JiCSAV: Justice in Covid-19 for Sexual Abuse and Violence
Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on criminal justice journeys of adult and child survivors of sexual abuse, rape and sexual assault
Economic and Social Research Council as part of the UKRI Rapid Response to COVID-19 (ES/V016202/1)
Value to Coventry University
Coventry University project team
Dr Lorna O’Doherty (principal investigator)
Dr Grace Carter
Dr Siobhan Weare, University of Lancaster
Professor Vanessa Munro, University of Warwick
Dr Emma Sleath, University of Leicester
Dr Michelle Cutland, University Hospital Bristol & Weston NHS Foundation Trust
Independent consultants: Concetta Perôt and Professor Sarah Brown
The Survivors Trust
Avon and Somerset Police
Male Survivors Partnership
Representatives from the Judiciary and Crown Prosecution Service
Duration of project
20 November 2020 - 19 May 2022
Over 150,000 sexual offences were recorded by police in year ending March 2020 (ONS, 2020), and there are indications that lockdown increased some sexual offences (e.g. online-facilitated abuse, or sexual abuse perpetrated by family members) and may have decreased others. For example, there was a 24% reduction in rapes reported to the police in the period April to June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019 (ONS, 2020). However, there has been no research into the specific effects of COVID-19 on criminal justice system (CJS) policies and practices relating to sexual offences, nor on the journeys of survivors through the CJS during this period.
Prior to the pandemic, there were significant challenges for the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences and conviction rates were extremely low. Some of these challenges may have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and lockdown e.g. further delays to investigating cases, postponement of Achieving Best Evidence interviews. At the same time, however, COVID-19 generated significant innovation within the CJS, e.g. the introduction of a video platform within the courts enabling all parties in a criminal hearing to engage securely and remotely.
Drawing on the perspectives and experiences of CJS stakeholders, including complainants and families, police, Crown Prosecution Service, HM Courts and Tribunals Services, the Judiciary, Sexual Assault Referral Centres, and Independent Sexual Violence Advisors, the JiCSAV project explored unique insights into the impact of the pandemic on the CJS in sexual offence cases. Changes to procedures precipitated by COVID-19 offered longer-term benefits for survivors and stakeholders, and we aimed to identify these and provide recommendations about their use going forwards.
We gathered survivors’ and other CJS stakeholders’ perspectives and experiences of (changes to) policies and practices in relation to sexual offences cases during the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted to understand how these experiences varied across settings and groups.
We aimed to provide recommendations for criminal justice policy and practice in England and Wales in relation to sexual offences, including innovations that may be of value post-pandemic.
We have provided a series of recommendations relating to:
- Impacts of COVID-19 on the CJS along with the emergence of agile and innovative digital, support, and workforce practices within organisations that could be implemented more widely across the CJS
- Future development of policies and practices in relation to sexual offences cases within the CJS and allied organisations to improve the experiences of survivors for the duration of the pandemic and beyond.
- Meaningfully involving survivors of sexual violence and abuse in future research projects
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced a five-year blueprint for prosecuting rape and serious sexual offences in July 2020. Our research aimed to contribute towards this blueprint and the ongoing end-to-end review into how rape and sexual offences are handled. The co-applicants, project partners, and advisory group brought together crucial networks that defined and ensured routes to embedding evidence generated by the project into policy and practice. Emergent findings from JiCSAV were examined with relevant stakeholders at local, regional, and national levels through several workshops, forming the basis of a series of evidence briefings to target distinct user groups. This process of knowledge exchange and co-production of recommendations for stakeholders allowed our findings and recommendations to inform evolving strategic and policy reviews, and enabled us to remain responsive to changes ‘on the ground’. Announced on 6 Oct 2020, JiCSAV fitted in with COVID-19 areas of interest for the UK Parliament and we engaged with the repository for future COVID-19 research relevant to the UK Parliament. During the project, we submitted and had acceptance of written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into the Investigation and Prosecution of Rape (2021), leading to multiple citations in the Home Affairs Committee Investigation and Prosecution of Rape Report (published 12th April 2022). Although JiCSAV focused on the CJS in England and Wales, given similarities with the jurisdictions of Scotland and Northern Ireland, our findings and recommendations are likely to be useful across the UK’s legal and criminal justice systems.
We have engaged with additional knowledge exchange activities as part of our impact pathway which we outline in our final project report.
Final project report
Our final report synthesised data collected from 108 individuals considered to be stakeholders in relation to the handling of sexual offences by the Criminal Justice System and allied agencies. The report offers recommendations for all stakeholders of the Criminal Justice System, for national policy-makers at the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, and researchers in law, social sciences and policy.
We produced six evidence briefings with key findings tailored to different stakeholder groups. These were distributed to and by project partners, the advisory group, CJS stakeholders, policy-makers, and social media. As part of longer-term impact planning, the team intends to hold a lived experience/survivor-centred event in 2023 to examine any impacts from developments in policy and practice.
- Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and Third Sector Support Services briefing.
- Police Officers in England and Wales briefing.
- The Crown Prosecution Service briefing.
- Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) briefing.
- Criminal Barristers and the Judiciary briefing.
- Section 28 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 briefing.
‘Pivoting through a pandemic: learning from criminal justice responses to sexual abuse’ (8th March 2022) in Frontiers of Socio-legal Studies, published as part of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies’ International Women’s Day 2022 Special Series.
UK Data Archive
We have deposited our research data in ReShare, the UK Data Service’s online data repository. Our data is under a dissemination embargo until 19 May 2023 and then will be accessible under Permission Only Access.