Professor Nicole Westmarland

Teesside graduate Nicole is Professor of Criminology at Durham University and Co-Director of Durham Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse.

BSc (Hons) Psychology with Women’s Studies

‘Teesside University gave me the first step towards doing something I enjoy and want to do in life, rather than just doing a job.’

Nicole Westmarland

Nicole’s higher education journey started with a BSc (Hons) Psychology with Women’s Studies at Teesside University, graduating in 2000

‘I was working as a taxi driver and decided to go back to college aged 19 studying A-level psychology, sociology, communications and research. I hadn’t intended to go to university until I realised what jobs options I had otherwise. I chose to study psychology at Teesside University and took a module in women’s studies – this initiated my interest in women’s poor treatment as victims of violence. My undergraduate dissertation focused on violence and gender difference in taxi drivers, particularly women taxi drivers – it was published in Security, an academic journal. My undergraduate degree gave me a really solid grounding into how to conduct good social research which has partly underpinned my success as a leading researcher in my field.’

After graduating Nicole gained a scholarship to study an MA Women’s Studies at the University of York. ‘My thesis was a sociological analysis of women’s problem pages during the decades from the 1920s to present day. I called it, Is it just me? noting how women tended to individualise their problems and how they certainly weren’t making any political links.’

She then worked as a research fellow at the University of Stirling interviewing women offenders about their experiences on probation in Scotland. ‘Through my master’s degree and experience in Scotland I found that worse offences were committed against women offenders than those for which they’d been convicted.’

Next came a PhD in social policy and social work, again at York. ‘I focused on rape and human rights, finding that human rights legislation was being used by those convicted or suspected of rape, rather than by the victims.’

As chair of Rape Crisis (England and Wales), a specialist services for women and girls that have been raped, Nicole has been able to draw on her knowledge, which is evidence-based and reflects the reality of women’s situations on the ground.

‘Our research needs to be based in the real world. The more we can engage in real-world experiences, the more real, up-to-date and current our research is. Current austerity measures, for example, are having a bigger impact on women. It will be years before research is published on these changes but if we’re working with women’s groups now, we can see it as it happens and feed that into work, research and evidence-based policies and practices.’

Nicole is now Professor of Criminology at Durham University and Co-Director of Durham Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse. She became a professor aged 35, one of the youngest in the UK, by successfully proving to be a world-leading researcher in her area.

The Centre is currently researching domestic violence perpetrator programmes and whether they make a difference. ‘There’s no evidence yet that they do. We’re interviewing a group of women whose partners have been on the re-education programme and a group whose partners haven’t. We’ll then compare them over time on measures such as whether they and their children are safer over time.’

Nicole also works with senior policymakers – she was special adviser to the government’s Victims of Violence and Abuse Prevention Project, chairing one of its expert groups. And her research has directly underpinned two major government policy reform processes – HM Government’s Stern Review into Rape and the Home Office Co-ordinated Prostitution Strategy. ‘This is an ideal to create research impact – we know that if policymakers are the ones asking the questions, they’ll want to know the answers.’

And her team has also been looking at mobile phone apps around domestic and sexual violence. ‘Most apps available are panic alarms, putting the onus on women to be keep themselves safe. Others, like Track Your Wife, have the potential to be quite dangerous. Whenever you’re looking at positive uses of technology, you’ve got to bear in mind that these can also be used to extend the perpetrators’ control over women. So much domestic violence is a subtle but life limiting control of actions.’

Nicole also finds time to supervise 11 PhD students and leads a master’s module on crime, violence and abuse.

‘Teesside University gave me the first step towards doing something I enjoy and want to do in life, rather than just doing a job.’