University of Winchester collaborates on new initiative to support the seafaring community against sexual abuse at sea

30 Jan 2023

Recent surveys have revealed that serious sexual assaults on UK vessels are under reported. Vulnerable victims are unsupported and unsure how to seek emotional support and guidance regarding engaging with the UK criminal justice system.

The University of Winchester's Centre for Forensic and Investigative Psychology is collaborating with charity Safer Waves and Devon and Cornwall Police on a new initiative to support the seafaring community and tackle the challenges currently facing seafarers with regards to collection of evidence, reporting crime and accessing victim support.

The Centre is developing a survey to establish the frequency of serious sexual offences and the numbers of victims/survivors who may need support. Maritime welfare organisations, unions and educational institutions have been asked for their input and have offered their support in distributing the survey once finalised.

Safer Waves works to respond to sexual violence at sea and set up a working group with Devon and Cornwall Police, and specialists across the UK. The initiative aims to provide accessible and straight-forward information, support and guidance to the seafaring community, with the intention of preventing and detecting crime, developing intelligence, inspiring trust and confidence in UK policing, and bringing offenders to justice.

As well as developing a depth of understanding of the issues experienced by seafarers relating to sexual abuse on board UK vessels, the project will develop a toolkit for merchant seafarers offering confidential support, advice and guidance relating to sexual abuse committed at sea. It also aims to develop structures and processes within UK police forces and the wider criminal justice system to bring to justice offenders that commit sexual abuse on UK vessels at sea.

The University of Winchester Centre for Forensic and Investigative Psychology aims to increase understanding of the psychological processes involved in forensic and investigative settings and to determine effective practices for improving victim, suspect, perpetrator and witness experiences through research.

Dr Rachel Wilcock, Convenor of the Centre of Forensic and Investigative Psychology, said: "Staff in the Centre are delighted to have the opportunity to work with Safer Waves and Devon and Cornwall Police on such an important issue facing the sea faring community."

Becky Newdick, CEO of Safer Waves, said: "We understand that when it comes to this subject, there is a degree of 'survey fatigue'. However, we hope that people will choose to engage with this survey, due to the fact that the results will inform some very real solutions for UK seafarers, for international seafarers who may sail on UK vessels and for those on vessels visiting UK Ports."

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