Responding to police-perpetrated domestic violence

by Clare Rawdin, Research Associate, The Open University Centre for Policing Research and Learning

The kidnap, rape, and murder of a young woman in London (March, 2021) saw an outpouring of anger, sorrow and concern about the precarious state of women’s safety. This response was further intensified when it emerged that the crime was perpetrated by a serving Metropolitan (Met) police officer, Wayne Couzens, who had used his warrant card and handcuffs to commit the offence. This incident was not long followed by the conviction of another officer (David Carrick) for a long series of sexual offences committed against twelve women over two decades (BBC, 2023). The notion that these are isolated cases is challenged by a recent survey conducted in one English force that revealed a lifetime prevalence rate for domestic abuse of 22% amongst the police workforce (Brennan et al, 2024). So what is being done in response to the problem of police-perpetrated domestic abuse (PPDA)?

Following the murder of Sarah Everard, both a review and an inquiry were established. The first part of the Angiolini inquiry was published earlier this year and issued 16 recommendations for policing, including enhanced information-sharing and vetting procedures (Angiolini, 2024). The College of Policing (CoP) has accepted these recommendations in full and is currently working towards embedding them within their policies and procedures. Also, the Casey review was commissioned to assess the internal structure and standards, specifically within the Met (Casey, 2023). It found evidence of institutionalised sexism and a culture of misogyny. In addition, a recent Home Office report issued in response to a super-complaint (CWJ, 2020) concurred with many of the overarching concerns raised by the Centre for Women’s Justice in relation to improper police responses and decision-making following complaints of PPDA. The report concluded that such responses were “a feature of policing that [are] significantly harming the interests of the public” and considered that victims of PPDA needed to be offered better support (Home Office, 2023).

To these ends, CPRL researchers have been collaborating with colleagues from the University of South Wales on a process evaluation led by Dr Sarah Wallace of an advocacy support service for survivors of PPDA, referred to as Tabw, where both victim-survivors (and suspects) are serving police personnel within these forces. This 2-year pilot initiative was launched in two Welsh force areas – South Wales and Gwent – in September 2023 and is being implemented by local domestic abuse charities. A theory of change (ToC) underpins the development and implementation of the service which has clarified a shared vision between officers and advocates focused on working to bring about individual and institutional change towards the reduction of PPDA. Findings from an online survey with survivors and interviews with a range of stakeholders highlighted a ‘survivor-first’ service which is valued for its independence from policing agencies, and in which survivors feel strongly that they are heard and believed.

Implementation and delivery of Tabw has not been without its challenges, for example, managing its referral pathway, dealing with counter-allegations, and working with a greater diversity of survivors, notably from the gay and lesbian community. Early indications suggest that Tabw seems to be adapting positively and swiftly to these challenges as they arise, aided through the effective partnerships with policing (especially Professional Standards units) and wider community partners.

Time will reveal to what extent Tabw has achieved this vision and associated ToC outcomes. But what is clear is that work with survivors is one (albeit important) part of a comprehensive response to PPDA – we need to work with perpetrators too.



Angiolini, E. (2024) The Angiolini Inquiry: Part 1 Report. Available at: The Angiolini Inquiry – Part 1 Report ( (Accessed: 7/6/2024).

BBC. (2023) Met Police: The ‘dark corner’ of the force where Wayne Couzens worked. Available at: (Accessed: 7/6/2024).

Brennan, I., Couto, L., and O’Leary, N. (2024) ‘Prevalence and patterns of domestic abuse victimisation in one English police workforce’, Policing & Society, Vol. 33(6): 703-716.

Casey. L. (2023) ‘An independent review into standards of behaviour and internal culture within the Metropolitan Police Service: Final report.’ Available at: (Accessed 7/6/2024)

Centre for Women’s Justice, CWJ. (2020) Police-perpetrated Domestic Abuse Super-complaint. Available at:  (Accessed 7/6/2024).

Home Office. (2023) Police perpetrated domestic abuse: Report on the Centre for Women’s Justice super-complaint. Available at: (Accessed: 7/6/2024)

Virtual, or is it now reality?

by Simon Hull, Lecturer in Work Based Learning at The Open University

A.I. In just a year or two, these two letters have found their way into our everyday conversations about just about anything, be it technical, personal or professional. Some people embrace the idea of machines leading on many aspects of our daily lives and others fear that unless it’s harnessed more tightly that we could all rapidly end up in a bit of a technology enhanced global pickle.

With all this recent chat about AI, I find myself asking what happened to all the talk another new technology that was widely discussed just a year or two ago; the metaverse.

A couple of years ago, there was a lot of excited talk around the metaverse being the future of the internet in the post-pandemic world that we were adjusting to. This was a time when we were seriously considering a life where human contact was not a given in day-to-day society. But now we find ourselves moving on. Workplaces, socialising and communities  are gradually returning to pre-2020 norms, and with it a move away from contemplating living our lives entirely through a screen.

But the metaverse hasn’t simply disappeared. It could be considered more likely that we’re becoming accustomed to the presence of augmented and virtual reality in our lives. Perhaps we no longer fear the presence of online worlds and accept they have a place in society alongside our real-world lives, as will likely happen with AI once we understand it more on a cultural level. From my work in higher education and policing, I see a small but significant shift towards the acceptance of VR, that it has a place in educating the police and is not just another shiny new thing to be wowed by.

There are many features found in virtual reality technology that could prove to be useful for educational purposes (Allcoat and von Mühlenen, 2018). This is true of police training and education and there appears to be scope to explore how VR can be used to properly prepare our police officers and staff for the challenges of operational duty. Reducing risk, improving on abstraction demands, immersion, learning by doing, interaction and collaboration can all be addressed by VR. In our recent scholarship study that that explored the application of the VR courtroom to police education, my OU policing colleague Ahmed Kadry and I found that the PC’s who participated in the study discovered that the OU’s VR courtroom provided a valuable learning experience. One mentioned that the immersive experience closely matched that of giving evidence in a real court. Others commented that time in the VR courtroom helped them feel better prepared for the potential rigours of appearing in a criminal court as a witness.

This was precisely what we hoped we would find, but it has also raised questions around the way we utilise VR in police education.

