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JiCSAV Justice in Covid019 for Sexual Abuse and Violence

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Coventry University project team

Dr Lorna O’Doherty (principal investigator)
Dr Grace Carter
Priya Tek Kalsi


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

18 months: 20 November 2020 – 19 May 2022

Project overview

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 well 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 has 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, and this may sow the seeds for improvement in survivors’ journeys through the CJS.

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, this research will provide unique insights into the impact of the pandemic on the CJS in sexual offence cases. Changes to procedures precipitated by Covid-19 might offer longer-term benefits for survivors and stakeholders and we aim to identify these and promote their implementation.

Project objectives

The project aims to gather survivors’ and other criminal justice system stakeholders’ perspectives and experiences of (changes to) policies and practices in relation to sexual offences cases during the Covid-19 pandemic. We want to understand how these experiences vary across settings and groups.

The project will make recommendations for criminal justice policy and practice in England and Wales in relation to sexual offences, in particular, any innovations that may be of value post-pandemic.

Impact statement

The main research impacts will be a series of recommendations relating to:

  • Impacts of Covid-19 on the criminal justice system, along with the emergence of agile and innovative digital, support, and workforce practices within organisations that could be implemented more widely across the criminal justice system
  • 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.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced a five-year blueprint for prosecuting rape and serious sexual offences in July 2020. We intend our research 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 bring together crucial networks that define and ensure routes to embedding evidence generated by the project into policy and practice. Emergent findings will be 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 will allow our findings and recommendations to inform evolving strategic and policy reviews, and allow us to remain responsive to changes ‘on the ground’. Announced on 6 Oct, this research fits with Covid-19 areas of interest for the UK Parliament and we have engaged with the repository for future COVID-19 research relevant to the UK Parliament. The focus of the project is on the criminal justice system in England and Wales; however, 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.


  • 3 evidence briefings disseminated to/by project partners, the advisory group, criminal justice system stakeholders, and policymakers.
  • The end of project report will contain a synthesis of the data collected across the 6 stakeholder groups, offering recommendations for all criminal justice system stakeholders, as well as for national policy-makers at the Home Office and Ministry of Justice.
  • Up to three academic publications