Justice for Sexual Violence Survivors During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Dr. Emma Sleath, at the University of Leicester, and Dr. Siobhan Weare, at the University of Lancaster, are currently working on a UKRI-funded project hoping to better understand the impact of sexual violence throughout the pandemic, and ensuring justice for those who have experienced abuse. Here they share further insights into the ongoing work, and how you can explore further updates.

For practitioners and researchers, the publication of the government’s End-to-End Rape Review report (June, 2021) highlighted the many systemic issues that individuals in this field have long been aware of. It is against a background of increased reporting to the police in relation to rape, and declining positive criminal justice outcomes (e.g., charging decisions, prosecutions, convictions) that survivors and the sexual violence sector have experienced the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UKRI funded project, Justice in Covid-19 for Sexual Abuse and Violence (JiCSAV), is seeking to understand the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic in relation to the criminal justice journeys of adult and child survivors of sexual abuse, rape, and sexual assault. We already know that these journeys are impacted by a ‘system under strain’, however this project is seeking to work with relevant agencies e.g., police, sexual assault referral centres (SARCS), Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) agencies, to explore the entirety of this journey during the Covid-19 pandemic. We will also be working with survivors themselves to identify barriers, challenges, and opportunities within this area that have emerged as a result of the pandemic.

Violence Against Women and Girls

The project is in the middle of gathering data and has to-date engaged with survivors, ISVAs, counsellors, and therapists in terms of seeking their views. The preliminary findings identified significant innovation by agencies in reshaping their services to continue to support clients including: using online peer support groups and counselling, ‘walk and talk’ therapies, and using play-therapy boxes and online computer games to support children. Findings on these innovations echo those from Victim Support and The Survivors Trust, in which greater use of online technologies was perceived positively by some clients i.e., as less stressful and pressured than face-to-face contact. The environment in which survivors found themselves during the pandemic was also felt to be beneficial for some, in that many of the aspects of daily lives that survivors found challenging were shutdown.

Unfortunately, these innovations and potentially positive benefits for some survivors can be contrasted with other findings in the project, which have identified delay to be a key theme for survivors in their engagement with the CJS, and in some respects, with support agencies. Whilst delay has long been recognised as an issue within the criminal justice process in sexual offence cases, this has been hugely exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and there is increasing evidence of growing delays emerging within every aspect of the CJS. This issue is potentially compounded by identified challenges with Covid-19 protocols, and approaches being implemented inconsistently across the country e.g., in police interviewing of survivors.

With these first insights into the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on sexual violence survivors and practitioners within this field, the project is continuing to interview participants from across England and Wales including: survivors who have engaged in any aspect of the CJS since March 2020, and practitioners and policy makers across police, SARCs, ISVA and third sector support agencies, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the Judiciary. The next workshops will share preliminary findings from the project from participants associated with Sexual Assault Referral Centres (6th July) and police forces (23rd September). Research briefings will also be forthcoming throughout the project, sharing findings in relation to each aspect of the criminal justice process.

You can follow updates on the project through Twitter @JiCSAV_ . If you wish to get in contact with the team, please email emma.sleath@leicester.ac.uk or s.weare@lancaster.ac.uk


Learn more about the latest research and updates on tackling violence against women and girls in particular at IG Crime's annual forum, returning for September 2021.