Figures published by the Scottish Government show a rise of 1,060 reports of sexual crimes from last year to this - putting them at their highest level since records began in 1971.
The latest national statistics continue the long-term trend of increased recording of sexual offences, both historical and recent, including a rise in online crime.
Dumfries and Galloway had the highest rate of sex crimes, with 36 per 10,000 people in 2018-19 while East Renfrewshire was the lowest with 15 per 10,000.
Overall, sexual assault took up the highest proportion of reported sexual crimes in the last year at 38 per cent, with rape at 18 per cent. Historic sex crimes made up 25 per cent of the total reports.
Other violent crimes also rose by ten per cent to more than 8000 in the past year, with attempted murder and serious assault the highest proportion of such crimes, accounting for 54 per cent of reports.
Amid demands from opposition MSPs for increased police funding and claims of a “rising wave of crime”, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf announced a 16-month study to look focus on Scots who experience repeat incidents of violence. He said it would engage directly with victims of violent crime, particularly in Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities, and those facing challenges from homelessness, substance misuse or previous convictions.
Mr Yousaf said: “While there is less crime and fewer victims than a decade ago, the impact on victims, particularly of sexual or violent crimes, is often devastating. That is why we are strengthening how Scotland’s justice system and other public services support victims, while investing in both law enforcement and crime prevention projects.
“We want victims to have the confidence to report crimes to the police. We know that many of the sexual crimes recorded in this year’s figures occurred many years in the past. We are investing record levels of funding to support victims through a range of front line specialist services.”
In total all crime in Scotland increased by one per cent on the previous year although the long-term trend showed that it has fallen by 27 per cent since 2009-10. Glasgow had the highest single-year crime rate with 717 reports per 10,000 residents, ahead of Edinburgh with 604 and Dundee with 595.
Police Scotland said increased reporting, as opposed to a rise in crimes committed, could be partly responsible for the increase in the sexual crime figures. Large-scale operations, which identify a number of perpetrators and victims, could also be related to the rise according to Detective Chief Superintendent Lesley Boal.
She said: “It is vital that victims feel confident about coming forward to police and we have seen a large increase in reports of rape and sexual offences, including non-recent offences, since the formation of Police Scotland.
“We will continue to strive to proactively identify victims of rape and sexual crime whilst ensuring that all investigations are carried out consistently and to a high standard, regardless of where or when the crime occurred.
“We are continually improving our response to reports of rape and sexual crime and how we conduct such investigations. This includes seeking feedback from victims/survivors and we welcome the opportunity to listen to their experiences in the criminal justice process.”
But Scottish Labour’s Justice spokesperson James Kelly said the figures showed that Scottish communities were “in the grip of a wave of rising crime”.
He added: “Sexual crimes such as rape are at there highest level since 1971 and non-sexual violent crimes are up by 10 per cent in the last year alone.
“The Justice Secretary cannot just dismiss these statistics, behind each one are thousands of people who have had their lives ruined. He must immediately ditch his plans to cut police officer numbers in light of these harrowing figures.
“There are also broader questions the SNP government should be asking about the kind of conditions – social exclusion, poverty, and direct experience of violence - that may have led to the increase in violent crime”.
“You cannot keep Scotland’s communities safe on the cheap It’s time for Humza Yousaf to give our brave police officers the resources they need to fight crime and keep Scotland safe.”
Scottish Conservatives justice spokesperson Liam Kerr said that the figures were the result of a “catastrophic failure of SNP’s soft touch approach to justice”.
“The worrying and significant rise in sexual and violent crime is compounded by the decreasing clear up rates, in what will be devastating news for victims,” he said. “The SNP’s failure to ensure we have enough police on the streets is clearly having a negative impact, and their decision to abolish prison sentences of less than a year will only make things worse.
“If we are to address this worrying trend this SNP government must finally provide Police Scotland with proper resources and ensure there are enough officers on the frontline.”
And Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur demanded Mr Yousaf “urgently re-examine” strained police resources as the figures showed the clear up rate for sexual offences fell again and is now at its lowest since 1979, while the clear up rate for violent crime decreased by 2.8 percentage points.
“The steep rise in violent and sexual crime is extremely concerning. Thousands of families will have been left reeling from unthinkable attacks,” he said.
“Police officers and staff work tirelessly to keep our communities safe but it’s clear that a lack of resources, the loss of valuable civilian expertise and the reliance on outdated IT systems is hampering their work. Our system is under immense pressure. The Justice Secretary needs to urgently re-examine police resourcing.”
However, Mr Yousaf said: “Our £20 million investment in violence prevention since 2007 has helped reduce violent crime to levels now 43 per cent lower than in 2006-07, but any rise requires us to re-double-efforts to secure the gains made over the last decade.
“As well as continued investment in policing, in the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit and projects such as No Knives, Better Lives, Mentors in Violence Prevention and Navigators, I have commissioned a major study into repeat violent victimisation. While fewer than one in every 100 adults are victims of repeated incidents of violence, these accounted for around three-fifths of violent crime.
“This research will help police, together with local and national government to better understand the nature of repeat violence – including the role of substance misuse - and ensure we focus our efforts on those most affected by violence wherever it persists.”