The hidden reality of sexual assault in Iran

Featured

Atlas Torbati explores what sexual assault means in Iranian society and how discursive practices influence individuals’ perceptions and definitions towards sexual assault.

“Every time I go to the bazar I’m concerned about my outfit. I make sure that I wear something loose and conservative and not to wear too much make up”. Said Bahareh, 25, a student inTehran.

Sexual assault is a hidden phenomenon in Iran. There is hardly any academic research or official data or report on the number of victims and conviction rates. Media tries to avoid publishing reports and cases of sexual assault due to the strict censorship existed in Iranian society. Research into the prevalence of sexual assault is difficult for various reasons. Firstly, people avoid reporting such incidents to the police since they fear it jeopardises the honour and reputation of the family. Secondly, some forms of sexual assaults such as verbal abuse have become socially accepted to the extent that some women turn the blind eye towards it, resulting in an increase its acceptance and its frequency. Thirdly, in order to protect public morality, the government does not publish reports on sexual assault cases. Therefore, there are no official statistics on the number of reported incidents or related conviction rates.

On the other hand, the media and government try to relate sexual assault to women’s own behaviour and lack of observing cultural and religious norms and practices. In Iran, women are expected to conform with cultural and social norms such as wearing manteau – the medium-length light jacket and scarf,and are expected to be modest in order to protect the family honour. Therefore those who become the victims of sexual assault are blamed for lack of observance of these norms. Culturally any form of sexual assault, harm, or abuse to a woman’s reputation is considered disgraceful and shameful. This is due to the deep-rooted cultural and religious concept of honour and its related ethical values embedded in society.

Discourses such as shame and honour play a key role in the subservience of victims of violence. These discourses are entrenched in individuals’ everyday lives and preclude the victims of violence to talk about or report sexual assault since it is considered as a private matter and must be kept at home. The existence of such norms and practices results in ignoring the abuse and the creation of silence among the witnesses and the victims.

The term sexual assault does not exist in the Islamic Penal Law in Iran. The closest definitions to sexual assault are adultery (1) or physical assault (2). However, none of these definitions include sexual harassment or sexual verbal abuse. Also the notion of consent is missing in the later definition. The absence of a legal definition and the related guidelines have resulted in increasing the power of judges to use their personal view and their attitudes towards victims in determining the seriousness of sexual assault cases. The absence of a definition also has resulted in acts such as sexual groping, touching and sexual verbal abuse not being recognised as a form of sexual assault. The consequence of this inconsistency is that many women might be unsure whether the definitions would lead them to be qualified as a victim or not although it is against the public morality For instance, some women who participated in this study did not categorise themselves as victims and perceived groping, sexual touching and sexual verbal abuse as normal behaviours. The Islamic Penal Law does not therefore provide any protection for the victims of sexual assault. The paradoxical approach to sexual assault has resulted in repetition and hence normalisation of this form of violence.

Recently, sexual assault has been the focus of social workers, woman activists and Iranian filmmakers. Movies such as, ‘I am a mother’ and ‘Hush! Girls don’t scream’ have broken the taboo in Iranian film industry and showed the sensitivity and consequences of the subject. These movies that were produced and funded by the private sectors, mainly focused on issue of rape and the second one directed was about a girl who was continuously sexually assaulted by the security man in their residential building during her childhood. Therefore, more attention still needs to be paid to this issue through educating families and children, publishing the reports and cases in news papers and magazines, creating space in the media to break the stigma associated with sexual assault and holding public discussion where the victims can freely come and talk about their experience. Policy makers must provide high quality provision of counselling and advocacy and commit themselves to design the policies that promote gender equality and addressing shortfalls in criminal justice system. They must attempt to design a rigorous law that clearly defines what sexual assault is. The law must not only sanction discrimination by gender, but also must protect women instead of accusing them and define specific punishment for the perpetrators.

Atlas Torbati is currently studying for a PhD in Social Work at the School for Policy Studies.

 

[1] Adultery or ‘zena be onf va ekrah ‘ is defined as forcible male penile insertion into the female’s vagina or anus. If someone has sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent and when she is drowsy, unconscious or drunk he is convicted of adultery and death penalty (Islamic Penal Law 2000)

[2] Verbal assault is defined as any verbal offence or indecent language towards women and children in public and a person who commits verbal assault in public is punished by three to six months of imprisonment or 74 lashes (Act 608, Islamic Penal Law 2000).

How far do faith communities facilitate justice for victims of domestic violence?

Featured

Dr Natasha Mulvihill, a lecturer in Criminology and a researcher at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, discussed the use of religious community mechanisms as a means of securing justice for victims of domestic violence.

For women (and men) who practice a faith, the imam, rabbi or priest may be among the first contacts in seeking support for domestic violence and abuse (DVA). Faith communities also have the power to annul a religious marriage or grant a religious divorce through religious tribunals, councils or courts. The experience of domestic abuse victims who use these religious mechanisms has received minimal academic attention in England and Wales.

The Justice Project

Since October 2015, members of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol, in partnership with University of the West of England (UWE), Cardiff University and Women’s Aid, have been working on an Economic and Social Research Council funded project looking at how ‘justice’ is understood, sought and experienced by victim-survivors of gender-based violence (GBV). Interviews were conducted with 251 victim-survivors and over 40 practitioners working to support them. The research team was particularly interested in exploring how different social identities and inequalities intersect with the perceptions and experiences of justice – including the influence of faith.

