Cyber Hub and University at the forefront of cyberharassment investigation

Bedfordshire Police and the University of Bedfordshire are launching a two-year collaborative project which aims to transform the investigation of cyberharassment and stalking.

Stalking and harassment currently makes up 36 per cent of all online crime. Cyberharassment cases in Bedfordshire are showing a distinct increasing trend as the availability of social media and internet devices grows, along with awareness of this highly distressing crime type.

The Cyberharassment Project will be hosted by Bedfordshire Police in the dedicated Cyber Hub and is jointly led by the National Centre for Cyberstalking Research (NCCR) at the University of Bedfordshire.

The scheme, which will see a team of academic researchers from the University working alongside digitally-trained officers in the heart of the Cyber Hub, aims to provide a technological solution to cyberharassment and will explore the development of a series of investigative, prevention and restorative tools which will risk-assess cases and ensure they are appropriately dealt with.

Dr Emma Short from the NCCR at the University said: “Online abuse is widespread and something that people report experiencing or witnessing every day. One of the most frightening aspects of threatening communications for people who receive them is the uncertainty of the danger they represent.

“The psychological and social impacts of this behaviour are still underestimated and there is often a reluctance to report offences. This means that people being targeted can become distressed and are not always supported to manage the impact.

“This project aims to help understand how to assess the risk of abusive communications and ultimately to work towards changing attitudes to reduce the prevalence of online anti - social behaviour that causes damage to people and the safety of online environments.”

Detective Superintendent Jon Gilbert, who leads on cyber crime for Bedfordshire Police, said: “Cyberharassment creates fear and distress and can disrupt a victim’s daily life. Nowadays we all live part of our lives online and this creates an additional, faceless arena which criminals believe they can exploit.

“That said, the rapid growth of technology also provides further opportunities for policing and that’s exactly what our Cyberharassment Project will explore. Bringing together academia, policing in the Cyber Hub and partners from fellow forces and victim support charities will provide us with an evidence-base with which to better tackle harassment in the cybersphere.

“We can’t beat this type of criminality alone, and as well as working together to find technological solutions to investigating crimes when they occur, we will also be exploring ways to educate potential victims and perpetrators.

“This will by no means be an overnight transformation and the plans are in their very early stages, but we are extremely excited to be at the forefront of a groundbreaking and potentially national framework which we hope will see a rise in positive case outcomes, increased reporting and an improvement in the victim experience.”

The University’s Vice-Chancellor Bill Rammell added: “Bedfordshire has a growing reputation for carrying out world-leading, high quality research with a direct social benefit to the country.

“This Cyberharassment Project is a prime example of how research conducted by the University impacts on society and improves lives. This project working with Bedfordshire Police will ensure that cyber-crimes hidden from view and conducted in a virtual world can be brought to light and dealt with.”

The Cyberharassment Project will be match-funded as a result of a successful joint bid to the Police Innovation Fund. After the first year the project will be evaluated to determine whether a second year of match-funding will be provided.

ENDS

Notes for editors

Photo Caption: (left to right) Detective Superintendent Jon Gilbert and Dr Emma Short

Bedfordshire Police and the National Centre for Cyberstalking Research (NCCR) at the University of Bedfordshire are leading an innovative partnership project to help increase police capability in the prevention, investigation, operational management and understanding of harassment and stalking online. The project is the result of a bid to the Police Innovation Fund and will involve the development of a cyber risk assessment tool, an evidence-gathering app and a training intervention programme for standard risk harassment cases.

For further information or to interview a member of Cyberharassment team please contact

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