VICTIMS of rape and other serious sexual crimes will be listened to and supported, no matter who they are or how long ago it happened. 

That is one of the key messages of a new Cumbria Police campaign that highlights the force’s renewed commitment to victims - and bringing offenders to justice.

The message is underpinned by a raft of innovations.

Anybody can be a victim, says Detective Chief Inspector Vicki Coombes, the senior officer who leads Cumbria Constabulary’s efforts to tackle rape and serious sexual offending.

She and her colleagues are urging victims to get in touch, even if they do not want to see their abuser prosecuted, and no matter how long ago the crime was committed.

The force’s commitment also extends to combating sexual violence that can be a particular risk during nights out, when alcohol renders people vulnerable.

Officers are being deployed on the streets at key times to safeguard those who may be at risk. Statistics from Cumbria Police show the force’s increased and sustained focus on tackling sexual crime is yielding positive results, with more cases being brought.

Senior officers point out that there is increased support and protection for victims, this often being underpinned by powerful court orders that both protect people and control and monitor the behaviour of offenders.

Yet, for a host of reasons, too many victims are reluctant to seek help. “A lot of cases go unreported,” said DCI Coombes.

“One of the aims of our current campaign is to make sure that people know how to report these issues, whether it’s to the police or to a support organisation.

"Taking that first step can be hard.”

There are multiple reasons why this is the case – often because perpetrators are closely linked to the victim’s personal or family lives. It can also be because victims fear that they will not be believed. “We want to stress that we take every report seriously,” said DCI Coombes.

“Every report is investigated thoroughly.”

Past reports have highlighted depressingly low conviction rates at rape trials.

But often those figures are skewed by a range of factors, not all of them to do with evidence. Sometimes, victims want action that falls short of a prosecution – such as a sexual risk harm order that forbids predators approaching likely victims.

Some offenders can even be made to take lie-detector tests.

DCI Coombes leaves no room for doubt: victims who want to seek justice in the courts will be listened to and supported. “We understand that the criminal justice process can be daunting, but we have support in place which can help people get through it.”

So, what particular issues are being highlighted by the current campaign?

Over the last two years, senior officers have ushered in a series of changes which they say offers a better service to victims, and which is already triggering more prosecutions.

Those changes include:

* Increased victim engagement, bolstered by a new specialist team. DCI Coombes said: “In May 2023 we recruited a team of RASSO (Rape and Serious Sexual Offences) Engagement Officers. These officers are trained to provide an enhanced service to victims of rape, allowing the investigating detectives to focus on the behaviour of the perpetrator."

* A commitment on victims’ mobile phones. As DCI Coombes explains: “It was established nationally...that handing over a phone for any length of time during what is obviously a traumatic period can be difficult. We are already achieving the target of downloading victims’ phones within 24 hours.”

* Forensic phone technicians. Mobile and equipped with high-tech kit, these experts can travel to a victim's location to download the content of a device, by appointment, negating the necessity to seize it. DCI Coombes said: This has significantly reduced digital intrusion and improved engagement with victims. However, we also remain committed to ensuring victims’ mobile phones are only examined when absolutely necessary.”

* Operation Vigilant. In July 2021, Cumbria Police launched this a perpetrator-focused, uniformed street patrol campaign to identify potential opportunistic offenders in the night-time economy. Specialist training was given to officers on night shifts in urban areas. The aim is to identify potential offenders who target vulnerable people coming out of venues such as pubs and clubs. This initiative also puts uniformed patrols in areas identified as hot spots for violence against women and girls.

* Timeliness of rape investigations. Officers have worked closely with the Crown Prosecution Service to speed up the process. The aim is to have offenders charged within 12 months. Previously, it was not unusual for cases to take twice that long for a charging decision.

DCI Coombes added: “Taking that first step to telling somebody what has happened to you is often the most difficult. But please know that if you do, you will be provided with information which will enable you to make choices on how you wish to move forward.”

Deputy Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, Mike Johnson, said: “Rape and sexual assault are extremely serious crimes and, unfortunately, they do happen in Cumbria.

“By highlighting the positive work that the police do, I hope that the public gain more confidence to report rape and sexual assault to the police knowing that they will be listened to, and support is available for them.

“I would encourage anyone who has experienced this abuse to report to the police on 101 or 999 in an emergency but I understand that this is not always the path that survivors wish to take.

“This is why the Office of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner commissions services across Cumbria that can help anyone cope and recover – if you do not wish to report you can call Victim Support on 0300 303 0157 and they can help signpost you to the best service to suit your needs. 

“Please reach out and do not suffer in silence – support is available.”

The Bridgeway is a dedicated service for the victims of sexual crime. It operates a free 24/7 helpline. The number is: 0800 118 6432. The website can be found at:

Read more: 'The Bridgeway' - a lifeline for Cumbria's sex crime victims

Cumbria Police operates its own web page dedicated to advice and information of rape and other sexual offending.