At the Justice Project findings conference at the University of Bristol on 15 May 2018, Dr Nadia Aghtaie, Dr Hilary Abrahams and I presented our respective analysis on how far Muslim Sharia Councils, the Jewish Battei Din and Catholic Matrimonial Tribunals afford ‘justice’ to victims of DVA. I highlight here some findings from interviews with Catholic practitioners, including Diocesan safeguarding officers, an NGO worker and a Canon Lawyer (Canon law is the system of laws and legal principles made and enforced by the Catholic Church; it is not civilly binding in England and Wales).

Read more…

This article was first published on the LSE blog on 25 June 2018.

How transformed is care?

Featured

Dr Sandra Dowling, a lecturer in Disability Studies at the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies discusses deinstitutionalisation in the context of the Transforming Care Policy programme.

People with learning disabilities are still, in some circumstances, leading institutionalised lives – the Transforming Care programme has a long way to go, and we must not forget those people with learning disabilities with the highest levels of ‘need’ who are experiencing the highest level of separation from an ordinary life. Recent decades have seen significant changes in the lives of people with learning disabilities in the UK. Once routinely institutionalised, distanced from home communities or their Right to a life like any other, people with learning disabilities were relegated to the shadows of the everyday and had limited opportunity to effect change. This article suggests these issues might still be affecting too many people with learning disabilities in 2018.

Advocacy and activism amongst people with learning disabilities and their allies has been a powerful force in altering the opportunities available to some people. To be respected, to be heard, to have choice and to really have the chance of a life like any other have been common demands. For many people these demands, these requests, have to some extent been realised. In the UK today some people with learning disabilities live in a home they have chosen, some have a job, some have regular contact with family and friends and some feel part of their community. Too many do not.

The challenge to realise the fundamental human rights of this section of the population is ongoing. The urgency of the challenge is very much determined by personal position. If you are a person with learning disabilities or indeed an ally, these challenges are of course urgent. Although recent policy does commit to a transformation in social care for people with learning disabilities, urgency to transform this to practice is not consistently apparent.
Major policy initiatives and legislation in recent years have produced a convincing rhetoric to support ideas of individual autonomy, inclusion and a role in decision making about important life matters. The Care Act 2014, for instance, details guidance for adult social care which, importantly, includes the principle of individual wellbeing. In practice wellbeing involves people having control of their day to day life, living in suitable accommodation and being able to contribute to society. It is a requirement of The Act that local authorities take people’s views, wishes and beliefs into consideration, and that their efforts support what people themselves want to achieve in their own lives.

The Transforming Care Policy Programme produced a raft of reports, guidance and policy following the shocking abuse of people with learning disabilities residing in Winterbourne View Assessment and Treatment Unit. The overall aim of Transforming Care has been about improving health and social care services to enable people to live in the community, to have good support and to be close to home. It aimed to address the high numbers of people with learning disabilities living for too long in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATU), often at a long distance from their families and without adequate discharge planning. However, since the scandal broke in 2011, and following a robust policy response, little has changed. The numbers of people in ATU settings has remained stubbornly high, provision of sufficient support in the community has not met need and discharge remains an elongated process for many.

Narratives of Home, a study funded by the NIHR School for Social Care Research, conducted within the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies (NFCDS), has interviewed 18 people with learning disabilities and three parents of people discharged from Assessment and Treatment Units (ATU) during the lifetime of Transforming Care. This narrative study has collected people’s stories of resettlement in the community following their hospital stay. Of those interviewed, 12 were male and 6 were female. Time spent in ATU settings ranged from 4 – 20 years. The legacy of institutional living clearly impacted on their resettlement experiences.

The factors which are identified as important to individuals are just what you would expect. Security, choice, a valued social role, friendships, fun and the opportunity to take pleasure in things which are important to you. But what is different is that the people that we interviewed, even though living in the community, still often live within parameters defined by others. Some described their attempts to ‘get out’ of the ATU by ‘doing what the doctors said’ or ‘just do what you are told, keep your head down, get through all the programmes and hope for the best’. These experiences travelled beyond the walls of the ATU into their now ’independent’ lives in the community. In interview people checked with present support workers whether they were saying the ‘right thing’, or whether it was ‘ok to say this’. Some were so heavily medicated that they could not remain awake throughout the interview.

Choice and autonomy was found in things such as choosing how to decorate your home, or what to have for a meal. A deeper sense of independence of thought and action though, remained elusive for some. Institutionalisation, just as a hundred, or fifty or twenty years ago produces the same results. It dis-empowers individuals, depleting independence of thought and sense of self. A good life happens at a deeper level than what can be seen on the surface of community living. The need to address issues of identity and equality remain pertinent. Deinstitutionalisation remains a goal.

Motivating Miles: Reflections on why The Daily Mile might be tapping in to children’s natural motivation.

Featured

Dr Simon Sebire, Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, reflects on the success of the physical activity initiative, The Daily Mile.

