Avon and Somerset to implement new approach to rape investigations

Avon and Somerset Constabulary is to transform the way its officers deal with rape and sexual offences following the conclusion of a groundbreaking research project.

Jun 8, 2021
By Tony Thompson
Chief Constable Sarah Crew, NPCC lead for for rape and serious sexual assault

The new evidence-based approach will put the victim experience and wellbeing “at the heart” of rape investigations.

Dr Katrin Hohl, a senior lecturer in criminology at City, University of London, and other academics collaborated with the force on Project Bluestone, which sought to improve the experiences of sexual assault survivors, tighten the grip on offenders and help address falling conviction rates for rape and sexual assaults.

After working with victim support services, barristers and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) the team identified five pillars that should be worked on to improve police responses to rape:

  • Suspect focused investigations;
  • Challenging and disrupting repeat offenders;
  • A system procedural justice approach to victim engagement;
  • Officer learning, development and wellbeing; and
  • Reviews of data and performance.

The academics also found flaws in current police protocols around long delays in investigations, not picking up repeat offenders and poor risk assessments, which put survivors in danger.

The findings, which were launched at an online event with 255 invited participants from key criminal justice agencies and representatives of local police forces, come at a time when national reports show prosecutions for rape and sexual assault have fallen over the past three years, despite more cases being referred to the CPS in England and Wales.

Dr Hohl said: “Never before has a police force opened itself to in-depth 360-degree academic scrutiny in the way Avon and Somerset Constabulary has done as part of this project. The problems we identified through this collaborative research are unlikely to be unique to this police force.

“I am excited to see Avon and Somerset Constabulary now implementing a new evidence-based approach to rape investigations that no longer front-loads the investigation of the credibility of the victim at the expense of a timely investigation of suspects, and adopts a systematic procedural justice approach to how police treat survivors.”

Avon and Somerset Constabulary Deputy Chief Constable Sarah Crew said: “This is an opportunity for us to bring about real and sustainable change, putting the victim experience, and their wellbeing, at the heart of everything we do.”

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