There are of course limitations when using VR to educate, one being that learners should be familiar with a virtual space so as to reduce it to being a mere novelty (Sigurvinsdottir et al, 2023). There is an argument that VR needs to be properly integrated into curriculums (Hurwitz, 2024), so that it is evident throughout a policing learner’s educational journey. If VR is used infrequently there will be not only a danger of it being seen as a novelty, and then played with accordingly, but it will also be harder for the police and HE providers to justify its suitability or value as a learning tool.

By integrating VR and assessing its usefulness, police educators may quickly find that it has a place supporting authentic police learning alongside real world applications, but not replacing them.



Allcoat, D. and von Mühlenen, A. (2018). ‘Learning in virtual reality: Effects on performance, emotion and engagement’, Research in Learning Technology. 26, pp. 1-13. Available at: (Accessed: 3rd May 2024).

Hurwitz, S. (2024) ‘How Virtual Reality Fits Into Blended Learning At Work’, Forbes, 29th April 2024. Available at: How Virtual Reality Fits Into Blended Learning At Work ( (Accessed: 3rd May 2024).

Sigurvinsdottir, R., Skúladóttir, H., Antonsdóttir, H. F., Cardenas, P., Georgsdóttir, M. T., Írisardóttir Þórisdóttir, M., Jónsdóttir, E. K., Konop, M., Valdimarsdóttir, H. B., Vilhjálmsson, H. H., & Ásgeirsdóttir, B. B. (2024) A Virtual Reality Courtroom for Survivors of Sexual Violence: A Mixed-Method Pilot Study on Application Possibilities. Violence Against Women, 30(1), pp. 249-274. Available at: (Accessed: 3rd May 2024).


‘You won’t scare my mummy, she’s a police officer’: the impact of policing on parenting

by Fran Wright, Lecturer in Policing Organisation and Practice at The Open University

Most parents would probably agree that there is never a ‘right time’ to start a family, but as a police officer I would argue there really isn’t. Entering the police service twenty years ago, I naively assumed that one day I would perfectly balance motherhood with my dream career. Having made carefully considered choices and countless self-affirmations that having a baby, ‘won’t change me,’ eighteen years and two children later, I can say quite categorically that it has.

As I have stepped further away from frontline duties, and watched my children grow, I have become more aware of the impact my dual role as a ‘police mother’ has had on my family and I over the years. Only now, with an appetite for police research (and a wealth of amusing anecdotes), do I concede that my daughter is right when she says, ‘you only say that because you’re a police officer.’ Reading a piece by Lennie (2018) entitled ‘Policing parenting: Psychological challenges for officers and their families,’ caused me to reflect on my own experiences of this phenomenon, and to consider whether being a police officer has informed my approach to parenting, or more importantly, negatively impacted my children.

I have often likened my operational role to the 1980’s children’s programme Mr Ben, walking into the locker room at one end as a wife and mother, and moments later, miraculously reappearing as a police officer. Enter the hypervigilant, over-protective, and at times border-line neurotic mother; exit the calm, level-headed, police officer, able to robustly cope with whatever the next ten hours might present. Violanti (1999) asserts that ‘police officers are expected to be combat ready 24/7, whilst maintaining a normal social presence,’ and yet I find myself with an ‘alter-ego.’ So when and how exactly did this dual-personality manifest?

As a new mother I was based in my home city, policing the streets in which I lived. Reflecting on a trepidatious early trip out with the pram, perhaps I should have realised when my over-reaction to a well-known ‘customer,’ (who had merely recognised me and shouted across the road in acknowledgement), was perhaps what Agocs et al. (2015) would consider a ‘danger-protection strategy.’ In a state of gut-wrenching panic, my instinct was to run from this once troublesome teenager, whom I now perceived as a violent monster. A lack of engagement with early police research in this field served me well, since Manning (1978) concluded, that from a police perspective, ‘people cannot be trusted, and they are dangerous.’ Had I applied an evidence-based approach at this stage, I may well have chosen to end my police career there and then.

As the newness of parenting abated, perhaps one could have expected to feel more relaxed, and able to enjoy the company of toddler-friends in the joyous surroundings of the soft-play centre. Conversely, this was to become a regularly traumatic experience for this ‘police mother.’ The nature of my police role triggered involuntary behaviours and suspicions of which my friends were oblivious. I was on ‘high-alert’ to lone males who might be ‘watching’ children; a scenario bearing remarkable similarities to that at a splash park described in a study of police mothers by Agocs et al (2015). The reality was of course that these were probably innocent men watching their own family as they played.

As friends casually tossed aside their handbags, mine remained strapped firmly to my body. The avoidance of the opportunist thief, far more exigent than the hindrance which it caused as I clambered through the cargo netting in pursuit of a toddler that I would surely never see again should I lose sight even for a second. The small inadequate exit gate could easily facilitate a child abduction, or at best a high-risk missing person.

Attendance at the play centre remained incessant during the early school years, since the ‘play centre party’ was the celebration of choice for what seemed an eternity. Triggers differed however once the children played independently. My heightened anxiety focussed on the potential for injury, (actual) loss of teeth, or the recognition of a wanted person, once spotted across the ball pit at a particularly ‘choice’ venue.

As the children have reached their milestones, so too my ‘danger-protection strategies’ have developed. Perhaps this is the reason that my son’s reception teacher described him as a ‘wise head on young shoulders?’ Clearly those ‘teachable moments’ that I have unwittingly instilled have served him well; he has an excellent grasp of road safety, a thorough understanding of the consequences of not wearing a helmet for any ‘wheeled activity’ and would never dream of leaving his scooter unattended for fear of it being stolen! My daughter’s similar hard-line approach to road-safety occasionally left her unable to catch the school bus due to her literal interpretation of my repeated instruction to ‘only cross the road if you can see absolutely nothing for a mile in either direction.’

An early grasp of ‘stranger-danger’ was equally reassuring, if not slightly alarming. When offered a sweet by a friendly store worker, my daughter’s hysterical over-reaction as she believed she was ‘being stolen,’ left the poor woman bewildered. This was perhaps a light-bulb-moment, and a clear demonstration of how my lack of trust in others had caused me to transfer my own fears to my children through the ‘what if’ scenarios I have developed throughout their childhood.

