Ballarat police ‘burnt out’ over increasing sexual abuse offences

Overstretched police units are “strained” and at “breaking point” as they deal with more than double the number of sex abuse offences than recorded before 2012. 

A surge in reports of historical sex abuse cases may be behind the increase, with Ballarat offences rising from 227 in 2012 to 569. Crime Statistics Agency data released showed a 26.2 per cent rise in the number of sexual offences in Ballarat during 2016 compared to a statewide 9.1 per cent increase.

While increased reporting was a Royal Commission objective, it comes at cost. A senior Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigations Team (SOCIT)  source said the 16 members were struggling to deal with the “extreme” and increasing workload.

“The attrition rate has increased over the past couple of years due to the workload,” they said.

“We are struggling to put out response teams (to cases) because we have had no increase in staff. (Police) aren’t given the time they need to investigate these cases.

“Sometimes it takes people 30 years to come forward and report … investigating those cases can take over a year.”

The senior officer said members were “burnt out” with an expectation they could juggle up to 15 cases at a time. 

However, the city’s top police officer Andrew Allen said the unit was adequately staffed across all divisions. 

Statewide Victoria Police recorded 12,956 sexual offences in 2016 with an offence rate of 214 offences per 100,000 people.

In five years, the number of sexual offences increased by 45 per cent, up from 8936 offences in 2012. 

A police media spokeswoman said there had been a significant increase of sexual assault reports in the Ballarat region since the start of the Royal Commission.

“It’s important to recognise that increased reporting, particularly of historical offences, shows that more victims are confident in coming forward to police and this is encouraging,” she said.

“When looking at data, it is also important to understand that an increase in the number of offences does not always correlate with an increase in the number of offenders. 

“Where one person is charged with a significant number of offences over a period time, this can lead to a substantial increase in one reporting period.”

The  CSA said changes to the numbers and rates of sexual offences recorded may be affected by increases in reporting of historical incidents of sexual offences.