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Support can help those impacted by 'the knock'

Published: 27 July 2023 at 15:40

A hand using a door knocker

ARU’s Policing Institute for the Eastern Region evaluates Thames Valley project

Anglia Ruskin University’s Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER) is leading important work to study the effectiveness of a project to deliver support for the families of people suspected of online child sexual abuse.

Dr Theresa Redmond, a Senior Research Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), is working alongside Professor Rachel Armitage, from the University of Huddersfield, and Lucy Roberts, an Honorary Fellow of ARU and an expert through lived experience, to evaluate a pilot project based at Thames Valley Police.

In 2021, the Thames Valley Partnership charity, Family Matters, began a collaboration with the Thames Valley Paedophile Online Investigation Team (POLIT). Family Matters is a charity that supports the families of people who have been sent to prison, and as part of this project, extended their services to help people with a family member being investigated for online child sexual abuse.

The partnership involves police officers proactively providing information about Family Matters to the family members affected, so that they must ‘opt out’ if they don’t wish to receive support. Until this point, no other services of this kind have been in place to support people who are seriously impacted by what is known as ‘the knock’ – the arrival of police officers at the home of a family where someone is suspected of this crime.

Formal results will be published soon, but initial findings of the pilot project are extremely positive, showing that the majority of families benefitted. It also helped police officers – who are aware of the impact of ‘the knock’ on families – because they knew that the families would be supported afterwards.

Dr Redmond said:

“The number of people impacted by online child abuse is staggering and is rising – thousands and thousands of children being targeted and victimised every day. What many people are unaware of, however, is the impact on the hidden victims of this crime. When a suspect is identified and police officers arrive at their door, the partners and children of the suspect find that their whole world comes crashing down around them.  

“Until now, there has been no support whatsoever in place for these people unless the suspect receives a custodial sentence which can take a very long time. During this time, there is a void in support where partners and children are left grappling to make sense of what has happened, and there’s the resulting impact on their emotional wellbeing and personal lives.”

Dr Redmond added:

“The research shows, and I wholeheartedly believe, that this proactive approach is essential in this kind of investigation in order to properly support the wellbeing of the families and the wellbeing of the police officers.

“It is part of the police officer’s job to execute the search warrant at a suspect’s home, but these officers are also confronted with extreme trauma and turmoil. They are not trained in therapeutic support however, and so it can be a burden on their wellbeing too. They are also connected to the investigation so are prevented from giving these families the support they need.”

Other police forces are now trialling similar projects, and phase two of the team’s research will involve the evaluation of a scheme at Lincolnshire Police, where a dedicated police officer is delivering support for indirect victims of this kind, replicating the opt-out referral model.

Dr Redmond will be evaluating Lincolnshire’s new role, currently delivered by Pc Tom Scott, with a view to supporting the further development and roll out of this initiative, while PIER PhD student Millie Fjelldal will be based at Lincolnshire Police to carry out research on the project.

More information on this work can be found by watching ‘The knock’ presentation at PIER23 – the annual conference of the Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER), held at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford. Since delivering this presentation to a global audience, Dr Redmond, Professor Armitage and Lucy Roberts have been approached by numerous policing organisations looking to learn from the initiatives and explore the potential to implement similar schemes.