Years of policing in a city centre environment, dealing with trauma, risk, and danger, have evidently shaped my perceptions and influenced the ‘danger- protection strategies’ employed to protect them. I recall my daughter preparing for her first shopping trip with friends in her early teens. As we rehearsed the relevant ‘what if’ scenario, I unconsciously applied the 5 WH (who, why, what, when, how) questioning technique, honed through years of police interviewing. Despite being reassured by her graphic response as to how she would evade such danger, the disproportionate level of violence that would be deployed in the ‘stranger’ scenario required a timely intervention regarding ‘use of force’ and ‘proportionality’!

As we embark on the next phase of childhood, my hypervigilance heightens; fatal road traffic collisions, stranger rape and student suicide, all potential consequences as my eldest learns to drive, enters higher education, and enjoys the associated nightlife. Research suggests that I am not alone with this ‘worst-case scenario’ outlook. Agocs et al. (2015) conclude that ‘police-women are super-vigilant parents; they see more, know more, worry more and warn more.’ A reliable evidence-base for my own self-doubt, or further protestations from the children.

As I recall these anecdotes, which at times have been a source of amusement, they serve as a constant reminder of my privileged, if not damaging, position as a ‘police mother.’ I ponder the ‘emotional labour’ (Lennie, 2018) expended in my efforts to protect, compounded by the guilt of balancing the demands of work and home, as I strived to be a ‘good mother.’

Despite my idiosyncrasies and the embarrassing moments, I know the children are proud. My donning of a wagon driver’s high visibility coat at the scene of a collision was a particularly low point for my teenage daughter, although she did later concede that she felt proud. In contrast, our collective family response to a suspected drink-driver following a day trip, was deemed ‘epic’ by them both. They have always enjoyed the ‘stories’ imploring me to describe the ‘worst thing’ I have seen or dealt with; a censored response, carefully constructed, with incidents downplayed or even fabricated, contributing further to the ‘emotional labour’ involved in balancing the realities of life, with emotional damage limitation.

Through my endeavours as a ‘police mother’ I appear to have raised two highly sensible individuals, neither of whom present as ‘emotionally damaged.’ Whereas I shoulder an aggregation of anxieties with every passing milestone, regularly behaving in a way which I am informed by my daughter is ‘not normal.’ Recently whilst embracing her, I instinctively reached into her wide-opened shoulder bag, demonstrating the ease in which her purse could be stolen. Her response to this mock theft scenario was utter contempt. A stark contrast to when she proudly informed her nursery friends, (as they attempted to scare me with a plastic dinosaur), ‘you won’t scare my mummy, she’s a police officer.’ She was right; stepping out of ‘Mr Ben’s’ changing room into my ‘police world,’ I barely ever felt scared despite the risks I faced. And yet, where the children are concerned I have consistently and instinctively displayed behaviour which confirms that my police role has indeed informed my parenting ‘style.’ And if further evidence was required to corroborate my daughter’s claim that I really do, ‘only say that because I’m a police officer,’ then my response to a recent question from my son, provides validation. He asked, ‘is it scary being a parent?’ my response…….. ‘it’s scarier than being a police officer!’


The Police Education Qualification Framework: What do we know and where is it going?

by Dr Emma Williams, Director of Research and Strategic Partnerships, The Centre for Policing Research and Learning (CPRL) at The Open University and Jennifer Norman, Head of Policing Organisation and Practice at The Open University.

The Police Education Qualification Framework (AKA degree gate) remains a contentious subject. Recent commentary around the ‘degree debate’ was triggered by the Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s request in November 2022 for the College of Policing (CoP) to consider a fourth ‘non-degree’ route for new police recruits. This blog isn’t intended to provide an opinion on what a fourth route should look like, or in fact whether there should be a change. What we will do here is reflect on our involvement in the police education, research and learning sphere over several years. We’ve worked in operational and strategic policing environments as researchers. We have spent a large part of our careers as policing academics delivering policing degrees to serving officers/staff and conducted several research projects related to the theme of professionalisation in policing. It is this that the PEQF originally sought to achieve.

Some of the criticisms of the PEQF relate to the academic nature of the degree level entry and the lack of relevance to operational roles. We would argue, having taught serving police officers, that the theoretical understanding from policing research and scholarship, combined with the practical experience of officers working in the field is where the learning really happens.

Some of the themes covered in the PEQF curriculum provide the reasons and justifications for why elements of police work are so essential. For example, the role of community police officers, community engagement and the impact this has on police legitimacy, trust, and confidence. In addition, police officers often encounter individuals that present a number of complex issues related to vulnerability. The input of certain academic evidence can help officers structure the way they engage with these members of the community in inclusive and fair ways. Therefore, the key to making academic knowledge relevant, is to situate it in the context of what the police know and do every day.

Sometimes these positive aspects of the PEQF get lost in binary conversations and considerations about what academic level police education should be. Additionally, at a time when policing is trying to be more efficient and effective, focusing on what learning, education and research can bring to policing in positive way, can facilitate more objective discussions about the role of education in policing.

Themes that have arisen from the work we’ve done

Professionalism is linked to knowledge and officers feeling empowered, able and equipped to do their job. Research indicates that officers feel their decision-making is enhanced from the knowledge input, it can make them feel more confident to problem solve with partner agencies, and those with degree level education have an increased sense of professionalism.

Research conducted in specialist areas of the police also shows links to welfare, personal efficacy, and personal accomplishment in the role. Similarly with new recruits, national surveys demonstrate that those who have completed the PEQF feel more equipped to do their role compared to those cohorts of trainees who have completed the Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP).

One of the distinct differences between the IPLDP and the PEQF is the level of learning delivered. The IPLDP requires officers to demonstrate their ability to ‘follow instructions’ at level 3. The PEQF develops officers’ skills at level 6, to think critically about problems they face and encourages them to use innovative practices beyond following instructions. Given the diverse landscape within which policing operates, it is essential that officers have the scope to move beyond a template version of policing practice and deliver context led policing which recognises difference and individual needs.

We have also recognised from a phased project we have undertaken for the Uplift Programme, that the support on the ground for both the new recruits and those constables who tutor them is inconsistent, can lack strategic support and vision, and often the tutors are not given the development they need to be effective in post. The learning time expected from organisations is often not guaranteed, which causes tension between officers trying to complete their academic study and the organisational need for them to be operational. Additionally, the research has found repetition in assessment processes which can cause frustration and confusion about where to prioritise their time. National surveys have found that this burden can have negative implications for the wellbeing of apprentices.

