As we enter December, everyone′s thoughts turn to Christmas with many people thinking about going out, meeting new people and having a good time.

However, Cheshire Police say this time of year brings real challenges for officers as they deal with an increase in the number of rape and sexual assaults taking place.

Over the last few years in the run up to Christmas, the number of rapes reported from October to December has increased from 42 in 2010 to 85 in 2011.

This increase in reported rapes suggests there is more confidence in reporting serious sexual offences to police. As the launch for ‘rape shatters lives - there is no excuse’ campaign starts this week, Cheshire Police are appealing to people to think about their motives for committing sexual offences as they deal with offenders who use a variety of excuses to explain their reasoning when they are arrested for rape.

ACC Ruth Purdie said: "Our message is clear - anyone who uses force to have sex with another person is committing a criminal offence. Everyone has the right to say no to sex - without consent, sex with another person is rape.

"We are warning potential offenders this Christmas that there is no excuse for rape and we want to reassure victims of rape that we are committed to getting justice for them. Rape shatters lives, it is a distressing act and officers, when they are investigating allegations of rape will not accept appalling excuses from offenders for their actions. The law is clear − "No means No!".

Most people find the subject of rape difficult to discuss as the mental images it conjures up are distressing. The ′shattered lives′ approach is aimed at driving home the message by spelling out to potential offenders the impact that rape has on the lives of victims.

ACC Purdie added: "We need to remove the taboos and myths that surround rape and sexual violence and start to discuss it in the open. We need to make it socially unacceptable for people to think that they can offer an excuse as a means of mitigating their actions when they are charged with an offence of rape or sexual assault.

"There are no excuses for rape or sexual violence and those who normalise, deny or blame the victim for their own actions must understand that making excuses for themselves or their friends who have used force to get ‘what they wanted’ will not be tolerated."