Silent, present and marking – exploring the efficacy of domestic abuse lockdown policing initiatives

This project is an evaluation of three initiatives run by South Yorkshire Police which aim to improve the support for victims of domestic abuse.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Dr Charlotte Coleman and Dr Kate Whitfield
Police region
North East
Collaboration and partnership

University of Liverpool; South Yorkshire Police: Shelley Hemsley, Lee Berry, Chris Foster; West Yorkshire Police: Alan Raw.

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

Research context

Research shows that domestic abuse increases in times of crisis (Campbell & Jones, 2016). Refuge (2020) recently reported a 700% increase in traffic to its National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which they relate directly to the COVID-19 lockdown. Victims of domestic abuse were confined to their homes, potentially at greater risk of experiencing domestic abuse, and less likely to have the freedom to report it safely.

Consequently, South Yorkshire Police launched three initiatives in an effort to support victims of domestic abuse during the COVID-19 lockdown: an online reporting tool, the introduction of scene attenders, and Smart Water Forensic Marking.

It is important to evaluate the efficacy and impact of these initiatives, as this will determine whether they should continue to be used post-lockdown and/or during any future lockdowns. The research findings will be important in shaping the type and scope of victim support activity with regard to South Yorkshire Police's response to domestic abuse. As such, the research will have an applied impact.

Research questions/Scope of consultancy

The aim of the research is to establish the effectiveness and impact of South Yorkshire Police's three initiatives in relation to supporting victims of domestic abuse. The following research questions will be addressed:

  1. What trends can be identified in domestic abuse reporting before, during and after the lockdown period?

  2. How do the online reporting tool, scene attenders, and Smart Water Forensic Marking support domestic abuse victims?

  3. What are the perceptions of victims in relation to the efficacy of the online reporting tool, scene attenders, and Smart Water Forensic Marking, and what is the impact of these initiatives on victims' feelings of safety?

  4. Does Smart Water Forensic Marking have an impact on offenders in terms of preventing victim contact?

Research methodology

Methodology/Proposed consultancy activities

There are three studies associated with the project.

  1. Domestic abuse reporting data before, during and after lockdown will be quantitatively analysed in terms of the type of reporting (first time report, severity, victim/offender relationship), the use of the online reporting tool, whether the scene attender increases the number of victims pressing charges, and offender contact and recidivism after the use of Smart Water Forensic Marking. Comparisons will also be made between South Yorkshire Police and West Yorkshire Police data, as scene attenders and Smart Water have not been used by West Yorkshire Police.

  2. Domestic abuse victims will be interviewed to explore the role of lockdown in the abuse experienced (or not experienced); the ability to escape abusive situations during the period of restricted movement; perceptions of scene attenders, confidence in the police and willingness to press charges; perceptions of Smart Water Forensic Marking, feelings of safety, and reduction of family tensions. The interviews will be transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis.

  3. Domestic abuse offenders will be interviewed to explore their perceptions of how the lockdown contributed (or not) to them carrying out domestic abuse, as well as their perceptions of Smart Water Forensic Marking as a deterrent. The interviews will be transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis.

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