Research helping to safeguard children across the world

Researchers from the University of Liverpool are working with the National Crime Agency (NCA) to develop online child protection tools that support law enforcement agencies in the UK and internationally to safeguard children.

The tools enable officers to quickly, easily, and reliably identify indecent images of children (IIOC) offenders who, from the available intelligence, are most likely to also commit contact sexual offences against children, allowing the police to take action.

The University of Liverpool team, led by Professor Laurence Alison, has worked with the NCA since 2011 on a number of projects, including developing KIRAT (the Kent Internet Risk Assessment Tool), as part of an EU collaborative project led by researchers at the University’s Institute of Population Health and, originally, Kent Police. KIRAT is used to risk assess people who view indecent images of children on the internet. This helps police assess the level of risk posed by a suspect and the likelihood of that person becoming a contact offender.

The team’s latest research project, funded by the Home Office, applied KIRAT version 2 to a new dataset, comprising of almost 500 offender casefiles from across the UK, with the results supporting its validity. The study confirmed KIRAT’s excellent discriminatory ability, and its utility and robustness as an evidenced-based tool to assist in risk and resource management of IIOC cases.

The review process identified various issues around the application of KIRAT, with some variability in the way forces used and completed the form. Many of these were traced back to deviation from training standards and guidance provided to new users.

Working together with the NCA, the University team consulted with users and practitioners, considering potential revisions and changes to the tool. Most of these recommendations related to language and structure of the tool, not impacting the fundamental ability to discriminate between known suspects.

This review process has resulted in minor revisions to the language in individual steps within KIRAT, with no changes to the fundamental structure of the tool.

Launch of online course

To ensure consistent use and completion of KIRAT, the university team has created a dedicated online training course. Dr Michael Humann and Dr David Sherlock, from the University’s Centre for Educational Development and Support (CEDS) worked with academics from the research team, as well as practitioners from the NCA, the College of Policing (CoP) and specialist police units from across the UK to develop a comprehensive online training package. This provides a detailed overview of the KIRAT tool, including its development, application, and structure. The course will provide law enforcement officers and staff with the relevant knowledge to deploy the tool in child sexual abuse (CSA) investigations, specifically those involving IIOC.

This course is intended for all law enforcement officers and staff working in the area of CSA, tasked with investigating individuals suspected of committing IIOC offences. The course is securely hosted by the CoP and will be rolled out to all 43 Home Office police forces in England and Wales, Police Service of Northern Ireland, as well as Police Scotland. It is anticipated that more than 500 officers will complete this course in the first three months following its launch, ensuring all specialist teams have access to the latest version of the tool.

Professor Laurence Alison, the project lead, said: “This collective effort is a great example of how we can produce evidence-based research, in partnership with practitioners, that is relevant and solution-focused, assisting those on the front line.”

This revised setup represents a significant uplift in capability providing the opportunity for officers to complete training as soon as required by their role.  Further, the course will remain available to new starters, and the university team will continue working together with the NCA and the CoP, to ensure training remains relevant and up-to-date.