Ten days ago I had the pleasure of being involved in the launch of The Daily Mile in Guernsey. The Daily Mile has been taken on by most schools on the Island in the last 9 months and Thursday 24th June was a celebration of the work here to date. Elaine Wyllie, the founder of The Daily Mile and John, Elaine’s husband, were in Guernsey to support the launch. This included a tour of Daily Miles at various schools around the island, a celebration mile and lunch and a special mile for some pupils around the beautiful Government House (the residence of the Lieutenant-Governor, the Crown’s personal representative in the Bailiwick of Guernsey).

It was whilst walking the mile around the Government House grounds (being lapped by happy, rosy-cheeked children in the process) that Elaine and I began discussing how my research on people’s motivation for physical activity and developing interventions could help explain why children and schools in Guernsey and around the world seem so taken by The Daily mile phenomenon.

Elaine explained her take on this by beginning the following conversation:

Elaine: Think of a happy memory you had as a child, but don’t tell me what it is.

Me: (thinking…)

Elaine: Now tell me, were you inside or outside?

Me: Outside

Elaine: Were you on your own or with others?

Me: With others

Elaine: Were you in the supervision of adults?

Me: Sort of … at a distance

(By the way, my happy memory was of when I was 7 or 8, a hot summer day, building a sand boat with family and friends to sit in as the tide rose up Port Grat beach in Guernsey. I was outside, with other children and parents were involved sporadically, but letting us play freely.)

In identifying a happy memory, Elaine had just revealed some of the core principles of The Daily Mile. These include a focus on having fun, being non-competitive, being outside and in nature, connecting with other pupils/teachers, being a simple intervention, being fully inclusive and owned by the children (i.e., jog or run at their own pace).

These core principles chime with the fundamental elements of much of my research into physical activity motivation. Using a psychological framework called Self-Determination Theory (or SDT) I have studied the foundations of and outcomes linked with high quality motivation for physical activity in children and adults. According to this approach, a person’s motivation is deemed to be high quality when it is autonomous, in other words when motivation stems from the enjoyment of being active, the satisfaction one gets from being active (or doing a mile), a feeling that being active is in harmony with a person’s sense of who they are, or that being active brings them personally valued benefits (e.g., meeting pupils in other year groups or getting fitter). People have these kinds of motivation for being active when they experience SDT’s core principles; Autonomy, Belonging and Competence (A, B, C).

Autonomy: Feelings of volition, freedom, choice, ownership and empowerment

Belonging: Feeling strong connections with others, included, understood and respected

Competence: Feeling capable, able to master a skill or task.

Importantly, according to the theory, we need to experience the A, B and C in our daily lives, interactions and activities to have optimal well-being, development and functioning.

In a number of studies (referenced below) over the last 10 years or so, my colleagues and I have found evidence to support the idea that when children and adults feel that their A, B and C is satisfied when thinking about being active, they experience high quality, autonomous motivation and that this is linked with greater physical activity. Common to all of these studies is the finding that motivation based on enjoyment and/or personal value is linked to physical activity, whereas motivation based on guilt or external pressure (such as rewards, or demands from others) is not. Accordingly, we have designed a number of physical activity interventions for children and adolescents with the A, B and C of motivation in mind.

When viewing The Daily Mile through this motivational lens, it is possible to see how the intervention expresses the A, B and C:

Of course, my retro-fitting of SDT principles to The Daily Mile is just one lens through which to study its broad appeal and apparent motivating effect on pupils. However, it is entirely possible for interventions which grow from the ground up to align in many ways with what is known from behavioural or psychological sciences even if they did not set out to do this from the start. Aligning the core principles of The Daily Mile with a framework such as SDT’s A, B, C may also allow the intervention to stay faithful to its design as it is adopted and potentially adapted in schools around the world.

I would argue that unknowingly, when implemented in line with its core principles, The Daily Mile could be tapping in to a well-known, evidence based and positive source of motivation for physical activity. At its core The Daily Mile is simple. Perhaps it is as simple as A, B, C.

Dr Simon Sebire is Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity & Public Health in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol. He is also Interim Chief Executive of The Health Improvement Commission for Guernsey and Alderney.

References

  1. Are parents’ motivations to exercise and intention to engage in regular family-based activity associated with both adult and child physical activity?
  2. Testing a self-determination theory model of children’s physical activity motivation: a cross-sectional study.
  3. Predicting objectively assessed physical activity from the content and regulation of exercise goals: evidence for a mediational model.
  4. Examining intrinsic versus extrinsic exercise goals: cognitive, affective, and behavioral outcomes.
  5. What motivates girls to take up exercise during adolescence? Learning from those who succeed.
  6. Does exercise motivation predict engagement in objectively assessed bouts of moderate-intensity exercise? A self-determination theory perspective.

The Social Disinvestment State Unleashed

Featured

Dr Noemi Lendvai-Bainton, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Urban and Public Policy at the School for Policy Studies, discusses the recent Hungarian election and how it reflects the trend towards political populism & the rise of illiberal democracies.

After a very long and rather Kafkaesque election night in Hungary, FIDESZ secured a victory for a third term of governing with a two-thirds majority. After eight years in government, the vote for the radical right in fact increased, with both Fidesz (49% of votes) and Jobbik (a far–right party with 19% of the votes) gaining more votes than four years ago. Tellingly, Orban in his victory speech thanked ethnic Hungarians living abroad (largely dual citizens of Romania, Ukraine and Serbia with voting rights) who ‘defended Hungary’, he thanked his Polish friends and Kaczyński, and he gave thanks for all the prayers (with no end to religious references).

