Operation Soteria Bluestone

Operation Soteria was launched as a response to the government End-to-End Rape Review, and the Home Office pledge to increase the number of rape cases making it to court.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Dr Katrin Hohl and Professor Betsy Stanko
Police region
London
Collaboration and partnership

Operation Soteria includes Bluestone, a collaborative programme of research and transformational change led by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and hosted by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC). It is funded by the Home Office.

Level of research
Professional/work based
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

This research is being carried out by:

  • City University of London
  • Bournemouth University
  • Durham University
  • London Metropolitan University
  • Loughborough University
  • The Open University
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Suffolk
  • Birbeck, University of London

Operation Soteria was launched as a response to the government End-to-End Rape Review, and the Home Office pledge to increase the number of rape cases making it to court.

The Home Office set out the Operation Soteria programme objectives.

  1. Test a series of tools (such as improved approaches for digital capture) and techniques (such as those associated with offender management) to engender justice outcomes. As well as potentially increasing charge rates, the tools and techniques will enable the pro-active making of applications for civil orders, such as sexual risk orders. 

  2. Develop a national operating model (created through an evidence based collaborative project) for better and faster rape investigations that can be taken up by forces and CPS areas from 2023.

The demand for a police response to rape and sexual assault has increased substantially (nearly four-fold from 2012/3 to 2019/2020), led by victims (and third parties) who are bringing their experiences to police attention. This increase in reporting has had an exponential impact on police resources due, in part, to the complexities of investigating rape.

There is a strong overlap for a significant proportion of victims in experiences of domestic abuse and sexual abuse (about 1 in 3 rapes reported to the Metropolitan Police have a domestic context), for example. Since 2015/16 prosecutions and convictions for adult rape have fallen by 59% and 47%, respectively.

Building on the London Rape Review that was led by London’s Victims Commissioner in 2019 a new approach to transform the policing response to rape was developed within MOPAC and by the academics: Dr Katrin Hohl and Professor Betsy Stanko.

This new approach was first trialled as Project Bluestone within Avon & Somerset Police (January – March 2021), funded by the Home Office. It is the blueprint for Operation Soteria Bluestone with the aim of building a new national operating model for the investigation of rape and serious sexual assault.

This project opened the way for a novel approach to the way scientific evidence is integrated into policing’s strategic thinking, innovative practice and organisational integration of learning and development to improve victim responsiveness, offender challenge and public protection through improved investigation and well-being care for officers and staff.

Research methodology

Four 'deep dive' discovery processes are to be delivered in the Metropolitan Police Service and Durham, West Midlands and South Wales Police forces (September 2021 to September 2022). This is in addition to the pilot completed in Avon & Somerset Police January to March 2021.

Deep dives are led by academic teams, informed by wide-reaching academic research about sexual offending behaviour, the impact of rape and sexual assault on victim-survivors, suspects, police officers, the Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) service and the wider community.

The insight from all five force discoveries will provide academic evidence to inform the national operating model for the investigation of rape and serious sexual assault.

At its heart, each research based discovery process includes:

  • an understanding of the lived experience of victim-survivors’ experiences of rape and sexual assault (the extensive research team are academic experts in studies of violence against women and third sector and police responses to these – a survivors’ panel is part of the method of challenging approaches and products)

  • a conceptual foundation that aligns actions and activity with ‘procedural justice theory’ – and this benefits victims, offenders and staff (through organisationally just behaviour concerned about the well-being of staff who work in this area)

  • continuous collaboration with the lived experiences of police force staff to offer direction of travel, sustainable and novel solutions on the sustainable pillars for improvement in situ to uplift investigative strategies and supported by force data improvement in analytics

The 5 pillars for improvement – seeds of which the research team confirmed strongly in their collaborative project in Avon and Somerset – are grounded in what ‘good’ policing practice looks like, which emphasises:

  1. a suspect-focused investigation

  2. the disruption of and challenging of repeat offenders

  3. embedding a systematic procedural justice to victim engagement during the investigative process

  4. an enhanced, specialised officer learning and development programme, sensitive to officer wellbeing joined up seamlessly with the challenges of rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) complaints in force as well as academic evidence drawn from a variety of disciplines

  5. using data-led, performance-savvy monitoring and evaluation of new investigative strategies and justice outcomes, to improve understanding of RASSO reporting and outcomes

In May 2022, a sixth pillar was added covering digital technologies and digital forensics as part of RASSO investigations and victim engagement. 

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