The original aim of the PEQF was intended to include supporting professional training and education for serving officers and police staff through the process of the recognition of prior experiential learning (RPEL). In our opinion, this work remains undeveloped at this time but is crucial for equity and accessibility to continued professional development (CPD). Furthermore, if forces are given the allowance to decide whether they run the PEQF locally, or remain with the IPLDP there is a risk that a two-tiered police service will prevail. Placing the learning entirely back to local delivery is likely to put significant strain on learning and development departments and limits both serving officers and staffs CPD. Furthermore, it will compromise the specialist courses required in some areas of policing such as investigating rape and sexual offences. Working with HEIs in a truly collaborative way with the police has been identified in some PEQF partnerships. These approaches should be harnessed and rather than focusing on the negative aspect of this field, the good practices in operation should be shared and developed further.

Ultimately, whilst the findings of this research and other pieces of work have been conflated here, we hope that they feed into ways forward for improving the police education landscape for both the individual officers and the police organisations themselves.

It seems ironic that we operate in an environment that puts onus on evidence led practice, efficiency, and the correct deployment of resources and yet with reference to the Home Secretary’s announcement, it seems equipping officers with the skills to understand research and evidence and how to apply it in practice is being undermined. Developing the skills needed to draw on different forms of knowledge from research and other formal / informal sources arguably aids the ability to think widely and objectively about different problems. After all policing is about people. It is about risk and harm. If we don’t equip officers with this kind of knowledge from the start, we maybe doing them a disservice when they are on the frontline.

Equipping officers to make women safer from Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) – insights from Operation Soteria Bluestone

Dr Emma Williams, Dr Linda Maguire, Dr Arun Sondhi and Richard Harding, The Open University, Centre for Policing Research and Learning. Operation Soteria Bluestone team, Pillar 4

Welcome to the fifth and final (but no means least) blog in this special series celebrating International Women’s Day.  Today’s blog shares important insights about the ground-breaking project currently underway to transform the police response to Rape and Serious Sexual Offences.

Investigating Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) is complex and is one of the most challenging aspects of violence against women and girls for the criminal justice system. It requires specialist knowledge input and officers who are confident in their roles to undertake this task. The complexity arises partly from the fact that many of the victims of these offences often have many vulnerabilities. This means that many RASSO victims are far removed from the notion of an ‘ideal victim’ and it is often these factors that impact on their receiving a fair process. Hence, women with the most serious vulnerabilities and likely to be targeted and groomed by perpetrators and as a result, are also those most at risk of their cases resulting in attrition.

Further complexity arises from the fact that many investigations involve difficult interpersonal relationships, where there are often no independent witnesses, and where victim accounts and behaviours can be misinterpreted through many false lenses, including misogyny, homophobia, myth and misconception, and ignorance of the effects of trauma. All of these factors require investigators to have specialist and expert knowledge. They should have completed appropriate learning and development opportunities to enable them to have the knowledge, attitudes and skills to understand and effectively engage with the complexities of RASSO investigation and the related trauma.

Operation Soteria Bluestone is a UK Home Office-funded programme designed to improve the investigation of RASSO in England and Wales. Our findings confirm the systemic challenges that police services are facing in trying to manage the demand for RASSO investigation.  In our review of learning provision and officer welfare we found that investigators, at all levels, are aware of the impacts of cases being allocated to officers with, often, limited experience or learning. Where experienced investigators were available, particularly in supervisory roles, they often had limited knowledge refresh since their initial courses and were sometimes struggling to support less experienced colleagues whilst managing their own caseloads.  Collectively we heard investigators express their frustration at wanting to fulfil their mission to solve crime, bring perpetrators to justice and do the right thing for victims, whilst working in an environment that made achieving those goals increasingly challenging. Morally this presents huge challenges for officers involved in investigating this crime type.

Part of our approach was to explore the relationship some of these issues may have with the concept of occupational burnout. The notion of burnout is well established in policing. Over recent years it has been considered to be increasingly prevalent as a result of austerity measures and changing operational demands. Factors relevant to RASSO investigations also include the increased requirements for processing and investigating digital evidence, the need to provide a victim-orientated service alongside the changing relationship with the Crown Prosecution Service, which has all added to an increased workload for officers.

Factors encompassing burnout include exhaustion, feelings of negativity or cynicism and reduced levels of personal accomplishment. People who are emotionally exhausted tend to feel over-extended and physically drained. Cynicism can manifest itself in greater detachment or depersonalisation from victims, with feelings that officers have achieved little success at work. Symptoms of burnout tend to report physical and mental exhaustion and reduced ability to care for the victims with which they work, leaving a sentiment that their work makes little difference. Despite the prevalence of burnout symptoms, police officers are unlikely to seek help or support within their organization or externally for professional treatment due to fear of stigma or loss of job role.

Our work on Operation Soteria Bluestone has explored the learning, development and wellbeing climate for officers investigating RASSO. A key finding is that predictors are not specific to a single police force, but common to all forces. The findings suggest the importance of the wider organisation in influencing emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation. The causes of burnout are consistent with the literature on policing including perceptions of workload, large caseloads and the detrimental perceived effect on an officer’s work-life balance. We identified high levels of stress and ill-health, alongside pressures to come to work despite being unwell. Whilst those involved in the management and investigation of RASSO cases are exposed to vicarious trauma through their work with victims, they have additional and varying degrees of trauma through the organisational process itself.

In addition, the high number of caseloads places a burden on the learning climate, reducing the time that officers have to receive specialist training to do their job. We believe that if officers are equipped with the proper resources and specialist training, they will be empowered to do their job and this will impact positively on their wellbeing.  If these resources are low and demand is high, as our findings suggest, burnout can occur. Therefore, the knowledge to date from the work on Soteria Bluestone offer really important insights into the relationship between the police organisations’ commitment to enabling their staff to deliver professional police investigations in the context of RASSO. The connection between officer competence and confidence and the provision and ability to access learning, to support their development and officer wellbeing, is vital.

With a new National Operating Model for investigating RASSO in development for implementation, police organisations will be better prepared to improve the current situation for their workforces. Organisational change is needed to really enable, involve and equip officers, not only to enhance their own wellbeing, but ultimately to improve outcomes for victims. As a research team we are excited to be working with forces and helping them to prepare for managing the provision of specialist learning, development and wellbeing support RASSO officers, to enable policing to make transformational change in this crucial area of justice.


