How academics are working with the police to improve services for rape victim survivors

Dr Ruth Friskney
Improving the experience of Sexual Violence Survivors, when reporting to the police is essential. A new tool has now been created by University of Glasgow academics Dr. Ruth Friskney and Dr. Kelly Johnson, together with Professor Clare McGlynn from Durham University, to help police forces to better protect victims’ rights.

Rape Victim Impact Assessments (RVIAs) are a new tool to help police forces in England and Wales consider how changes to policies, procedures or practices will impact on rape victim-survivors – before they bring in changes. In this blog, the academics working with police forces on the RVIA (Dr Ruth Friskney, Professor Clare McGlynn, Dr Kelly Johnson,

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What are RVIAs?
A Rape Victim Impact Assessment (RVIA) is a structured tool supporting police forces to work through how a policy, procedure or practice will impact on victim-survivors of rape as they are developing that policy. The aim is that victim-survivors of rape get a better service from the police because the police can identify and tackle any concerns before they put that policy into practice.

The RVIA asks the police to do three things in particular when they are developing policies:

  • to work throughout with organisations, like RSACC, that have expertise in working with victim-survivors of rape.
  • To gather and analyse information about the experiences of all the diverse victim-survivors of rape that the police force serves.

The aim of doing these two things is that police forces develop ways of working that are based on evidence and expertise about the experiences of all victim-survivors of rape.

  • To be transparent about the decisions they make.

Normally, RVIAs should be published and available to all. The aim of this is to encourage ongoing dialogue in local areas about the most effective ways that police forces can investigate rape and work with victim-survivors.

The RVIA template and guidance [] are part of the new National Operating Model (NOM) for the investigation of rape and serious sexual offences in England and Wales [link:]. The model recommends that police forces conduct RVIAs when creating new, or reviewing existing, policies, procedures and practices relevant to the rights and interests of victim-survivors of rape.

Why do we need RVIAs?
RVIAs have been developed as part of Operation Soteria, a large-scale police academic collaboration aiming to transform the investigation of rape in England and Wales, funded by the Home Office. Early work under Operation Soteria found examples where police forces were trying to do their best for victim-survivors of rape, but policies had not been thought through carefully and actually worked against the rights and interests of victim-survivors. There were also examples of good practice, but these were dependent on individual officers, without systems to embed improvements across police forces. Overall there appeared to be a lack of strategic oversight, support and planning for developing policies and practices that carefully considered the rights and interests of victims-survivors.

RVIAs are a tool to help address these issues, by supporting police forces to work through a structured process of engaging with stakeholders, gathering and analysing evidence, identifying and tackling adverse impacts and putting in place monitoring systems when they are making changes to policies.

What difference will RVIAs make?
The academic team have been working with police forces across England and Wales as they try doing their first RVIAs. This work has identified early ways in which RVIAs may make apparently small, but meaningful, changes to how police forces interact with victim-survivors of rape.

One force used the RVIA on proposals to bring in a new role with specific responsibilities for improving engagement with victim-survivors of rape. Doing the RVIA made them notice that they had not joined up the proposals for this new role with their existing resources to support the diverse populations they serve to interact with the police, e.g. British Sign Language interpretation. The force is making changes to the training package for the new role to make these links.

Another force used the RVIA where they had concerns that a change they were being asked to make to how they investigate would create barriers for victim-survivors. The RVIA showed that this change was not relevant to the majority of rape investigations and did not need to be brought in across their general investigative practice. For the few cases where it would be relevant, the force is working with an advocacy organisation around how to explain this work to victim-survivors to make the information clear, relevant and not off-putting.

These early examples show that RVIAs have the potential to make a real difference to the way that victim-survivors experience police investigations, if police forces are given the support and resources to carry them out effectively, and make the changes they identify as needed.

For more information:
Visit the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice’s page about the RVIA [], where you can also access the template and guidance [] and a briefing paper [].