People are highly unlikely to report sex crimes, according to a recent survey.

The survey on crime victimisation found that 85 per cent of those questioned would not file a sex crime report to the police.

Sex crime victims often fear lengthy court proceedings, with the penalties dished out to offenders often failing to justify all the legal hurdles, criminologist Janice Formosa Pace told The Sunday Times of Malta.

Dr Formosa Pace is the author of a government crime prevention strategy that is up for public consultation. The strategy seeks to make it easier for people to report such crimes, as well as offering them the necessary psychological and medical support.

She said the chances of the offenders getting an effective punishment was relatively low for sexual offences, as attested by the number of inmates serving sentences for sex offences – an average of 24 inmates per year.

Many victims often had bad experiences when they filed a police report about a sex crime, with victims often feeling like they were the ones being investigated, Dr Formosa Pace said.

The strategy proposes a number of publicity campaigns aimed at both the victims and potential offenders. It also identifies a lacuna in the treatment of sex offenders, which needs to be addressed urgently in order to prevent further offences and victimisation.

The crime prevention strategy places a heavy emphasis on the need to target youths deemed to be at risk of turning to a life of crime.  Dr Formosa Pace said there was a need for particular focus on so-called crime families and the children of inmates. Crime-families are identified as such when two members have been behind bars.

The chances of these families being unemployed is 57 times higher than other families. This is because they make a living off crime rather than being unable to find work.

Data from across Europe forecasts that more children will have parents who are behind bars, and incarceration rates are rising, Dr Formosa Pace said.

The new strategy will identify at-risk children. Ten localities which are home to the biggest number of crime families have been identified. Social, psychological and educational support will be offered at community level.

Dr Formosa said it was “worrying” that youths between the ages of 14 and 21 were mixing with each other in the Young Persons Offenders Unit. More investment was needed in the sphere of youth justice, and the policy seeks to introduce a front-line service for at-risk youths.

This would involve the setting up of a youth intervention team to monitor at-risk youths and provide the necessary psychological and social support.

The strategy also proposes a complete review of youth justice in Malta, from arrest to prosecution to sanctioning and treatment, eventually leading to a potential draft of a Youth Justice Act.

Dr Formosa Pace said Europe-wide research showed that imprisonment as a form of rehabilitation only worked in 35 per cent of the cases.

She said the jury was still out on the effectiveness of parole, seeing as it was only introduced in 2013.

Cracking down on pickpocketing

Crime figures show that pickpocketing in Malta has increased significantly in recent years, particularly in entertainment zones like Paceville.

A number of foreigners have been charged with pickpocketing, indicating that they were coming to Malta for that specific purpose.

Over half of all pickpocketing incidents occur in St Julian’s.Over half of all pickpocketing incidents occur in St Julian’s.

Statistics published in the crime prevention strategy show that pickpocketing peaks during the early hours of the weekend. People are most likely to report being pickpocketed between 1am and 3am on weekends, the data shows.

The increase can be put down to the loss of personal space which occurs in mass entertainment areas like Paceville.

Over half of all pickpocketing incidents occur in St Julian’s (54.5 per cent), followed by Sliema at 18.5 per cent.

The strategy calls for an information campaign to raise awareness about the way pickpockets operate. Pickpockets often take ample time to study how to blend into a crowd while committing the theft. They are likely to operate on days and times when people carry more money than usual.

Apart from entertainment zones, pickpockets are also known to operate near banks, on public holidays and during the sale season, during village festas and Christmas, in shopping centres and at other locations where people gather.

They work either alone or in small groups of two or three. When working in groups, one of the pickpockets will distract the victim while the other carries out the crime, passing on the stolen items to a third accomplice.

The strategy calls for police work to be guided by statistical studies on crime hotspots, as this would allow the police to focus their resources to problem areas.

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