The campaign was a single-issue, emotively hostile and negative campaign, focusing on the migration issue and financier/philanthropist George Soros, that erased public policy as a matter for debate all together – the end of an era when negative campaigns can’t be electorally successful, it seems. A déjà vu of the Brexit campaign in which the migration issue captured the public discourse.

This Hungarian result talks to a lot of different issues. It reflects a deep division between the capital Budapest, where the opposition won by a two-thirds majority, and the ‘country’ (countryside) where Fidesz won almost outright. It reflects on the widespread and significant institutional ‘reforms’ in the country which confidently delivered votes in small towns and in villages through channels of appointed officials, public finances, and EU funds (no need for subtle pressures here – civil servants were asked to take a photo of their ballot papers and email it to a central account; Kindergarten teachers were told to hand out Easter chocolate to parents as a ‘gift’ from Fidesz). The election result also points to the fact that corruption has become normalized – despite unprecedented levels of corruption concerning both EU funds as well as public funds, the government secured its third term.

No longer can one think that populism is a short-term political project. Orban can now thrive on the basis that his legitimacy with a high turn-out (70%) at the election makes him a stronger leader than many of his counterparts in (Western) Europe. His anti-EU rhetoric is expected to intensify in the coming months and years and he is already working hard on building a new transnational coalition against ‘liberal’ Western Europe and to evict all NGOs from the country that have political missions.

Read more…

This article was first published in Social Europe on 19 April 2018.

Justice for victims of sexual abuse and harassment. Lessons for Westminster?

Featured

Dr Lis Bates is a researcher in gender-based violence at the School for Policy Studies, and a former clerk of the House of Commons

The problem with Westminster

As a former clerk of the House of Commons, the recent Newsnight coverage(i) depicting a culture of unchecked bullying and sexual harassment by some MPs took me by surprise. Not because of the allegations: the stories reported, and many more, have long been open secrets in Westminster. But because, for the first time, the corrosive culture of normalising this behaviour was revealed. What is new is that the careful investigation of reporters Chris Cook and Lucinda Day has exposed a pattern of abusive Members not being held to account, and a historic management culture of quietly moving victims who speak out. This is a culture which has normalised the acceptance of bullying behaviour, refused to shine a light on the bullies, and thus tacitly condoned it. This is the same cultural quicksand which led us to Weinstein, Bennell and Saville: a wilful collective blindness.

The Newsnight investigation showed that some victims were believed but no action taken, and others’ accounts were minimised. The problem is, the effect is the same–a silencing of an individual’s voice, and an absence of justice. The House of Commons management’s ill-judged initial response to the story eloquently illustrates this: denying that there is any longer a problem, and insisting on looking forward with a zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment sits jarringly with a refusal to look at past cases, and a policy under which not a single claim of sexual harassment has progressed even to mediation.

In this context, the publication on 8th February of cross-party working group recommendations to strengthen Parliament’s response to harassment, bullying and sexual harassment at Westminster(ii), and the setting up of working groups to beef up grievance policies and drive cultural change, are to be welcomed. The proposals finally start to strengthen an investigatory and sanctions system which for years has been notoriously weak, characterised by handing decision-making powers back to political parties, an absence of accountability for those who abuse their power, and consequently a significant lack of faith in the system by those who might be victims of harassment.

Since the Newsnight story broke, what has increasingly struck me is the parallels with the experiences of victims of sexual and domestic abuse: being disbelieved, discredited, or blamed for ‘bringing it on themselves’, for being weak or not resilient.

Current research from the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff and UWE (Justice, Inequality and Gender-Based Violence (hereafter ‘Justice project’)(iii), led by Professor Marianne Hester and funded by the ESRC, is casting new light on why sexual abuse and harassment cases require handling with particular care. During 2016-17, the research team interviewed over 250 victims of domestic and sexual abuse and harassment to ask “What is justice?”. The answer, it seems, is humblingly simple: being listened to, getting a genuine apology, and being given a voice. There are some direct lessons from our findings for Westminster, as it seeks to respond to sexual harassment, abuse and bullying.

Sexual harassment is about power inequality and rarely occurs in a vacuum

As with other interpersonal abuse, at its core, sexual harassment is about power inequalities which allow one person to exploit another with impunity. It often overlaps with other forms of harassment and abuse. In the Justice project, over a third (39%) of interviewees reported having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace or on the street. Over two-thirds of these women also reported having experienced rape or domestic abuse. The figures confirm that these experiences rarely operate in isolation: sexual harassment and violence frequently occurs as part of a continuum which disproportionately affects women.(iv)

The dynamics of sexual harassment and abuse in Westminster are even more particular. The exploitation of one individual’s power over another is exponentially magnified when the dynamics of an employer-employee relationship, and the power hierarchies of political structures, are fed into the mix. Added to this, the political setting means that (alleged) perpetrators can often use (implicit or explicit) intimidation tactics to undermine or discredit victims, and victims are often shamed or intimated into silence. This toxic cocktail was recognised by Caroline Lucas MP in describing the dynamics of power in Westminster which allows some MPs to get away with belittling and humiliation tactics against staff.(v)

It is therefore important that the working group report has recognised the particularities of sexual harassment, and proposed a separate process and systems of remedy and support from that for complaints of non-sexual bullying and harassment. It is important, too, that plans are underway to provide specific and specialised training to MPs, Peers and staff across Parliament about sexual harassment.

