09 Feb 2023
Unearthing hard truths about rape investigation is the way to transform our service to victims. The change we all so desperately want to see in investigating and prosecuting rape will be built on fixing the problems in our current approach.
Today’s research findings from a landmark collaboration between academics and the police lays these flaws bare and in places is hard to read – but it is a critical step in achieving our ambition of wholescale change.
In my role as National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Adult Sexual Offences, I work with many dedicated and committed colleagues. Among them are the hard-working policing practitioners and leading academics who worked together on the first year of Operation Soteria Bluestone.
Rape is one of the most complex and challenging crimes we deal with within the criminal justice system. Working with independent academics to uncover the deep rooted and systemic issues within policing is the way to achieve the wholescale change required.
The publication of the Operation Soteria Bluestone Year 1 report is a milestone in our journey to improving outcomes for victims of rape and sexual offences. Some of the research highlights issues raised by campaign groups, some replicate findings of earlier work, while other findings are new.
Many of the findings are challenging and some are concerning. But this is not a bad day for policing or for criminal justice. This report provides an evidence base for the action required for transformational change. I believe this is the best opportunity in a generation to truly solve the problem of investigation and prosecuting rape and be far better for victims. We, in policing, must engage with it with an open mind and a full heart.
Of all the rich and deep, and probably unprecedented insight we have gained, for me the most illuminating and significant is the importance of understanding human psychology – and how perpetrators use and exploit it and us the investigators and prosecutors. We need to turn the tables on perpetrators of rape by exposing their tactics and using our knowledge of their offending against them. I believe building this kind of specialist knowledge, supported by critical thinking and a problem-solving mindset, is the single most important change we can make.
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 per cent to over 10 per cent. Improvements are being made at pace in other pathfinder forces including South Wales Police, West Midlands Police, the Metropolitan Police Service and Durham Constabulary. I am confident this work will lead to the sustainable progress victims so desperately deserve.
Throughout this programme, we have benefited from political leadership, investment and cross-government coordination. The work to improve justice for survivors of rape and sexual offences must be done in partnership, bringing together the police, government, justice agencies, the voluntary sector and communities. I remain absolutely committed to that approach and I want to build on the work set out in the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Policing Joint National Action Plan, the Government’s Rape Review, the joint thematic inspection of the police and Crown Prosecution Service’s response to rape and the Investigation and Prosecution of Rape Home Affairs Select Committee.
Everyone in policing recognises that we must do better, and this programme has been met with a genuine willingness and openness to change. Researchers found that the officers involved in research were overwhelmingly committed to doing the best for victims, often prioritising it above their own well-being. They remarked on the bravery, openness and personal risks many officers have been willing to take in the hope this work will help their force improve.
The new operating model, to be launched in summer 2023, will turn this research into tangible action to turn the tables on perpetrators, improve victims’ experience and secure more convictions.
Operation Soteria Bluestone presents a critical opportunity to transform the way police respond to, and investigate, rape and sexual offences and to give the victims of these heinous crimes the best chance of justice. We must seize it.
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