School of Law academics join with Cumbria Constabulary to examine rural domestic abuse

The project “Understanding the Geospatial & Contextual Patterns of Rural Domestic Abuse” received funding from the Police Science, Technology, Analysis & Research Board, supported by the Home Office.

With over 10 million people in England and Wales living in rural settings, this collaboration between Cumbria Constabulary and the University of Leeds has far-reaching potential to positively impact those affected by domestic abuse. 

The research is being conducted by Dr Sam Lewis, Dr Dan Birks, Sat Kartar Chandan and Natacha Chenevoy from the School of Law, with support from the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA). The project builds upon a previous collaboration between Cumbria Constabulary and Dr Sam Lewis that examined police responses to child-to-parent violence, funded by the N8 Policing Research Partnership

The bid evidenced the need for further research into domestic abuse in rural settings, noting the significant under-reporting of domestic abuse in general alongside concerns that victims in rural areas may face particular barriers to reporting and service access. This research will bring together data from Cumbria Constabulary and other local service providers to better understand the nature, extent and spatial patterns of rural domestic abuse, to support data-driven service delivery.  

The findings from this important study will be widely disseminated, providing an opportunity for the knowledge produced to shape policy and practice developments in the policing of rural spaces in England, Wales and further afield. 

Superintendent Dan StQuintin, Constabulary lead for the public protection unit and police lead for the project, said: 

“This research is vital. To best support victims we need to identify the true scale of domestic abuse in rural settings. It is the first research of its kind and will really improve our geographical understanding of what is happening in Cumbria and to who. This will give us better insight into the very serious issue so we can further improve our services to domestic abuse (DA) victims. 

“DA remains one of the most underreported crimes. The unfortunate reality is that potentially only one third of DA crimes are reported. This is exacerbated in the rural community by many factors including conditioning, fear, or people knowing what support is available to them. 

“The data will also help us better understand offending in these communities so we can look to hold offenders accountable and challenge behaviour.” 

Dr Sam Lewis, Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice and academic lead for the project, said: 

“Evidence from the USA, Australia and elsewhere suggests that rates of violence against women in rural communities may be higher than in urban and suburban areas. To date, however, research on rural domestic abuse in England and Wales is rare.  

“Developing a data-driven response to the issue is complicated by significant underreporting which might vary by geography. This project responds to these concerns, combining evidence from large administrative datasets with accounts from local practitioners to better understand the spatial aspects of rural domestic abuse and inform service delivery.” 

Dr Dan Birks, Associate Professor of Quantitative Policing and Crime Data Analytics, said: 

“This research integrates applied data science with qualitative research to explore the causes, extent and geospatial distribution of domestic abuse in the predominantly rural county of Cumbria. It also examines the potential for creating and capitalising on data linkages with non-police partners to generate a more comprehensive picture of local needs.  

Our work aims to support the development of evidence-based interventions to reduce the harms associated with domestic abuse in rural communities.

Professor Paul Taylor, Policing Chief Scientific Advisor, said: 

“This project is a great example of how policing and academia can collaborate effectively to tackle an issue that touches many communities.  The team’s vision, together with their understanding of the potential impact the project could have on the lives of Domestic Abuse victims, make it a worthy recipient of the competitive Police STAR Funding, which supports innovative projects. I look forward to seeing what the project achieves.” 

Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall, said: 

“Supporting victims of domestic abuse, holding offenders to account and building a greater understanding of offender patterns is vital. 

“The Home Office funding, for the Constabulary and Leeds University research project into the patterns of rural domestic abuse in the county is important, especially as domestic abuse nationally, as well as locally, is still under reported. 

 “Research into the imbalance between the reporting of rural domestic abuse incidents and the level and severity of its occurrence will help to build an accurate and updated picture of what is happening in the county.” 

To find out more about domestic abuse and accessing support services in West Yorkshire visit: