"A consistent victim journey, or is it?" An exploration of police response to rape investigation using a mixed method approach

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Portsmouth

In Collaboration With

Hampshire Constabulary and University of Portsmouth Forensic Innovation Centre

Principal Researcher

Carolyn Lovell

Level of Research


Project Start Date

October 2016

Research Context

This research explores the perception of the issues purporting to rape in a policing context. Why does rape remain under reported and why is the attrition rate of these crimes so high? This research endeavours to examine the reality and validity of the assumptions detailed within the literature, with a focus on the impact and influence of associated human factors attaining an appropriate level of quality practice across the police service.
This research will be focused within UK police forces; however, it is anticipated that the research findings will be applicable on an international basis in the westernised world.

Rape and serious sexual offence investigation remains a critical focus within the criminal justice system. Whilst extensive research has emphasised the complainants experience of reporting rape there remains fewer studies that have actually reflected the policing aspect of this argument and fewer still that examines the relationship between the police response and complainant's experience with any rigour. The predominating focus of the literature is the lack of standards specific to quality of service delivery, which has led to an inconsistent victim journey.

The overall aim of this research is to improve local police response to rape. Through my vocational lens as a practitioner within the criminal justice system I intend to deliver an insight into the quality of service that is delivered across the police service for the investigation of rape. Is the journey for a complainant of rape inconsistent within the UK police service? I intend to build upon research data completed in a pilot study, to which additional data will be collated.

  1. Assess the reality in a policing context of the assumptions, expectations and beliefs that is detailed within the literature relating to sexual offence investigations.

  2. What human factors influence the implementation of the rape tool kit?

  3. Are these human factors associated with organisational change, having an affect on the attrition rate for this crime type?

Research Methodology

The theoretical framework for this study is based on my vocational lens as a practitioner within the criminal justice system. The pilot study completed during my first stage of this doctoral programme, presented a real opportunity to test qualitative research methodology. The results achieved in this first exploratory research were positive and provided a rich source of data, which could be further contributed to during the main research phase. As a researcher my stance is more an interpretative view. However for the main thesis I intend to complete a mixed method approach in order to present quantitative data to obtain research data relating to policing roles, training and toolkit implementation on a wider scale. The Qualitative stances for this main thesis is necessary to answer some of the key aspects of my research objectives to primarily understand "what is going on here?" - what are the perceived issues within the policing context?

A grounded theory approach is anticipated for this research, with the aim to take a comparative study across the police service and across all ranks and roles. I intend to follow the same research methodology as undertaken in the pilot study, utilising the rape toolkit as a template for semi-structured interviews. The Rape Action plan (2015) presents a crime scene to court approach covering the whole complainant's journey to explore with the participants in detail. The interview strategy was designed to determine the ‘why’ to explore the purpose, context and the participants interpretation of the Rape Action plan (2015). In addition to this, additional data will be included such as geographical areas, gender and role in order to consider these themes and trends on a wider scale. This was found to be both appropriate and effective for obtaining data for the research issue. Further discussions with my supervisor need to be explored regarding the sampling strategy for this methodology to ensure that the participants for the research actually represent the general characteristics of the policing population, it is anticipated that a purposive sampling strategy is employed to assure credibility of the research outcomes.

The main emphasis for this research is qualitative with a focus for an interpretative review of individual’s perceptions and social construction of the research issue. However the opportunity of gathering quantitative data relating to roles, and awareness does support the research aims of establishing if there are differing experiences regarding roles and the implementation and delivery of the Rape Action plan (2015) which could present an opportunity to understand the complainant’s journey on a wider policing context. For this data will be gathered using the format of a survey and again the Rape Action plan (2015) as the template. This methodology will provide additional support in generalising the research issue and will reduce overall bias and support objectivity.

A computer package will be utilised to facilitate the coding of the interviews and data collection from the survey and deliver a thematic analysis to identify themes and categories emerging from the data.
The findings of this research will add to the knowledge and understanding of the subject from a policing context. This study should be significant in the sense that it will;

  1. Will present a comprehensive overview of implementation of the 2015 CPS and Police Joint Action plan for the investigation of rape (crime scene to court approach). 

  2. Will deliver a valuable opportunity as a professional researcher to contribute to academic knowledge and professional police practice in the UK. 

The timeliness of this research is significant as UK police forces experience significant organisational change; this research presents the opportunity to explore and understand the impact of this in respect of the attrition rate for this crime.
The research is significant for the host force as it remains under scrutiny by the HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Crime) for this investigation of this crime type.
This research has external significant to wider UK police forces and perhaps other public service professions e.g. NHS.

Interim reports and publications

​A paper has been written for the pilot study and is in final peer review stages for a policing Journal.  Further papers are anticipated once the research has concluded.

Date due for completion

September 2021
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