CCJS Hosts Katrin Hohl for Frank Dawtry Memorial Lecture

On Thursday 21st March 2024, the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies (CCJS) was honoured to host Professor Katrin Hohl for this year’s Frank Dawtry Memorial Lecture.

A prestigious annual event, the CCJS Lecture commemorates Frank Dawtry’s (1902–1968) profound contribution to criminal justice and penal reform. In the spirit of Frank’s work, the Lecture considers essential and timely issues in criminal justice. This year’s lecturer was Professor Katrin Hohl. Hohl is Independent Advisor to the UK Government Rape Review, an expert advisor to the International Criminal Court, and academic co-lead of the groundbreaking Operation Soteria Bluestone project, a major research and change programme concerned with transforming police investigative responses to rape and serious sexual assault. The theme of this year’s Lecture was: ‘Transforming the police response to rape: a litmus test for policing’.

Hohl described how the Lecture comes at a time of a legitimacy crisis for British policing, epitomised by the abduction, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard, and the conviction of David Carrick, who committed 85 serious offences, including 48 rapes, over 17 years. These events have shattered long-strained relationships between women and the police, and have resulted in various high-profile investigations into the police response to violence against women and girls (VAWG).

As part of her research, Hohl illustrated the profound and life-changing impacts that police responses to rape had on survivors. As a result of what police did or did not do: 75% of respondents reported a decline in their mental health; 55% experienced a decline in physical health; 54% indicated a reduction in trust in the police; and 41% expressed a decrease in their sense of personal safety.

I am more afraid of the police than being raped again.

Survey Respondent

Reassuringly, though, there were examples of women who felt the police process had made a positive impact. This provides evidence that the seemingly impossible can become possible. As Hohl remarked, ‘good is possible, good is happening’.

However, there is concern that such sparks of optimism have been extinguished by the overwhelmingly negative discourse surrounding the police. While the police response to VAWG has been a central issue amongst women, practitioners, and scholars for decades, the aftermath of the murder of Sarah Everard has seen the issue explode into the public sphere. The media depiction of Sarah’s murder and the resulting court case has imparted a lasting effect on public trust, resulting in an unprecedented fall in public confidence in the police. For the first time, more people say they do not have confidence in police than those who say they do.

The weight of this public unrest has culminated in significant political pressure, prompting an end-to-end rape review and a public apology to rape victims by the Prime Minister in 2021. This has been followed by institutional reports, including the Casey review 2023 – an independent review into the behavior and culture of the Met – and the Angiolini review 2024, which was established to investigate how Wayne Couzens, an off-duty police officer, was able to abduct, rape and murder Sarah Everard. Together, outrage and scrutiny resulted in VAWG becoming a ‘strategic policing requirement’ in 2023.

Sexual violence has gone from an afterthought to litmus test for public trust.

These developments offer hope of change. However, they also call for a fundamental rethink of policing. Hohl remarked that policing was never designed to protect women and that its inherited operational structure makes it impossible to respond to rape effectively. As such, substantive reform in the response to rape requires a rethink of the default of policing. This was the task of Operation Soteria.

For Operation Soteria, recommendations were not enough. It aimed instead to provide solutions. Accordingly, it outlined a new National Operating Model, underpinned by a theoretical framework constituting six pillars. The Model serves to fundamentally rethink the approach to policing rape. It did so not by asking what is it about rape that makes it so difficult to police, but rather what is it about the police that makes it so difficult for them to police rape. Operation Soteria responded partly by developing a suspect-centred (rather than victim-centred) approach to rape investigation, designed to move away from responsibilising women for their own victimisation.

Hohl and her colleagues’ research has demonstrated the importance of the investigative process for survivors. Therefore, the National Operating Model seeks organisational transformation in policing with an overarching emphasis on procedural justice. Hohl stressed that these ideas are not new, but that Operation Soteria sought to integrate these ideas in a novel way.

In considering why Soteria has enjoyed success, Hohl cited the crucial role of collaboration between academics and police professionals: the ‘power of eye-level, longer-term co-production’, synergising decades of academic research with officer knowledge and experience. She also reflected that the ‘stars had aligned’ – the gravity of public discourse had pulled the police response to sexual violence to the forefront of public consciousness.

Good is possible, good is happening.

The prospect of lasting, meaningful police reform may provoke scepticism from many. Low prosecution rates for rape and poor victim experiences have been documented through decades of research, inquiries and inspections. Change has been sought, though little has materialised.

Yet Hohl drew attention to existing good work within policing and evidence that we are beginning to see positive changes. She referred to the doubling, trebling and, at its highest, quadrupling of charge rates in some Operation Soteria areas. These rates remain too low – there is a long way yet to go. However, Hohl’s lecture offered hope that the seemingly impossible may become possible. She encouraged other academics to ‘get out there’ and make real change happen.

Hohl’s lecture was followed by comments from the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime in West Yorkshire, Alison Lowe OBE. Lowe discussed how West Yorkshire Police had taken on the lessons from Soteria and had begun to implement their own initiatives to tackle sexual violence at a local level. Such initiatives include the implementation of a Women’s Safety Unit, the launch of the first national stalking coordination unit in West Yorkshire, and the development of their own VAWG strategy.  Such endeavours have resulted in West Yorkshire Police being ‘identified as… an exemplar Force, leading nationally with innovation and new initiatives to tackle these offences to ensure that women and girls are safe and feel safe’ (

Lowe reflected on the force’s accomplishments with pride, though she remained keenly aware of the need to continue to strive to improve responses to sexual violence. She spoke passionately about West Yorkshire Police’s pursuit of change, but remained realistic about the capacity for such change in a climate still deeply marked by austerity and the legacy of funding cuts system-wide.

The Lecture – attended by a mix of academics, practitioners and students – was very warmly received. It stimulated a wide-ranging discussion, addressing the influence of police culture, and the role of other criminal justice bodies (such as the Crown Prosecution Service), and the persistent challenge of sexual offending by serving police officers.


Sam Pears is a teaching assistant in the School of Law. His research interests are in police organisational structure and culture, with an emphasis on how these factors influence the police response to VAWG. Particularly, he is concerned with the impact of national policy developments on the policing of VAWG at a local level.