An exploration of the police investigative stage of rape cases from the perspectives of victim-survivors and police

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Social and Policy Sciences


Despite considerable contribution of research, policy reviews (Stern,2010; Angiolini,2015), reform attempts (eg 'Protecting the public', 2002; SOA, 2003; ACPO, 2010), and the introduction of specialist rape investigation units (Rumney et al,2019), the criminal justice (CJ) response to rape remains problematic. Juxtaposed with rises in police recorded cases (ONS: 2017/18/19), and support services struggling to meet demand (MOPAC,2019), figures indicate the stark reality that alongside a decrease in the number of suspects referred to the CPS for a charging decision, the proportion of cases prosecuted has fallen (CPS,2019). Thus, attrition in rape cases has endured, with little to counter concerns that rape in England and Wales is effectively 'decriminalized' (Gregory & Lees,1999; Dearden,2019), and even less to encourage victim-survivors to enter into the CJ process and remain on board. A key reason for attrition provided in the literature is myths about rape.

The existence, endurance and influence of rape myths on judgements made by the general population (Grubb & Harrower,2008;2009; Grubb & Turner,2012), and their possible impact on police officers' classification, decision-making, case-processing (Hine & Murphy,2017; 2019; Murphy & Hine,2019), and courts (Smith & Skinner,2017), is well documented. Such myths, however, are only part of the problem; managerialism, created a performance culture within policing, focused on demonstrating outcomes (Angiolini,2015). Harnessing more support from victim-survivors may require greater focus on victim-centred care during investigations, rather than CJ outcomes.

Whilst studies reviewing rape case-files (Hester, 2013; Hohl & Stanko, 2015), provide useful insight into attrition, data from official, disclosable records, captures neither police nor victim-survivor experiences of the process fully. This project aims to explore decision-making during investigations from the perspectives of victim-survivors, and officers working within a rape investigation unit, contributing insight into an area engendering more quantitative inquiry. Its objectives are to understand:

* victim-survivor and police decision-making during police investigations of rape and the context within which they occur;
* the relationship between police and victim-survivor decision-making during this stage;
* the interplay between the ecological environment of police and victim-survivors and factors impacting on case progression.

This study will utilise an ecological approach to understand the interactive effects of personal, organisational and environmental influences, whereby construction of an individual's reality is a process informed by individuals and their community's/cultural pre-existing understanding of reality. The ecological model of Bronfenbrenner (1994), adapted by Hagemann-White et al (2010), develop this further with four nested layers: ontogenetic (individual), micro (eg peer group), meso (e.g. institutions such as the police), and macro (eg State and ideology), each of which impacts on individual perceptions. The research thus situates group interaction, the police institution, State, discourse and ideology as key influencers in individuals' decisions.

Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with 15-20 victims who withdrew from the police investigation, to understand their experiences and perceptions of the investigation, and macro-to-ontogenetic level factors associated with their decision. Semi-structured interviews will also be conducted with 25 police officers working in a rape investigation unit in England, to understand their attitudes and experiences, explore perceptions of, and relationships with, victim-survivors, and their perceptions of the operational landscape. In addition, observations of officers working in a rape investigation unit, will occur over a 6-month period. A quantitative summary of case progression, will anchor the research within the wider context.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2380972 Studentship ES/P000630/1 28/09/2020 27/03/2027 Sophie Geoghegan-Fittall