Concluding remarks

Thank you for reading our blog posts this month.  As you can see, here at OU Policing we are committed to conducting research about issues that affect the lives of women.  The project we have shared this month are underpinned by a desire to improve women’s lives – be that through the criminal justice response to domestic abuse and rape, girls experiences of criminal exploitation, or women’s experiences as mothers in the police.  If you would like to know more about our work, or you would like to work with us, please don’t hesitate to contact us at

When Girls ‘Go Country’: Criminal exploitation of younger women and girls

By Dr Shona Morrison of The Open University and Daryl Baguley of the Diane Modahl Sporting Foundation.

Welcome to the fourth blog in our month-long series in celebration of International Women’s Day.  Today’s blog seeks to highlight a lesser-known form of violence against young women and girls – exploitation of vulnerable girls in the context of drug dealing and organised crime groups, known in the UK as ‘County Lines’ drug dealing.

The emergence of ‘County Lines’

In the past decade, infamous cases of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and grooming in areas like Rotherham, Rochdale, and Oxford, highlighted the range of environments outside of the home which can lead to younger females falling victim to groups of (mainly older) men.  Now a new threat is emerging.  There is growing evidence of young women and girls being exploited through ‘County Lines’ drug dealing leading to the risk of physical and sexual violence.  The County Lines model involves organised crime gangs based mainly in cities grooming children and other vulnerable people to carry out activities in support of their drug dealing operations.  Young people are encouraged to travel to provincial coastal, or rural, areas to deliver and sell drugs, often staying in so-called ’safe-houses’, posing considerable risk to their immediate and long-term physical and mental health.

Until recently, the focus on exploitation through County Lines has been mainly on young men and boys, however, there is growing evidence that girls are being increasingly targeted and subjected to additional forms of harm.

The role of girls in gangs and County Lines

The role of females in criminal activity which is traditionally seen as the preserve of males has been largely under-researched.  Research on young women and girls is in even shorter supply.  Although there is some research on girls’ involvement in street gangs, for instance, the literature remains dominated by research on young males.  In the context of County Lines, early research did identity exploitation of females on the periphery of the industry.  For instance, there were cases of young girls forced to attend parties in safe houses where they were expected to provide sexual rewards to young male ‘runners’.  Video footage taken at these events may then be used to blackmail and further intimidate the young females into silence.

However, more recent research implies that young females are beginning to replace males as the ‘foot soldiers’ of County Lines.  The relative ‘invisibility’ of girls and young women allows them the travel largely unnoticed on rail networks across the country, making them ideal targets for drug dealing gangs.  Some researchers compare the grooming of young girls into county lines drug dealing, and the strategies subsequently used to maintain control over them, as akin to ‘coercive control’ – a phrase more commonly found in the domestic abuse literature to describe a pattern of behaviour where someone exerts power over their partner through fear and control.

The 2018 publication of the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy (Home Office – Serious Violence Strategy, April 2018 ( marked the beginning of efforts to intervene in the harm caused by County Lines, although it was recognised at that time that most of the violence was by males against males.  Programmes aimed at young females at risk of county lines have been a lower priority and, subsequently, slower to develop.  Preventing this form of abuse against girls must become a higher priority within education and other sectors before girls ‘going country’ becomes the latest exploitation scandal of the 21st Century.


We Move – A mentoring project for young people at risk of violence and child criminal exploitation

Dr Shona Morrison from The Open University is conducting an evaluation of a mentoring programme aimed at young males and females considered to be at risk of violence or exploitation by organised crime groups.  The programme, named ‘WeMove’, is funded by Greater Manchester Police and delivered by two organisations in the Greater Manchester area.  Daryl Baguley is one of the programme coordinators delivering WeMove, through the Diane Modahl Sporting Foundation (DMSF) (Home –  DMSF work with young people across areas of deprivation, empowering them to fulfil their potential.

Daryl has implemented a unique approach to supporting girls referred to WeMove to reduce their vulnerability to criminal exploitation.  Due to the number of mentoring referrals received through one school, Daryl and her team set up a ‘girls group’ which comes together once a week to talk and learn important life skills which empower them to have the confidence to say ‘no’.  Daryl is convinced of the importance of gender-specific approaches to dealing with youth violence.  Girls, she says, need a ‘safe space’ to talk and seek advice about issues of importance to them: “The stories that come from the girls can be frightening. They would share stories about being used by their boyfriends to transport items for them because they know they are less likely to get stopped, not recognising any of the dangers this carries for themselves or the manipulation which had been used over them.”  Daryl believes their issues often come down to lack of knowledge about healthy relationships, low self-esteem and confidence.  She says, “It is clear the girls do not always understand consent and didn’t recognise the signs of coercive and controlling behaviour, leaving them in danger of criminal exploitation, sexual exploitation and trauma”.

With both mentoring and financial support from WeMove, the girls decide on suitable topics and activities for the group.  So far, they have requested sessions on body positivity, Andrew Tate, racism, social media awareness, positive relationships, consent, gang awareness and bullying.  Some have also chosen to undertake First Aid or beauty industry qualifications, while others are themselves working towards gaining peer mentoring qualifications.  Daryl highlights the reciprocal nature of the girls group saying “The conversations we have with the girls are invaluable.  The girls give us a real insight into the challenges and barriers our girls are facing daily.  We have seen an improvement in school attendance and drop in after-school detentions.  The feedback we have had from parents and the school has been extremely positive.  Girls have also left abusive relationships and have started to realise their own worth.  The transformations have been amazing to see.”

For further information about the WeMove programme, or the Open University’s Evaluation of programme, please contact Dr Shona Morrison or Daryl-Anne Baguley 

The Motherhood Penalty: Evidence of maternal bias in the workplace and why policing needs to do more.  

by Kendal Wright and Dr Keely Duddin, Policing Organisation and Practice, The Open University

photo by

“Before Breaking The Glass Ceiling, Women Must Climb The Maternal Wall” 

Mary Ferrante

Welcome to the third blog in this special series celebrating International Women’s Day.  Todays post shares an insight into a ground-breaking study exploring women’s experiences of motherhood in the police.

