PIER offers an MPhil/PhD in Criminology. You can find out about our current PhD students and their research below.
Abbie Lake was awarded a three-year funded scholarship with PIER in September 2021, focusing on child sexual abuse. We asked what drew her to research in this area, and why she thinks it is so important for child protection.
Tell us about your academic story so far.
I initially studied Psychology as an undergraduate at ARU, as I have always been interested in what motivates people to act in certain ways. I soon realised that the subject’s close link to science and maths was not what I wanted to focus on, so I moved over to study Criminology.
In my final year of my undergraduate degree, I took on a position as a Research Assistant with one of my lecturers, which I really enjoyed. We wrote a paper together on risk factors for young people in getting recruited into county line gangs. This is in the final stages of being published, so was my first introduction into academic research.
Why did the PhD position at PIER appeal to you?
Whilst studying criminology, it was the topics that were around vulnerability and young people that really struck me and what I became passionate about.
With my background in researching young people and county lines, I knew I had some good experience to draw on and was really interested in exploring other types of childhood vulnerability.
What is your research focusing on?
I’m looking at survivor-led evidence to explore how, why and when people disclose being the victims of sibling sexual abuse.
This topic was discussed in my first supervision session and I quickly realised how under-researched this issue is and how difficult people find talking about it. I began to feel extremely passionate about exploring this area, as I felt I would be letting people down if I didn’t commit to dedicated research.
Having secured conditional ethics approval, I’m now exploring the process of gathering evidence, which is likely to be through direct contact with survivors to hear their stories.
It will also be important for me to have a repertoire of services available to refer these people to should they need any support following the discussions.
Why did you choose this research topic?
The way that survivors disclose abuse by siblings is extremely complex. It is often compared to other forms of inter-familial sexual abuse, but the evidence I have explored so far suggests that it is very different.
If the abuse has happened between siblings, it creates huge complexities within families and impacts them in very different ways to other inter-familial abuse. This impact can have a significant influence on whether someone discloses or not.
What do you hope to achieve from your research?
I want to help families, professionals and practitioners to know the signs to look for when someone may be close to disclosing abuse of this kind.
Having better evidence will also help us form ways to encourage people to speak out, and the very process of sharing will enable survivors to have their story told.
Survivors are the experts we need to listen to, to inform what we’re doing and to learn how we can do things better.
Cannelle Roumanie's research centres around the CSAE model relating to emergence of younger perpetrators (under 25s) and effects of peer-to-peer file sharing and engaging with platforms.
Joanne Traynor is a control room supervisor at Essex Police, carrying out a research study on police control rooms. She was a successful College Bursary applicant.
Joanne selected the subject of communications in the police control room as the topic of her PhD research from her experience and observations working in control rooms. She says:
"I was aware that information did not always flow through the force control room in a uniform way. As information was passed from caller to call handler and then to radio dispatch operator, it often appeared to undergo changes and alterations. In turn, incident logs often included alterations to both incident gradings and headers.
"My review of the literature revealed that policy makers and operational police officers usually assume that information flows in a linear manner, where each interaction does not impact or influence the next (Garner, Johnson 2006). I found there was no existing measure to indicate the accuracy, adequateness and relevance of incident log narratives and no framework to measure or compare forces' performance in this area.
Given that a proportion of crime undergoes desk-based investigation informed by the narrative of the incident log, the importance of ensuring incident log accuracy to record crime both precisely and efficiently (to avoid reclassification and duplication) is key to delivering a quality service with limited resources.
Being an expert practitioner is both an advantage and possible disadvantage when conducting research. While an academic needs to spend time immersing themselves in policing culture, I was already part of it.
"However, being part of policing culture can carry the risk of being blinkered and so it is essential to think reflectively, keep an open mind and constantly question assumptions. This continuous reflection can help you to become more aware of your own biases.
Ultimately, adopting reflection as part of an ethical approach to my research aimed to reduce the influence of my presence on the participants' behaviour. The ability to reflect honestly is the best tool to counterbalance these concerns."
Lottie Herriott is a third year PhD student at PIER. Her doctoral research focuses on assessing the impact of sexual history evidence on mock juror deliberations in rape trials.
Sexual history evidence is restricted at trial in England and Wales (S.41 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act, 1999) as it frequently used to incorrectly assert that: i) women who have previously consented to sex are more likely to consent in future, and ii) women considered ‘promiscuous’ are not credible witnesses.