What victims/survivors want

Central to the deliberations of those investigating current and future provision, are the voices of those who experience sexual harassment and abuse.

To be listened to. Part of the process of justice, victims told the Justice project, was being given the space and place to say what’s happened, and be heard. A strong theme throughout our interviews was the importance victims placed on external recognition that harm was done. This was very often the first response to the question “What is justice?” and, for many, overrode ideas of punishment or revenge. As one female victim of domestic abuse and sexual harassment said, “he doesn’t accept that there’s anything wrong–and that isn’t justice to me. Justice would have been a realisation on his part that what he did was utterly dreadful and the impact it had was utterly dreadful”.

Here again is a parallel with Westminster–it is striking that all the alleged perpetrators of sexual bullying have vigorously denied engaging in any harmful behaviour. One has even gone so far as claiming to even have no memory of working with the victim. And, the historic management response of moving victims has the effect of strengthening the same message that the victim is to blame. Participants in the Justice project identified this pattern of behaviour when asked to define what “injustice” meant to them. One female victim of sexual harassment, domestic abuse and child rape said, “that person… does something wrong but then tries to put the blame onto the person they’ve actually done wrong by”.

The perpetrator to be held accountable. This was the other side of the same coin. It was very important to victims that the perpetrator take (at least partial) responsibility for the harm done. For many victims, ideally this would come from the perpetrator themselves, and involve a genuine apology and expression of remorse. But in many cases this had not happened. Here, the next best thing was for another party (the state, the police, their friends and family) to offer this recognition, and to hold the perpetrator (rather than the victim) responsible.

To have choice, control and voice in the process. Another key element in achieving justice for victims was getting back some control over what happened to them. This meant informed choices about what remedies they could pursue, and being put at the centre of decision-making about their case. The Justice project is finding that those experiencing violence and abuse sometimes choose not to pursue public or punitive justice options for a range of reasons, including fear of retaliation or consequences and concern for their status or assets (which, in the case of workplace sexual harassment, could be their job or professional reputation). This makes it vital that they can access a range of remedies when making a complaint. In part, this is because they often have had power and control taken away from them as part of the abuse or harassment. Offering them some control over the process therefore becomes an important part of justice.

For some victims (generally those not experiencing abuse from an intimate partner), a facilitated dialogue with the perpetrator offered an opportunity to have a voice, express the impact of the harm done to them, and create the space for the perpetrators to hear the victim and express remorse. This was especially true when the abuse had occurred within a closed or tight-knit (e.g. activist, traveller, religious) community, where victims often faced additional barriers to reporting abuse because they feared losing their membership of the community–for instance, being ostracised, disbelieved or expelled. These contexts affected the choices victims made about reporting, and have parallels with victims who are members of other closed groups like political parties. In the case of one victim we interviewed, the community organised an informal meeting between them and the perpetrator. For her this showed that the community recognised the harm done, and held the perpetrator to account.

Great care is required with mediation or guided discussion approaches in contexts (like Westminster) where there has been a history of institutional downgrading and minimising of complaints. In these cases, it is even more vital to make sure that victims are taken seriously, that specialists who understand the dynamics of sexual violence are engaged, and that remedies should always include options for punitive sanctions alongside any less formal routes.
However, there is growing evidence that less formal justice approaches can play an important part in some cases of sexual harassment, but only when they involve specialist mediators who can recognise power imbalances (including gender) and challenge abusive behaviours through a process of ‘transformational mediation’.(vi vii) Such mediation only works when it is voluntary and other options are also available to the parties involved. (viii) It should never be used as an alternative ‘first step’ in responding to allegations of sexual harassment, since the process by which a perpetrator accepts responsibility for their actions often requires a more formal investigation or finding of facts. But it can form part of an overall response. If not managed by specialists, mediation approaches can perpetuate harm; but when victims are properly supported by specialists who can reduce the intensity of their participation, they are valued by victims because of the recognition involved.(ix)

Support through specialist advocacy. The evidence from the Justice project and elsewhere (x xi xii) is unequivocal on the importance and effectiveness of specialist victim advocacy. Specialist sexual violence advocates play a crucial role in supporting victims using counselling, emotional support through court/other justice processes, practical help, and referrals to other support agencies. Advocates also can change cultures in other agencies and actors through so-called “institutional advocacy”.(xiii) The Justice project has examined over 400 police rape case files and found a statistically significant link between victims receiving support from a specialist sexual violence advocate and a criminal charge being made.

This body of evidence underlines the importance of victims getting targeted advocacy support from specialists who understand the dynamics of gendered abuse and harassment. In this light, it is positive that the Commons working group proposals include the commissioning of specialist ISVA support for any complainants. Such support should not be contingent on what resolution or justice processes victims choose to follow–it is a vital element irrespective of whether the route to remedy is an internal process, a formal resolution, or criminal justice.