Last summer our research team pressed the ‘go live’ button on our pregnancy and maternity experiences survey, what happened next took us beyond our expectations. Within a two-month period we had almost 6000 responses, and over 9000 free text responses.  We believe this survey to be largest piece of research to have ever been conducted on this topic in policing, and in the public sector in the UK.

As we watched the responses continue to grow, it hit home how important this research is to so many people and how much progress we still need to make. It was a humbling experience to see the time and effort participants took to communicate their stories and we had many people comment on how cathartic the process was in enabling them to voice their experiences.

Maternal bias background

Research around maternal bias is gaining traction and research shows real evidence of a level of maternal bias in organisations, where some colleagues can view mothers, – or pregnant women as less competent and less committed to their jobs (Arena et al, 2023). Further research (Ogden, 2019) has suggested that working mothers can face a specific type of bias named ‘maternal wall bias’, which can manifest itself in different ways, for example in conducting performance evaluations or for taking on challenging assignments or promotion opportunities because of their assumed lack of time and desire (Ogden, 2019). In a milestone study, Correll and colleagues (2007) found evidence for a ‘motherhood penalty’ which demonstrated that working mothers were only recommended 47% of the time for hire, vs 84% of female applicants who didn’t have children and were penalised on a host of measures, including perceived competence. Furthermore, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2018) found that a third of employers felt that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are ‘generally less interested’ in career progression, when compared to other employees in their company.

What the survey tells us

As we started to analyse the results, we found 29.2% of free-text responses contained an element of mothers experiencing maternal bias.  Take that into consideration of how many free text responses were received, that’s almost 3000 responses where a mother has felt bias towards her as an individual in the workplace since announcing their pregnancy or returning from maternity leave.

“I was told during my last pregnancy that if I wanted a promotion I would need to “stop getting pregnant”. This was after the loss of my first pregnancy after joining the force”.

Police staff/ Practitioner/ Last period of maternity 2-3 years ago

“Told not to consider promotion until I was no longer a flexible worker”

Police Officer/ Sgt/ Last period of maternity 5+ years ago

“I think regardless of how supportive supervisors and colleagues are – a new mother is never considered for promotions etc. You are almost seen as a liability because you take care of a young child. They would prefer single workers who do not have other responsibilities. It’s not an open culture but definitely exists.”

Police staff/ Practitioner/ Last period of maternity 1-2 years ago

“Better support needed on return from maternity leave and balancing new responsibilities with work responsibilities.  Also, action is needed on unconscious bias where managers assume that you want to focus solely on your children and are not interested in development anymore.”

Police Officer/ Inspector/ Last period of maternity 1-2 years ago

Why it’s important

It’s an evolutionary fact that a large number of employed women will go on to have at least one period of maternity leave during their career. However, there has been little police-based research published recently around officers and staff returning to the workplace after maternity leave.

Historically where police organisations have been male-dominated places of work, organisations now actively promote recruitment drives with one of the aims to diversify the workplace to suit the communities they serve, including increasing the number of female officers recruited. This concerted effort has led to the number of female officers in UK police forces increasing to over 50,000 ( 2022). Charman & Tyson (2022) carried out research examining the stark increase of voluntary resignations, some of those reasons cited included the lack of visibility of flexible working mothers in senior roles. Findings in our research support the notion that police organisations must transform working practices around embracing and supporting motherhood if they wish to retain their much longed-for and much-needed diversified workforce.

Let’s not continue to make assumptions on a mother’s behalf about their ambition and commitment to the role just because they had a baby.  What a mother doesn’t learn about time management, multi-tasking, patience, and negotiation when dealing with a teething baby isn’t worth knowing.

Policing for the future needs to embrace working mothers and put an end to the maternal bias they may face as they return to work, regardless of their aspirations. “Have a heart, remember we (mothers) are as much value to the organisation as others…” (Participant 132). Mothers should feel supported and valued by their organisations and policing as a career shouldn’t result in the “motherhood penalty”.

If you would like to know more about this research, please contact us at

Happy International Women’s Day

We are really pleased to be celebrating International Women’s Day with this blog series. In today’s blog (the second in this series) we are going to be sharing details of two key research projects that concern the policing of domestic abuse.

Historically, the relationship between domestic abuse survivors and the police has been fraught with complexities with debates about whether domestic abuse should be seen as a private or a public matter. What victims want when they call the police and what action police take can often be a contentious issue. Due to dissatisfaction with the service police provide, survivors in domestic abuse often disengage from the process. At the point of disengagement, police have some options available to them which brings us to another key point of debate in this area- choice and control. Due to a policy of ‘positive action’ in domestic abuse cases, the police can take a case to court even when the survivor disengages from the process. It is at this point that survivors often report feeling that the choice of what happens has been taken away from them and that the control the perpetrator had over them has now been replicated by the police and wider criminal justice system.

Engagement in domestic abuse is one of the key foci at the OU and today we are going to be sharing details about two research projects the team have been busy working on recently.

Survivor (Dis)Engagement Study

The first of these projects explored the issue of survivors’ decisions to engage or withdraw from the police in domestic abuse cases.  We know that domestic abuse is much more likely to be perpetrated by men against women.  We also know that the most common reason for these types of cases to be dropped is because survivors either do not provide a statement or later withdraw it. Worryingly, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Fire and Rescue Services (the body responsible for monitoring the performance of the police in England and Wales) raised concerns about the increasing number of domestic abuse cases that were being closed due to survivors not supporting the investigation.  They were concerned because it was not always possible to tell if survivors had actually been spoken to about the decision to close the case.  But it was not just the Inspectorate who were concerned about this, in 2019, police forces in the Centre or Policing Research and Learning at the Open University were asked what issues they felt needed to be addressed (in relation to violence against women and girls) and they identified survivor engagement as the number one issue.  It was because of this that the Centre for Policing Research and Learning funded a large project to understand how, when and why survivors of domestic abuse disengage from police and how, in turn, police officers encourage and understand survivor engagement.

The research was led by Dr Lis Bates with support from Dr Anna Hopkins, Dr Shona Morrison and Dr Holly Taylor-Dunn in the policing team at the OU. The research included data collected during 2019-2021.  The team analysed over 95,000 domestic abuse incidents across seven police forces, 140 in-depth police case files, 31 survivor interviews, and focus groups with 15 police officers from three forces.

