Investigating the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on stranger sex offender behaviour and victim vulnerability.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Psychology

Abstract

In times of crisis, we know that offenders continue to commit crimes, and do so in a manner afforded by the new context (Thornton & Voigt, 2012). Sexual offenders are versatile (Lovell et al., 2019), and change their offending behaviour in accordance with the opportunity to offend (Woodhams & Komarzynska, 2014). The Covid-19 outbreak is a crisis that will alter offender behaviour, as well as who is vulnerable to sexual violence and under what circumstances. Our research is highly urgent because, in the UK and internationally, the police and other stakeholders need to know now how to protect people from increased and new vulnerabilities to sexual violence created by Covid-19, and how to best support those victimised. We will address this research gap, documenting the 'who, what, when, where and how' of stranger sexual offending (Leclerc et al. 2016), pre-, peri- (and potentially, post-) Covid-19, and across shorter time-periods defined by differing local/national restrictions.

Our project partner, the Serious Crime Analysis Section (SCAS) of the National Crime Agency, has a unique, large dataset of serious stranger sexual offences. Using this, we will document how offender modus operandi (MO) and victim vulnerability changes from March 2020 to September 2021, and compare this to one year of pre-Covid-19 data (March 2019 to February 2020). These data will be subject to repeated, multi-level analyses using our complementary expertise in analytical techniques from the social and engineering sciences. For example, relative frequencies for behaviours will be compared for periods of differing restrictions, and trends will be compared to macro-level findings regarding crime rates being produced by other research groups. The Covid-19 crisis is unlikely to impact on specific behaviours in isolation; therefore, we will also study patterns of co-occurrence between behaviours using clustering techniques.

As well as being of urgent relevance to stakeholders, our research will bring new insights to the sparse literature on situational crime prevention and sexual offending (Chiu et al., 2020). Dissemination of our methodology will assist other countries where, during the Covid-19 outbreak, the proportion of stranger sexual offences is high (e.g., Kenya; Flowe et al., 2020). Our findings will be relevant for preparations and responses to future pandemics and events where a population's routine activities (locally/nationally) are changed or disrupted (e.g., pandemics, natural disasters, humanitarian emergencies).

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have found several examples of where Covid-19 and associated public health measures have impacted on stranger sexual offending in the UK. These are currently written up in a paper that is with our project partner for approval for submission to a journal. Until we have their approval, I cannot release the findings into the public domain and note that free text fields here could be made public. Further information is therefore not provided here at present.
Exploitation Route The new research findings have been summarised into an infographic for UK policing and shared with the National Rape Working Group. The infographic is due for dissemination via the National Police Chiefs Council lead for Rape and Serious Sexual Offences, DCC Sarah Crew. Through this working group we have reached third sector organisations and the Crown Prosecution Service too. The findings are also operationally relevant to the Serious Crime Analysis Section and their comparative case analysis. The findings have been fed back to them via the infographic and via a written paper. The research findings will also be of interest to other researchers of sexual violence and may inspire others to do similar analyses.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description Co-production of an infographic for UK policing
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Collaboration with the National Crime Agency (Serious Crime Analysis Section) 
Organisation National Crime Agency
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Expertise and intellectual input.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise and intellectual input.
Impact Presentations to Regional and National Rape Working Groups. The collaboration is an academic-practitioner collaboration.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Interview in El Tiempo (Colombian newspaper) about the study 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview of PI regarding the study and potential outcomes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/investigacion/investigan-como-los-violadores-cambiaron-su-modus-op...
 
Description Introductory Presentation to National Rape Working Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Introductory presentation regarding the research project was given at the National Rape Working Group. A colleague from the National Crime Agency presented on our behalf and took questions about the project which she fed back to us. Attendees were positive about the project, asked questions and expressed their interest in ensuring that findings translate into positive impact in practice. As a result of this presentation, we were later approached with a further funding opportunity regarding the policing of sexual offences which we were awarded..
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Introductory Presentation to the Regional Rape Working Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to the Regional Rape Working Group (including the National Police Chiefs Council lead for Rape and Serious Sexual Offences) introducing them to the research to be conducted, outlining our objectives, and requesting any feedback from them. Questions and discussions followed the formal presentation. The attendees were keen to ensure our research findings translate into practice to improve policing and we have been requested to attend future meetings to present our findings as they emerge so the implications can be discussed..
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Presentation at European Association for Psychology and Law - August 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Conference presentation given online by the researcher investigator and the postdoctoral researcher who was working on the project at that time on behalf of the research team.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Presentation given to the Crime Linkage International NetworK (C-LINK) - 13 Sept 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A presentation on the initial findings was given to the international C-LINK group - a group of practitioners who conduct crime linkage in their countries. The findings of this project have bearing on the practice of crime linkage. Colleagues attending from New Zealand expressed interest in replicating our research there.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Presentation to Project Partner - Serious Crime Analysis Section of the National Crime Agency - 28th Sept 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A presentation on the findings from the project to date were given to the analysts who work in the Serious Crime Analysis Section who contributed the data for the project and to whose practice, the findings are relevant.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Presentation to Regional Rape Working Group - August 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An update on initial findings from the project was given to the Regional Rape Working Group which is a group of police leads responsible for rape and serious sexual offences in their regions/forces.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Workshop with Rape and Serious Sexual Offences police leads - in person - 27/09/2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We held a workshop at the University of Birmingham to share our findings to date with police professionals to co-produce recommendations or actions for UK policing in response to our findings. Plans were made to create an infographic for UK policing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Workshop with Rape and Serious Sexual Offences police leads - remote - 18/10/2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We held an online workshop for those who couldn't join an in-person event at the University of Birmingham to share our findings to date with police professionals to co-produce recommendations or actions for UK policing in response to our findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021