Moving forward

Victims of sexual abuse and harassment want to be listened to, taken seriously, for the perpetrator to be held accountable, and to be able to make their own, balanced, choices about what happens next. Our society, and criminal justice system, does not yet get this right. The same is true of Westminster, where the culture for many years has been one of minimising and victim-blaming on a corporate scale. The new proposals from the Commons working group are a good step towards addressing this, and the most recent indications from the House authorities suggest a renewed commitment to change. There is rightly a focus on adequate sanctions–for too long this has been a deficit. But culture change is just as important, in particular reversing the practice of dismissing or moving victims, in favour of shining a bright light on the harassers.

The litmus test of any new system must be: if these events occurred today, would those victims feel able to come forward, be listened to, and have faith in the system and its decision-makers to deliver justice for them? Unfortunately, this is not yet the case. As the working group’s staff survey found, a majority of those who had made a report under existing procedures were dissatisfied with the choices given them for next steps, and the same proportion dissatisfied with the level of understanding shown about what an appropriate remedy, outcome or sanction would be from their own perspective. Similarly, the quotes from serving Commons employees following the management’s initial response to the Newsnight story clearly showed a lack of confidence, even disbelief and anger.

The current public spotlight gives an impetus and opportunity for meaningful and lasting change. But, there is one big piece still missing. How can there be confidence in the system if those who are widely known to have transgressed are still alllowed to get away scot-free? There needs to be proper investigation and justice for those who have already suffered. Recent criminal investigations (Saville, Bennell, sexual exploitation of girls in Rotherham) have shown that, even in historic cases, perpetrators can and should be held to account for their actions. Should Parliament and the political parties not now do the same?

[i] Newsnight, 2018a [TV]. BBC2. 8th March. 22.30.
[ii] Parliament (2018) Cross-party Working Group on an Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy: Report.
[iii] The research team will be publishing a range of papers from the project during 2018, including on models and victim perspectives of justice, criminal justice attrition in rape and domestic abuse cases, procedural justice, child contact in domestic abuse cases, BME womens’ experiences of justice, Sharia and other religious arbitration.
[iv] Kelly L. (1987) The Continuum of Sexual Violence. In: Hanmer J., Maynard M. (eds) Women, Violence and Social Control. Explorations in Sociology (British Sociological Association Conference Volume series). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
[v] Today programme, 2018 [Radio]. BBC Radio 4. 9th March. 06.00
[vi] McCormick, M.A. (1997) ‘Confronting social injustice as a mediator’, Mediation Quarterly, Vol 14, 4.
[vii] Irvine, M. (1993) ‘Mediation: Is it appropriate for sexual harassment grievances?’ Ohio State Journal On Dispute Resolution. Vol 9, 1.
[viii] McLay, Leah (2009) “Workplace bullying: To mediate or not?,” ADR Bulletin: Vol. 11: No. 1, Article 1. Available at: http://epublications.bond.edu.au/adr/vol11/iss1/1
[ix] Fileborn, B. and Vera-Gray, F. (2017) ‘“I want to be able to walk the street without fear”: Transforming justice for street harassment’, Feminist Legal Studies 25: 203-227.
[x] Hester, M. and Lilley, S.J. (2017) ‘More than support to court: Rape victims and specialist sexual violence services’, International Review of Victimology 1-16.
[xi] Howarth, E., Stimpson, L., Barran, D. and Robinson, A. (2009) ‘Safety in Numbers: Summary of Findings and Recommendations from a Multi-site Evaluation of Independent Domestic Violence Advisors’.
[xii] SafeLives (2017) ‘Insights Idva England and Wales dataset 2016-17’.
[xiii] Coy, M. and Kelly, L. (2011) ‘Islands in the Stream: an evaluation of four London independent domestic violence advocacy schemes’. London: London Metropolitan University.

No single food or nutrient is to blame for obesity, so what is the right balance?

Featured

Dr Laura Johnson, Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, discusses her new paper in which she assesses the impact of dietary patterns on obesity and how modelling may help influence change in both personal habits and public policy.

No single food or nutrient is to blame for obesity. There so many routes from diet to overeating and weight gain, and in real life foods and nutrients aren’t eaten on their own. So, it’s misleading to look at foods that way in research, it’s the overall balance of diet that matters.

I realised this a while ago when I  used detailed records of food intake from children age 5 and 7 in the ALSPAC cohort to generate an overall diet score that predicted obesity later on. I thought that eating more fat, less fibre, and having a more energy dense diet (more calories in each bite) would all feature in a diet that fuels obesity (or an ‘obesogenic’ diet). I used reduced rank regression or RRR (a pimped up version of factor analysis, see excellent explanation by Andy Field here) to find the best combination of foods to capture differences in the fat, fibre and energy density of the children’s diets. RRR generates a score based on what you eat. It’s calculated by adding up the intake (grams/day) of 42 groups of foods that are weighted for importance and a higher score means your diet is more obesogenic. I showed that children with the highest pattern score at age 7 were 4 times more likely to have too much fat by the time they were 9 years old (other researchers have since seen similar associations in adolescence and adulthood).

