The Hunter Valley has experienced a "devastating" rise in the number of sexual assaults reported to police over the past five years - recording the second largest jump in the state.
New figures released by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) this week showed that the Hunter Valley, excluding Newcastle, had a 39.8 per cent increase in recorded sexual assaults between 2017/18 and 2021/22.
It represented the largest rise in sexual assaults in regional NSW and was second only to Sydney's Sutherland Shire at a state level.
According to the data, the rate increased by 11.3 per cent in the Newcastle-Lake Macquarie region during the period.
In NSW as a whole, the figure jumped by 14.3 per cent. Domestic violence assaults were also up by 10.6 per cent across the state.
"It's devastating," said Sarah Williams, founder of advocacy organisation What Were You Wearing Australia.
"I think it comes down to a lack of commitment from universities, sporting clubs, institutions [and others] in the Hunter to end sexual violence.
"We need partnerships with sexual violence organisations; properly trained staff, music venues and clubs to have safe spaces."
Charlestown MP and Shadow Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Jodie Harrison also called the results devastating.
She urged the state government to commit to ongoing funding for the NSW Sexual Violence Helpline.
"We know that one in three calls have been going unanswered due to funding constraints," Ms Harrison said.
"I sincerely hope the government is reading this data and considering appropriate action to prevent another increase next year."
Meanwhile all other major crime categories had either gone down or remained stable in Newcastle-Lake Macquarie and the Hunter Valley during the five year period.
BOCSAR executive director Jackie Fitzgerald said the COVID-19 pandemic had "wildly" disrupted crime across the state - particularly property offences.
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