A lecturer at Bournemouth University was one of the authors of a report published by the Home Office on 15 December, aiming to radically transform the way police in England and Wales investigate rape and other sexual offences
The report outlines the findings of Operation Soteria Bluestone, a Home Office funded programme to develop a new operating model for the investigation and prosecution of rape and other sexual offences in England and Wales by June 2023.
Dr Kari Davies, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Bournemouth University, led a team of researchers for Pillar 2 of the work – Targeting Repeat Suspects. They were given unprecedented access to a range of police records, including around 80,000 rape reports across five police forces, to understand how sex offence investigations proceed and in particular how the police handle repeat suspects of these crimes.
Their findings exposed a number of flaws in the way sex offences are investigated, including:
- A failure to identify, understand, and disrupt repeat suspects, including completing basic investigative tasks such as searching for previous criminal history of named suspects;
- A lack of sufficient specialist knowledge by police about rape and other sexual offending, and a need for specialism and research-informed specialist investigative practice for rape and sexual offences;
- Disproportionate effort put into testing the credibility of a victim’s account, with a need to re-balance investigations to include a thorough investigation of the suspect’s behaviour.
“Repeat offending is a critical issue in policing of sex offending,” Dr Davies said. “The common challenges found across all forces demonstrate a general lack of understanding of how repeat offending can manifest, how it can be identified, and how the information gained on repeat offending can factor into the investigation on several levels.
“It is also apparent that there is little understanding of how to disrupt repeat offending on a longer-term basis. And where this knowledge does exist, there is often a lack of capacity from officers to be able to conduct a full and thorough investigation and to take ownership for tackling repeat offending beyond the confines of the immediate investigation.”
Dr Davies was part of a team of academics who were brought into five police forces to work alongside frontline police officers between January 2021 and September 2022. to develop new tools for improvement - Avon and Somerset, the Metropolitan Police Service, Durham Constabulary, West Midlands Police, and South Wales Police. Since September 2022 a further 14 forces have been participating in the programme.
Following publication of the report, Chief Constable Sarah Crew, National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Adult Sexual Offences said:
“Uncovering deep rooted and systemic issues within policing is the first big milestone in achieving the transformational change required to improve the policing response to rape.
“Everyone in policing recognises that we must do better and this programme has been met with a genuine willingness and openness to change.
“The evidence tells as that building specialist knowledge, supported by critical thinking and a problem-solving mindset are among the most important changes we can make to tighten our grip on offenders and address falling conviction rates. Officers must target rapists by focusing on suspects – not the credibility of victims – and using their legal and policing powers to disrupt offenders and further harm.
“We are seeing green shoots of change in pathfinder forces and after 18 months, Avon and Somerset have increasing their adult rape charge rate from 3% to over 10%. Improvements are being made at pace in pathfinder forces and I am confident this work will lead to the sustainable progress victims so desperately deserve.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said:
“We need radical improvement in the way police handle rape cases. As a society, too often, we have failed the victims of sexual violence and that cannot continue.
“This report shows that there are big obstacles to overcome and the whole of the criminal justice system need to work together.
“But there are also early signs of improvement and I’m determined to build on these to deliver a sustainable shift in the way rape is investigated.”
Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab said of the report:
“Rape convictions are up two thirds since last year and the number of CPS charges is also up by nearly two thirds from 2019.
“But I want to make sure victims are properly supported throughout the criminal justice process. That is why we introduced a 24/7 rape and sexual abuse helpline, pre-recording of evidence in court to spare them the trauma of testifying during a live trial, and a new approach to police investigations that focuses on the behaviour of the suspect rather than the victim.”
The full report is available on the Home Office website.