Reporting, Detection and Solvability of Sex Offences on Railways

  • Anthony JonesEmail author
  • Richard Timothy Coupe
  • Katrin Mueller-Johnson


The majority—96%—of sexual crime on railways is high-volume and of medium–low seriousness: principally non-penetrative assault, public indecency and indecent exposure. Most (81%) of these offences take place on trains, trams or station platforms, and 35% of all sexual offences are committed on the London Underground system, mainly on trains. More serious offences—penetrative assault and rape—tend to occur in station buildings. Detection rates were lower for offences committed on trains, trams and platforms than elsewhere at railway stations. They were also lower in the British Transport Police London and South subdivisions, a likely reflection of the high levels of sexual offences compared with police resources there and also of the higher incidence of less serious offences that tend to occur on trains, where reporting of offences is more difficult. Fewer offences were reported to British Transport Police officers, railway staff and other police officers in the London and South areas. Detection rates were lower for less serious sexual offences, partly because they occur on trains and at certain, often busy, times of day. The ways in which sexual offences were reported had an important effect on detection when controlling for offence type, time of day, type of offence and subdivision. There was a hierarchy of detection rates, with offences reported to British Transport Police officers the likeliest to be detected. Those reported to railway staff had rather lower detection rates, with police officers from territorial police forces like the Metropolitan Police Force detecting few cases still. Reports telephoned in by victims directly fared far worse, and those communicated by victims using email, text or social media had the lowest detection rates of all. It is possible that the manner in which victims choose to report offences also depends on their perceptions of how likely it is that police will make an arrest, so that reporting medium is a ‘marker’ for offence solvability. Reporting medium is an important factor affecting rail sex crime solvability. It would be better for detection outcomes if more sexual offences were reported to police officers, particularly BTP officers or railway staff. Detection rates could be elevated if there were improved means for victims to report crimes on trains in transit so that, where possible, offenders could be intercepted by officers either while still on trains or when they alight. This would be less feasible on the trains in the central London Underground, where travel time between stations is short. Equally, visible CCTV to deter and covert CCTV to identify offenders in the act on trains where there is a high incidence of sexual offending may also offer potential to boost detections—accepting limitations on crowded trains, such as London commuter trains and the Underground at rush hours. Clearly, a solution to such offences on overcrowded trains would be more coaches or more trains, depending on the routes involved. Additional CCTV equipment might be usefully installed on staircases and escalators prone to penetrative assaults.


Sexual offences Reporting Rape Assault Indecent exposure Trains Platforms Stations 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anthony Jones
    • 1
    Email author
  • Richard Timothy Coupe
    • 2
  • Katrin Mueller-Johnson
    • 2
  1. 1.Metropolitan PoliceWestminsterUK
  2. 2.University of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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