SEXUAL and violent offences are on the rise as crime in Test Valley is reaching levels unseen in nearly a decade.

Figures revealed last month found 7,477 crimes had been committed in the Test Valley by March 31 this year.

In terms of the number of crimes reported per quarter, this is the highest since 2008 when there was an average of 8,082 offences over the course of the year.

Crimes appear to be consistently on the rise as the average per quarter in 2017 was 7,358 - the highest annual quarterly rate since 2008.

Meanwhile, reports of sex offences have more than doubled since 2012 in the borough, but police chiefs say rates of burglaries and thefts from the person have fallen across the county.

A total of 282 sex offences and 2,010 violent crimes were recorded this year by March 31.

Hampshire Constabulary has said “it is no secret” the force is facing significant funding challenges, but that despite the rising records of crime, the county as a whole remains below the national average in most categories of crime.

Officers also noted an increase of reported crime should not necessarily be taken negatively as it may reflect a greater confidence of the public coming forward to speak to police.

Detective Chief Superintendent Stu Murray said: “We have been very proactive with this, encouraging victims to report incidents, particularly victims of violent crime, sexual offences and domestic violence, who historically have been less likely to report to police.

“We want to reassure our communities that, alongside this increase in reporting, we are continually working hard to bring offenders to justice who commit these terrible crimes.

“This is evidenced by the fact that in the 12 months leading up to March 2018, we saw a significant increase, 31.59 per cent, in the number of people charged for offences involving violence against the person, sex offences, robbery, and crimes involving bladed implements when compared to the same period the previous year [county-wide].”

Winchester-based Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (RASAC), which supports victims from Andover, has found a surge in demand for its counselling services in recent years.

RASAC manager Stephen Witheyman said: “The number of people wanting counselling has gone up hugely in the last five years, and the more demand goes up, the more waiting lists build up and that means we are stretched.

“What we have to do is recruit more volunteers.

“There are more people coming forward but the reason for coming forward could be numerous reasons. A key factor is the Me Too campaign but also Jimmy Saville when it started to be more acceptable to talk about sexual abuse, rape, victims are more confident about coming forward. It’s not such a taboo subject.

“People should be encouraged to come forward, that is what Me Too is about.”

Violence with or without injury reached its peak of the decade last year with 7,810 incidents, while drug offences continue to decline, as has been the trend since 2014.

Police in Andover have vowed to crackdown on drugs in the town as the county lines issue became high-profile earlier in the year, following a suspected drugs-related murder.