project, which provides victims with support within one working day of reporting an offence. This can include counselling and emotional support, and detailed information about the criminal justice process.

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An Essex Police spokesman added: “Our detectives work tirelessly to get justice for those victims who bravely come forward.

"We do not underestimate the psychological impact that this has on someone who must relive their trauma over and over again, and we support them as best as we can throughout the investigation.”

Anne Jones, who was councillor for communities in Southend before the election was called, said: “We in Southend stand firmly together against all forms of sexual violence. Southend needs to feel and to be a safe place for everyone who lives and works here - both outside, in social situations, at work, and in the home.”

Matt Dent, Labour candidate for Kursaal ward, is a White Ribbon ambassador, for the charity White Ribbon UK which engages with men and boys to end violence against women.

He said: “We need to get a grip on sexual violence, and while women are not the only victims, and it is not always men who are perpetrators, it does make up a significant percentage of cases.

“We are calling for men to take responsibility for standing up against these crimes and especially calling out other men for inappropriate or problematic behaviour.”

Diana Fawcett, chief executive of the charity Victim Support, said: “Sadly, these figures reflect what we’re seeing the number of sexual violence cases referred to us have increased by a third since before the pandemic.

“We also know that court delays for victims of sexual violence are at an all-time high this is a worrying combination.”