A University of Suffolk academic has played a key role in compiling a report aimed at improving the way in which rape and other sexual offences are investigated by police forces in England and Wales.
The report of year one of the programme was laid before parliament and published by the Home Office on Thursday 15th December 2022.
Operation Soteria is a unique police and CPS programme to develop new operating models for the investigation and prosecution of rape in England and Wales by June 2023.
The policing model is being developed by a team of academics funded by the Home Office. Between January 2021 and September 2022, the academics conducted sequential deep dives on the police response to rape in five police forces: Avon and Somerset Police, the Metropolitan Police Service, Durham Constabulary, West Midlands Police and South Wales Police.
Professor Miranda Horvath, Director of the University of Suffolk’s Institute for Social Justice and Crime, led the team for Pillar 1 of the work which is about making investigations suspect focused.
Professor Horvath and fellow academics were given unprecedented access to a range of police records and worked with individual forces to understand more fully how their investigations proceed.
Her team gathered a wide range of data and information during the deep dives – including reviews of case files, interviews with officers and reviews of policies and procedures.
Their findings exposed a number of flaws in the criminal justice system including:
* investigators and other police staff lack sufficient specialist knowledge about rape and other sexual offending, and there is a need for specialism and research-informed specialist investigative practice for rape and sexual offences;
* disproportionate effort has been put into testing the credibility of a victim’s account, and there is a need to re-balance investigations to include a thorough investigation of the suspect’s behaviour;
* a failure to track repeat suspects.
Professor Horvath said: “We know that people make decisions to commit sex offences and become sex offenders and the suspect's behaviour towards the victim, the choices they make, and the way they account for these choices, must be the central focus of the investigation.
“Considering the suspect behaviour allows for the more appropriate prioritisation of the investigative strategy, better support for the victim, and can help facilitate stronger case building.
“Many basic investigative functions are currently not being completed, with officers relying on ‘victim credibility’ tests which undermine formulation of effective strategies and actions to investigate the suspect.
“Many cases are left to drift through a combination of lack of capacity, lack of specialist knowledge and skills, an inability to appropriately manage or close cases, poor liaison and communication with the Crown Prosecution Service, and structural issues causing tensions between staff.
“We advocate for the development of a specialist sex offence investigator role, with specialist knowledge, skills and capability to handle all functions within an investigation.”
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.”
Link to report:
Link to Institute for Social Justice and Crime:
Operation Soteria background:
* Building on the 2019 London Rape Review led by Claire Waxman OBE, London’s Victims’ Commissioner, a new approach to transform the policing response to rape was developed within the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) and by academics Dr Katrin Hohl and Professor Betsy Stanko.
* This new approach was first trialled as Project Bluestone within Avon & Somerset Police (January – March 2021), funded by the Home Office. It is the blueprint for Operation Soteria Bluestone, which aims to build a new national operating model for the investigation of rape and serious sexual assault.
* Over the first year, the police element of the programme examined a wide range of data in the five forces including case files, observations of investigations and training, reviews of body worn video footage, video-recorded interviews and forces guidance and procedures - in addition to the invaluable, harrowing and brave testimonies of victims and survivors.
*The programme has already been expanded to 14 further police forces and three new CPS areas.
* The learning from all 19 forces will be used to develop a National Operating Model for the investigation of rape. A preview of which is available in the report. It outlines some of the tools all police forces will be encouraged to utilise from June 2023 to improve their response to rape and other sexual offences.
* After findings showing a link between officer burnout and their confidence in using the right investigative strategies, Durham Constabulary rolled out additional wellbeing measures for investigative teams, including specialist trauma impact support training and peer led trauma informed support.
University of Suffolk Press Office