A pretty strong result, right? But, what use is a score made up of 42 foods? Isn’t it too complicated to ever be the basis for changing behaviour? I don’t think so, not if we use computers to deal with the complex calculations. All we need to know is what foods have been eaten (by individuals or populations) and then the obesogenic score can be computed automatically. We would then have a single score indicating whether the overall balance of your diet (or the Nation’s diet if thinking in policy terms) is more or less obesogenic. A total diet score would be better than current measures which only focus on fruits and vegetables or sugar-sweetened drinks, which let’s be honest, no one believes are going to solve the obesity epidemic on their own!

In our latest paper we asked “Do the same foods make up an obesogenic diet regardless of whether you are young or old, boy or girl, rich or poor?” (Because the ALSPAC score might only matter to children living in Bristol in the late ‘90s) “Who in the UK has a more obesogenic diet?” (Because those people need the most help to change) and “Are diets getting more obesogenic over time?” (Because that might suggest national obesity policy isn’t working).

To find some answers we used diet diaries from nearly 10,000 adults and children taking part in the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey between 2008 and 2014. We repeated the RRR in different groups and found it was remarkably stable – the same foods came out as most important to an obesogenic diet over and over again. So, we can feel confident that the obesogenic pattern score and that way foods are weighted by importance reflects the way everyone eats in the UK today. The most and least obesogenic foods we found were (sized and in order of importance):

In terms of whose diets are most imbalanced we found massive social gradients with those in manual jobs and households earning less than £15,000/year having the most obesogenic diets, which mirrors social inequalities in obesity prevalence. Among children, diets became more obesogenic between 2011 and 2014. Among adults a more obesogenic diet went hand in hand with more time spent watching shows on TV/Laptops/Tablets, less physical activity, and eating takeaways more frequently.

All these trends are a starting point for targeting and testing interventions designed to make small changes across a range of foods to shift the balance of diet. By using our score, it could be possible to gauge how multiple changes to policy or what we eat adds up to a less obesogenic diet and with luck prevent obesity in future.

Disability needs to be central in creating a more just and equal society

Featured

Professor Val Williams, from the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, discusses tackling disabled practices and how we all have a part to play in getting things changed.

When times get tough, disabled people always seem to go to the bottom of the pile. It’s as if the problem of ‘disability’ is always one step too far, or something which cannot be contemplated until everything else is sorted out. For instance, the debates about BREXIT have centred on trade agreements and free movement of citizens. How often do we talk about the rights of disabled people, and how they may be protected under existing EU legislation?

The UK itself has laws to protect disabled people’s rights, with the 2010 Equality Act. But constant vigilance is needed to remind public services that they have a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled people. UK financial cuts are impacting most heavily on disabled people, and a recent report by the charity SCOPE highlights that, on average, for every £100 earned by a disabled person, only £67 is left after disability-related costs.

Disabled people certainly incur additional costs by virtue of their additional needs, but is disability too much of a ‘cost’ for society? We would argue that the reverse is true: economic, political or social crises create moments when disabled people must be at the forefront. This is what we have been documenting in our project ‘Getting Things Changed’ (Tackling Disabling Practices: Co-production and Change).

Disabled people have always faced problems which are created because society is structured without disability in mind.  For instance, the rail transport system assumes that all passengers can step over a gap between a train and the platform, that they can walk to their seat, and indeed that sitting in a ‘standardised’ seat is an option. At a more subtle level, we have also found countless practices in our study which exclude or marginalise disabled people. The way things routinely get done in everyday life can be problematic, and that can include the material infrastructure of a building as well as the ways in which people interact. For instance, people with dementia might rely on familiar, clear signage to find their way in and out of a building, or the facilities in it, but they also need people who will give them time to communicate, or understand how to wait for a response in a respectful way. In parts of our project, we are looking at the barriers disabled patients face in English hospitals. With regular news items about the crisis in the hospital system,  we know that change must happen.

We argue that this is the time to include disabled people, not just as recipients of care, but as change makers. Our project is co-produced with Disability Rights UK and with other groups of disabled people who are actively involved in the research. Given that disability is part of humanity, we should all be working WITH people with disabilities, to create a more just society where all are included.

Understanding a disabling society

So how can we start to understand why things get stuck? Since the 1980s and the introduction of the social model of disability, Disability Studies theory has focused considerable attention on the dichotomy between the social and medical model of disability. There have been continual debates since that time, with UK theorists arguing since the 1980s for a new understanding of disability and impairment. Oliver (2013) sums up neatly what the real issues are now:

“While all this chatter did not matter too much when the economy was booming, now it no longer booms it is proving disastrous for many disabled people whose benefits and services are being severely cut back or removed altogether”

Have disabled people’s lives become more restricted  since the 1980s, or have the concerns of disabled people themselves been overtaken by theoretical debate?  And how can we as activists and academics change that tide? In our recent article from ‘Getting Things Changed’ we argue that we need as a society to go further than debates about ‘what is disability’. The social model directed our attention towards the external barriers facing disabled people, and now we need to find better ways of analysing and understanding those barriers.  Many people use the word ‘culture’ here, to bemoan the difficulties caused by unhelpful attitudes and approaches which can be evident in congregate services such as care homes or hospital. In our study, we have turned towards the ideas of social practice theorists such as Elizabeth Shove, which have helped us to understand  how things get done, how practices get shaped – and therefore how we can get a handle on change.