However, research demonstrates that restrictions are routinely ignored, meaning such evidence remains prevalent at trial and often introduced as a means to discredit the complainant (Smith, 2018). The inclusion of this evidence at trial has been shown to correlate with decreased conviction rates (Kelly et al. 2006), and highlighted as a key area of inadequate victim treatment (McGlynn, 2017).
Yet despite high profile calls to reform the law on sexual history, there is a limited evidence-base on whether sexual history evidence adversely impacts on the jury, with just two studies available internationally (Catton, 1975 [Canada]; Schuller, 2002 [US]) which were limited in scope. Charlotte’s PhD is therefore first UK research to examine the impact of sexual history evidence on juries and the first worldwide to explore the content jury deliberations in relation to sexual history.
As research with ‘real’ juries is prohibited (Contempt of Court Act, 1981), Charlotte’s thesis draws on mock jury simulations to explore the impact of previous sexual behaviour with the defendant, on mock juror deliberations. It draws on a total 18 mock juries, using volunteer community participants and provides a crucial evidence base regarding juror interpretations of sexual history evidence.
Rhea Fernando-Eversley was awarded a three-year funded scholarship with PIER in September 2021, focusing on the tactics perpetrators use to incite children into engaging in the creation of livestreamed first person produced child sexual abuse material. We asked her some questions about her research journey.
Tell us about your academic experience before joining PIER.
I graduated from Roehampton University in 2015 with a BSc in Psychology. I went on to work in a number of roles in the UK and overseas focusing on working with vulnerable people.
This included working with children in behavioural therapy, and when living in Australia, carrying out case management social work with children, war veterans and with people with drug and alcohol dependency issues.
I spent two years in Australia and six months in New Zealand, then came back to the UK in 2019. I carried out a Masters at Anglia Ruskin University in Forensic Science.
What attracted you to the scholarship opportunity?
After completing my Masters, I originally wanted to move into digital forensics or crime scene investigation work, but my supervisor highlighted the opportunity to me and recommended I look into it.
It sounded amazing and I’m a real believer in the universe gifting opportunities to us. I love being challenged and getting involved with extraordinary things.
Tell us about the research you’re working on.
My post was advertised with a specific topic – working with the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to explore “self-generated” child sexual abuse imagery online. This is typically created when children are groomed and coerced online by an abuser who is remote to the child.
I’ve now focused my research in the area of grooming tactics, understanding how offenders are inciting young children into creating this kind of content.
My first year was focused on reading literature that was already published, and a lengthy ethics clearance process.
Now, I’m spending a lot of time viewing images and videos provided by the IWF, understanding what is out there online and working on the specifics of my research methodology.
Next year, my data analysis and full write up of my research will begin, with a view to completing in September 2024.
How are you finding research that deals with such a traumatic subject matter?
My motivation pushes me through it. I knew that the images and videos I would be dealing with would be incredibly disturbing but I draw strength from my overall motivation to develop research that will help people.
The IWF have great support systems in place for staff: we receive mandatory counselling once a month, and they ensure we take regular breaks. I also have regular supervision sessions with PIER colleagues.
What are your hopes for the impact of your research?
I’m so excited to see what comes of it, and how it can be utilised.
I would never have known about some of the things I’m seeing and learning about now, and that will be the case for most people. This global world of online crime is all around us and we have to start doing things differently to tackle it.
People find it so difficult to talk about these things, but it’s so important.
Sam Wood's research centres around female perpetrators, specifically online and contact CSAE and models of offending.
Thien Trang Nguyen Phan is a third- year PhD student at PIER. Her doctoral research focuses on the abuse of parents by their adult children.
Although the UK government’s current definition of domestic abuse encompasses “any incident or pattern of incidents of […] violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members”, there has been a dearth of research into adult family violence, and in particular violence and abuse perpetrated by adult children against their parents.
Thien Trang’s research interest stems from over 12 years of experience in domestic abuse/violence against women, both in frontline and operational/strategic capacities, which had shown her that parents experiencing abuse from their adult children might face additional and unique challenges in seeking help and accessing support. Yet theirs had remained the missing voice in current domestic abuse research.
For her research project, Thien Trang has conducted in-depth interviews informed by the life story method with 11 parents (all mothers). Using Dialogic/Performance Narrative Analysis to help enrich her reading and understanding of these complex stories, she pays particular attention to the gendered aspects of filial abuse, which have significant implications for policy and practice.