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The Open University joins forces with Avon and Somerset Police in ground-breaking new research project into rape and sexual offences

Police blue light attachment on car roof

The Open University (OU) is collaborating with Avon and Somerset Police in a pioneering research project that aims to transform the police response to rape and sexual offences.

Project Bluestone combines academic learning with professional practice and brings together leading academics from across the UK to work alongside police officers.

Working across five different workstreams, the project aims to help tighten the grip on offenders and address the falling conviction rates for rape and sexual offences. The five workstreams are:

  • Suspect focused investigations
  • Challenging and disrupting repeat offenders
  • Victim engagement
  • Learning development and wellbeing
  • Review of data and performance

Our very own Dr Emma Williams, Director of Research and Strategic Partnerships, is working alongside Detective Chief Inspector Larisa Hunt as the academic lead for the learning and development workstream.

Under this workstream they are looking at improving learnings from previous cases, reviewing officer training and development – specifically around sexual offences – and examining officers’ wellbeing to ensure they are able to deliver best practice.

Dr Williams has been involved in research into rape and sexual offenses since 2005 when she worked in the Metropolitan Police as a Principal Researcher. She has since gained extensive experience in the area and it was her expertise that led her to be invited to participate in the initiative by Professor Betsy Stanko, who spearheaded the project.

Being involved in this collaborative project focused on such an important area is one of the highlights of my career to date. The support from the team both internally at CPRL and Avon and Somerset Police has been incredible, and I really hope this pathfinder project makes a difference to victims of rape and the officers that investigate it. The area of attrition in rape has been problematic for many years and such potential transformational change on the back of this research is a huge step forward to achieving social justice for these victims.

Dr Emma Williams
Director of Research and Strategic Partnerships

Dr Williams has been supported on this project by Director of Knowledge into Practice, Nicky Miller; Senior Lecturer in Policing Organisation and Practice, Jennifer Norman; Research Fellow, Richard Harding and Lecturer in Policing Organisation and Practice, Dr Rachel Ward.

 This is an exciting project bringing together academic knowledge and expertise in collaboration with Avon and Somerset police.  Allowing fresh, outside eyes and ears tuned to current practice armed with the state of the art scholarly knowledge, this project aspires to rebuild a robust and responsive force-wide approach to improvement.

Professor Betsy Stanko (OBE)
Research lead, Project Bluestone

Project Bluestone has been in the research phase since January this year and will deliver its recommendations in the next few weeks. It is hoped that the success of the Avon and Somerset project will lead to further grants that will enable it to be extended to other forces across the UK.

This article was first published on the OU News website. Click here to read the original article.