The research found that survivor disengagement remains the most common reason given by police for closing domestic abuse cases without charge – with 58% of survivors withdrawing – a far higher rate than for general crime.  There were certain factors that seemed to be associated with the likelihood of a survivor disengaging including:

  • Cases where someone else reported the incident
  • Cases where the incident was reported within 24 hours of it happening
  • Cases where the survivor and perpetrator were living together.

Importantly, this research has shown that the vast majority of survivors who disengage do so at the very start of the police process – before, at, or just after the initial police response.

But we were really interested to understand the reasons why survivors disengage so early on and by analysing the police case files, we identified two key themes.  The first of these relates to survivors who disengaged because their needs had been met by the initial police response.  For example, some survivors called the police because they wanted help for the perpetrator’s mental health, while some just needed the police to ensure their immediate safety and de-escalate the situation, and for others, they just wanted the police to make a record of the incident without taking it any further.

The second theme relates to barriers that prevent survivors engaging with the police.  This included survivors who were fearful of the suspect and the repercussions of making a statement, delays in the initial police response which meant they lost confidence in the police, a poor initial response from the police where survivors felt blamed, and finally, survivors who felt the criminal justice process had ‘taken over’ and they had lost control of the situation.

We are still working on the analysis of this research and there will be more we can say about survivor engagement (and disengagement) in domestic abuse cases.  For now, what these early findings suggest is that we should consider what survivors need from the police, whether the police are able to meet those needs and if not, what needs to change.

Evidence-led prosecutions study

The second project we want to tell you about is concerned with something called ‘evidence-led prosecutions’.  An evidence-led prosecution is one where the victim either does not support the prosecution or withdraws their support and the case goes ahead anyway.  These types of prosecution have been used in the United States since the 1990’s but there is still debate about how appropriate they are in cases of domestic abuse.  For example, some people argue that by taking the decision away from survivors, we are simply replacing the control of the abuser with control by the State.  However, other people feel that by placing the decision to prosecute with victims, this actually puts them at greater risk of intimidation and pressure from the perpetrator.  In terms of what survivors feel about them, some studies in the US suggest victims are largely supportive of ELPs, but there is also research that suggests survivors are not necessarily safer as a result.

Although these types of prosecutions have been advocated in the UK since 2009, there is currently no evidence from the UK to tell us how and when they are used by the police, which cases are selected for prosecution by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and how they impact on victims.

This project is being led by Dr Anna Hopkins and Dr Holly Taylor-Dunn and involves an in-depth analysis of 100 police case files (50 that were considered as ‘evidence-led’ and 50 typical cases).  The research also included interviews with CPS prosecutors and victims whose case was taken forward as an evidence-led prosecution.  The research is due to complete at the end of March 2023 and we hope to be able to share findings soon.

If you are interested in hearing more about either of these studies, do please contact us at:

Celebrating International Women’s Day at OU Policing

by Dr Holly Taylor-Dunn and Dr Anna Hopkins of The Open University’s Policing Organisation and Practice department

Welcome to a special series of our OU Policing blog in recognition of International Women’s Day which is celebrated on 8th March.

This is the first in a series of 5 blog posts that will be published every Wednesday during March 2023.  We wanted to share details about the work we are doing here at OU Policing in support of women and the issues they face.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘embrace equity’.  The organisers are calling on everyone to recognise that equality and equity are different things.  They are trying to highlight the fact that women face particular challenges and barriers in their lives that prevent them fulfilling their opportunity.  It isn’t enough to say we will treat everyone the same – because we aren’t the same – and we don’t experience the same obstacles in life.

So how is this relevant to policing?  Well, it’s really relevant.  For example, we don’t expect the police to treat all victims of crime in the exact same way, because their needs are not the same.  This is especially important when we talk about crimes such as domestic abuse or sexual violence, as these are crimes that affect the lives of women to a much greater extent than men.   For the last 50 years, women’s advocates have been calling on the police (and wider criminal justice system) to take these forms of abuse seriously and to provide effective support to victim/survivors.  But as you will see in the blog posts on 8th and  29th March there is still a way to go.

The debate around equality and equity is also relevant to policing as a workplace.  One of the projects that will be shared in this blog series relates to women’s experience of maternity leave and returning to work in the police – this project highlights the challenges faced by women with childcare responsibilities which can directly impact their career opportunities.

Current challenges in policing and the wider criminal justice system?

The last few years have been unprecedented in terms of women’s relationships with the police.   The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, followed by the horrendous crimes of David Carrick have understandably eroded trust and confidence in the police for many women.  The increased focus on police officers as potential perpetrators of violence against women resulted in the Centre for Women’s Justice launching a ‘super-complaint’ against the police.  This super-complaint alleged that the police were failing to deal appropriately with domestic abuse cases involving serving police officers.

But not only have police forces faced criticism for how they have dealt with police officers who commit violence against women, they have also been criticised for how they have dealt with reported offences from the public.  A government body responsible for inspecting police forces raised concerns about the number of violent crimes against women and girls that were closed by the police as requiring ‘no further action’.  The Inspectors were worried that the proportion of cases being closed in this way had increased a lot in recent years and they were not convinced that victim/survivors had been consulted about these decisions.

So, what is being done to address problems such as these?

The current challenges facing the police in terms of women’s trust and confidence may sound bleak.  However, there is so much work underway in police forces across the UK who are genuinely committed to getting it right. Nationally, for the first time ever a Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Taskforce has been set up. Led by DCC Maggie Blyth the taskforce addresses VAWG across Three Pillars:

  • Build Trust and Confidence – Policing cannot claim to take VAWG seriously if it does not respond immediately and robustly to VAWG-related allegations and root out those who do not uphold the culture and high standards that the public rightly expects from it.
  • Relentless Pursuit of Perpetrators – Perpetrators are the one and only cause of VAWG.
  • Safer Spaces – Locations where women and girls are most at risk from VAWG maybe online, behind closed doors or in public spaces, to target activity the riskiest locations need to be identified

Here at the OU we work in collaboration with 24 police forces throughout the UK via the Centre for Policing Research and Learning.  This collaboration brings together academics and police forces to address issues that are important to policing.  Given the current situation, it may not surprise you to learn that many of the projects we are currently working on are focussed on violence against women and girls.

