Young women under the age of 25 were victims in about half of all sexual offence cases brought by the Crown Prosecution Service last year, while women aged 24 and under also made up a quarter of domestic abuse victims.
Statistics on victims' ages in cases of violence against women and girls have been released for the first time, as it was revealed that these crimes now account for one-fifth of all prosecutions brought by the CPS in England and Wales.
Leading women's charities have welcomed the rise in convictions, but have said there is still more to be done to tackle violence against women, particularly as convictions and prosecutions for domestic abuse fell significantly over the past year.
The data was revealed in the Crown Prosecution Service’s 10th Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) report, released the day before the International Day of the Girl.
The report outlines a huge increase in rape convictions since the data was first published a decade ago, but while domestic abuse convictions had also been rising, they have now started to fall following a drop in referrals from police.
The statistics show convictions for rape have increased by 48% over the past 10 years, while convictions for other sexual offences have soared by 79% since the first VAWG report was published in 2007/08.
In the past year alone, prosecutions and convictions for rape have grown by 11.8% and 11.2% respectively. These offences, along with domestic abuse, now account for one-fifth (19.3%) of the CPS’s caseload – up from just 7.1% a decade ago.
Although not all victims of the crimes recorded in the report are female, the offences have been grouped together under the heading “VAWG”, recognising that they have been committed primarily, but not exclusively, by men against women, with a disproportionate number of female victims.
For the first time the report also reveals the ages of victims, and more than a third of the 13,700 defendants who were convicted of sexual offences including rape in 2016/17 had abused children. More than half of victims were under 24 years old, almost a fifth aged 14-17 years, and almost 10% under 13 years old.
A Rape Crisis spokesperson said the charity "welcomed the special measures introduced this year to support vulnerable or intimidated victims to give their best evidence, and the CPS drive to improve performance through revised guidance and training for prosecutors in rape cases".
They said that Rape Crisis also welcomed "the efforts the CPS is making to improve the quality of the data it collects and collates, with the age of rape victims at the time of the offence included for the first time", but added: "We must highlight again, however, the ongoing need for further signifcant improvements in this area.
"For instance, until age at the time of reporting as well as at the time of the offence is included, the significant number of victims and survivors of child rape and sexual abuse coming forward to report as adults remains hidden in these figures."
Domestic abuse cases make up more than 80% of violence against women cases prosecuted by the CPS, with crimes including sexual offences, rape, “honour-based” violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, human trafficking for sexual exploitation, prostitution, pornography, stalking, and harassment making up the remainder.
Domestic abuse prosecutions have also risen by 47% over the past decade, with convictions up by 61%. However, this year’s report does show a 4.5% decrease in domestic abuse prosecutions and a 3.1% fall in convictions compared with the previous year, following a two-year fall in referrals of domestic abuse cases from the police to the CPS. More than a quarter of victims were 24 years old or younger last year.
Campaigners have described this drop in successful prosecutions as "worrying", and said victims were being let down by an inadequate police response.
Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: "Although there has been a significant increase in police recording offences as domestic abuse–related, it is worrying that the volume of referrals from the police to the CPS has decreased yet again. Both the CPS and the police need to do much more to ensure sufficient evidence is collected to prosecute the perpetrator without relying on victim’s testimony.
"We also know from our work with survivors that coercive control is at the heart of domestic abuse and yet, since the criminalisation of coercive and controlling behaviour, only 309 offences have been charged and reached a first hearing. As a matter of urgency, there needs to be further training on identifying coercive control and effectively implementing the law throughout the criminal justice system."
And the chief executive of Refuge, Sandra Horley, added: "While it is encouraging that the authorities take this issue more seriously today than a decade ago, Refuge is deeply concerned about the decrease in domestic violence prosecutions in the past year.
"The report makes clear that there has been a worrying fall in referrals of domestic abuse from the police to the CPS over the past two years. We know that police forces are still inundated with calls – receiving around a million reports of domestic violence a year. But only around 450,000 of these reports were logged as crimes last year, and only one in four of those led to prosecutions.
"It is a sad fact that too many women who seek help are still let down by the police response, and Refuge regularly hears reports of haphazard investigations in which perpetrators are not arrested and evidence is not captured.
"Domestic violence is a crime that claims the lives of two women every week in this country. We hope these figures serve as a wake-up call, and encourage police forces to start looking at the problem through the eyes of the victims."
In response to the claims, Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for domestic abuse, said: "No one should live in fear of domestic abuse – every victim should be safer for having contacted the police.
"We have seen a substantial increase in reporting nationally, suggesting victims are more confident to come forward. As a service, we have improved our approach to tackling domestic abuse, which has resulted in more arrests and prosecutions overall. While pursuing perpetrators, we are also making better use of tools such as Domestic Violence Protection Orders in order to safeguard victims.
"The slight fall in prosecutions this year is concerning and we are already working with CPS to understand why this has happened. We will continue to coordinate with partners across the criminal justice system to hone our joined-up approach to dealing with domestic abuse."
In a statement released alongside the report, Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, said that over the past 10 years the CPS had "made significant strides in prosecuting VAWG offences".
She added: "More offenders are being successfully prosecuted for sexual crimes than ever before, including those committed against children. We are also prosecuting an increasing number of defendants who have used the internet to target their victims. Our social media legal guidelines were updated last year and we are working with partners in the criminal justice system to ensure that training and guidance keep up with the ever-changing digital landscape.
"Tackling VAWG offences is a priority for the CPS. We will continue to work with victims groups to do everything possible to ensure that victims have the confidence to report their experiences and, where appropriate, pursue prosecutions in the knowledge that they will be supported throughout the process."
Veteran presenter John Humphrys faced calls to resign after interviewing Saunders about the report on air earlier. The 74-year-old Today programme host said "the concern of some people" was that "the scales have been tipped a little too far in one direction", suggesting the balance was now in favour of victims.
He further suggested that the "problem" with sexual assault cases is that defendants are not given the same anonymity afforded to victims, forcing Saunders to point out that "just because there is an acquittal, that doesn't mean it was a false allegation".
His remarks were heavily criticised by women's campaign groups, including the charity Safer Lives, which said: "This interview did not meet the high standards the Today programme is rightly proud of. It entirely overlooked the experience of those who have survived violent, abusive, and sexual crime, and indeed those who haven't.
"It's exhausting to have to continue to point out that men from Harvey Weinstein to Oscar Pistorius are not the victims of the abuse they perpetrate. But we'll continue to do it, and we hope the Today programme, and others who frame our public debate, will do better."