We are working on projects exploring how to improve the police response to rape and sexual violence, a project examining the reasons why victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence may not want to support a police investigation, and a project investigating cases of domestic abuse that are prosecuted without the support of the victim.

It is important to highlight that all of these projects are supported by the police forces in our partnership – they recognise how important this work is and they want to improve.  We are also developing a project looking at domestic abuse within the police.  This will consider the work that is being done to support officers and staff who are affected by domestic abuse as well as how they deal with those who perpetrate it.

Concluding remarks

Despite the significant impact of recent events on women’s trust and confidence in the police, it is important to recognise the amount of work currently underway to address these issues.  The reality is that in order for women and girls to succeed and reach their potential, they should firstly be able to achieve equity in all aspects of their lives which would in turn would contribute towards a life free from violence, abuse and fear.  In order to get there we need to work together to change the structures in our society that allow such abuses to occur – including the police and wider criminal justice system.

Organisational commitment to learning and development and the link to officer welfare

Dr Emma Williams of the Open University’s Centre for Policing Research explores the importance of CPD in wellbeing, particularly in relation to equipping officers with the skills, knowledge and learning required to investigate complex rape cases and sexual offences more effectively.

“There is literally no teaching, no training and I think there could maybe a better input on what is expected of you as an OIC. But you literally have to do or die.” (Detective Inspector)

Knowledge attainment is not linked simply to individual development but also to organisational learning and improvement.

In the context of policing specialist areas, organisations need to think carefully about how to enable and empower their workforce through continuing professional development (CPD), and assist them in becoming both confident and capable in their roles.

Evetts (2011) suggests that this enabling of professional service delivery links to organisational legitimacy, in that decision making and subsequent actions are informed and based on appropriate knowledge input.

In the field in which policing operates, methods of criminality, offender typologies, victims and vulnerabilities change at pace, especially with the fast-moving development of technology, digital platforms, and societal change. Therefore, officers need regular professional development input to upskill and update their knowledge based on the transient nature of policing as an occupation.

The police have received ongoing criticism for their investigation of rape over a long period of time, yet changes to justice outcomes remain challenging. Complex areas of policing require effective understanding by officers; without that, the opportunity for change is put at risk and improvement stalled.

The importance of CPD and knowledge input has been discussed at length within this series of articles. What this piece aims to explore, or at least question, is the link between the learning development offer by police organisations and the wellbeing and individual sense of professionalism held by their officers, specifically in the context of the investigation of rape and sexual offending.

Empowered through knowledge

Wilcock and Townsend (2000) argue that enhancement of a professional identity through CPD is critical to wellbeing. More often than not in policing discussions about wellbeing – especially when discussing officers involved in crimes such as child and adult sexual offending – we see reference to case-related trauma, exposure to indecent images etc, but very little debate about organisational stressors and how they relate to welfare in policing.

Emerging findings from a recent research project on wellbeing and learning and development among investigating officers involved in rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) – part of the wider national Project Soteria / Bluestone research – suggest that while officers are aware of the need for more knowledge input in this area, it is not prioritised within their organisations.

Workload, austerity cuts and the national detective crisis has meant that processes of restructure and the refiguration of investigation teams have become more concerned with capacity than capability within those teams.

This leaves officers stripped of the specialist and expert knowledge they need to professionally investigate cases that involve complex victims, relationships, trauma, and questions of consent.

Birch et al (2017) argue that organisational justice is central to this debate as the workforce need to feel included, fairly supported to do their job and empowered through knowledge. Without this, coping mechanisms put in place by workers will leads to stress and potential burnout. This is becoming clear in the emerging findings in this research.

Development plans

Our work on Bluestone has revealed a clear reliance in policing on omnicompetence in RASSO investigations.

While the generic procedural knowledge taught in other investigative courses is applied, the complexities officers face in understanding the intersectional issues involved in attrition – such as victim/offender relationships, vulnerabilities, previous criminality, and the chaotic lifestyles of some of the victims – is often understood through the lens of past experience or embedded cultural knowledge. This is often imparted through peers.

What is more problematic with this, in the current policing climate, is the high number of very young-in-service officers who are placed in roles to meet capacity demand without being empowered effectively to deliver what is needed.

What is required here for the officers is specialist knowledge where officers are provided with input at the start of their journey working in RASSO investigations which is continued throughout their career in this field.

This article is not focused on the issues the research found with the Serious Sexual Assault Investigative Development Programme (SSAIDP), which is the learning input that all officers working in this field should be provided. It is more concerned with the lack of individual development plans for officers which should be in place to update the skills required in this fast-moving area of criminality.

While statements about time, workload and other issues featured in conversations about the lack of CPD, what also came up time and time again was the concern officers have for their team members wellbeing if they were to have days off allocated to development options.

There appears to an assumption that demand juxtaposed with a lack of detectives needs to leave learning as secondary rather than an essential part of improvements in this area.

Placing more value on learning in this area is likely to make investigations more efficient as officers will be better equipped and competent to undertake the work with the knowledge they need to do so professionally.

At the current time the research suggests that learning conflicts with officers’ desire to manage the workload. However, paradoxically, this lack of development adds to their anxiety and welfare issues.

Transformational change

Key research states that organisational burnout can occur when a lack of resources, personnel included, is matched with high work demand.

Organisations have a clear role and responsibility to empower and provide their staff with the resources they need to deliver in their role. The value of CPD in this area is essential if we expect officers to make improvements in justice outcomes for all rape victims.

The relationship between organisational justice and procedural justice is clear, and if officers are falling back on culturally entrenched knowledge and practice and perceptions of victim deservedness to make decisions in this area, improvements are at risk – as is the fair distribution of justice.

There needs to be transformational change in the area of RASSO learning and CPD which makes a commitment to empowering officers and ensuring competence and subsequently a commitment to the public and victims to genuinely improve practice in this field.



Birch, P., Vickers, M.H., Kennedy, M. and Galovic, S. (2017) ‘Wellbeing, occupational justice and police practice: an ‘affirming environment’?’, Police practice & research, 18 (1), pp. 26-36

Evetts, J. (2011) ‘A new professionalism? Challenges and opportunities’, Current Sociology, 59(4), pp. 406-422.

Wilcock, A. and Townsend, E. (2000) ‘Occupational terminology interactive dialogue’, Journal of Occupational Science, 7(2), pp. 84-86.