An example from our wide-ranging project comes from the insights of people with dementia. Since 2009, we have had an English Government policy called ‘Living Well with Dementia’ . What matters for people with dementia is the quality of life they are leading right now, and our work with the ‘Forget-me-Not’ group from Swindon has helped us to unpick what this might mean.

Here are some words from the researchers with dementia from the Forget-me-Not group:

“Everyone will tell you the same thing. You’re diagnosed, and then it’s ‘You’ve got dementia. Go home and we’ll see you next month’. What we need is for someone, like a counsellor or someone else with dementia, to tell us at that point ‘Life isn’t over’.  You can go on for ten or fifteen years. And you’re not told, you’re just left. And I thought, tomorrow my day had come. The fear and the anxiety sets in, and then the depression sets in, doesn’t it? I think when you’re diagnosed, you should be given a book. And on the front of the book, in big letters, it should say: ‘Don’t panic’.”

In terms of social practice theory, these are people who do not want to be seen through a medical lens as individual tragedies, but are turning around the whole meaning of dementia into something where they are in control, can support each other and where they have a voice.  However, social practice theory also reminds us about the importance of material resources. For instance, in order to meet each other and to have a collective sense of peer support, people need to have spaces which are not institutionalised, which they feel they can ‘own’.  All too often, we have seen very well-intentioned group activities taking place in old, large halls, or where people are routinely sitting in configurations which make communication difficult. But we have also seen the Forget-me-Not group, in an ordinary, homely environment, where staff members interact on a basis of equality with the members who have dementia.

This is just one of many examples where we are finding that people CAN do things differently, and where the ‘culture’ can change towards inclusion and empowerment. We hope our research will provide the impetus to take some of this further.

Change will never be completed – but we will be presenting the latest research from our project and discussing some of these ideas at our launch event on 25 May. Book your place now to find out more about the many strands of the project how we can all be change-makers.

This post was written by Prof Val Williams with assistance from Prof Pauline Heslop, Beth Tarleton, Wendy Merchant, Bernd Sass and Joe Webb at the Norah Fry Centre for Centre for Disability Studies.

Rape and sexual harassment: What justice for women?

Featured

Catherine Deneuve criticised the #MeToo campaign

An account of an article by Dr Nazand Begikhani’s first published in France’s Le Monde on 23 January.

A recent statement signed by 100 French women, including Catherine Deneuve (Le Monde, 8 January) criticised the #MeToo campaign and defended the right of men to ‘importune’ in the name of ‘sexual freedom’, claiming that men have been subjected to a ‘witch-hunt’. Both the statement and Deneuve’s response (Liberation, 14 January) advocated that such cases should be left to justice institutions, away from ‘public euphoria’.

I contributed to the debate by publishing an article questioning the nature of justice for women in cases of rape and sexual harassment. Quoting Albert Camus’s famous phrase, ‘between justice and my mother, I chose my mother’, my article highlights the fact that the #MeToo campaigners, like Camus, are not opposed to justice not to men, but to patriarchal ‘violence’, if not ‘terrorism’.’

The article entitled ‘La justice est en retard vis-à-vis des femmes victimes’, refers to studies conducted by our Centre for Gender and Violence Research (CGVR), indicating that criminal justice system is short in establishing the rights of women when it comes to abuse and harassment. It adds that in certain countries, such as Iraq, the law forces raped women to marry their rapists to save the honour of their families.

In Western countries where new strategies have been adopted, it is difficult to bring abusers to justice and when it happens they are rarely condemned. Studies conducted by our Centre affirm that the criminal justice system, which is based on ‘incidence’ approach, undermines their emotional and psychological suffering of women and rarely lead to the condemnation of alleged criminals. Le Monde, via my article, highlights that this approach counters the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993), which stipulates in its definition of Violence Against Women (VAW) all forms of ‘physical, emotional and psychological’ violence.  It reiterates that the public mobilisation and feminist campaigns can have an impact leading to justice in cases of VAW.
The article concludes that, in many places, including in Paris’ suburban zones, in refugee camps in Calais, inside migrant communities as well as in many southern and Mediterranean countries, women could not join the #MeToo campaign to denounce their abusers, fearing revenge and retribution.  It is regrettable that Deneuve’s statement, instead of helping such women in coming forward and expressing themselves, helped reactionary and extremist figures such as Berlusconi who felt he was ‘blessed’ by the statement.

The full article (in French) ‘La justice est en retard vis-à-vis des femmes victimes’ was published in Le Monde on 23 January.

Shaping successful smart cities

Featured

Professor Alex Marsh, Head of the Centre for Urban and Policy Studies (School for Policy Studies) and Co-Investigator for the ESRC/AHRC/JRF Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, responds to the report produced by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smart Cities.

Last month the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smart Cities launched a report entitled Top Tips for City Mayors. The report collated tips provided by members of the group offering key insights, priorities and issues to consider when approaching Smart City development, policy and practice. The APPG report offers more than 50 tips provided by 17 member organisations.

Stephen Hilton and I have taken a look at the tips presented in the report and provided an overview of its key messages. We take the opportunity reflect on some of the points made in the report, note some of the tensions, and highlight issues that deserve greater attention. This analysis is available in our own report: Shaping successful smart cities.

Quite a lot of the Smart City conversation can get bogged down in the digital technologies quite quickly. One of the APPG report’s headline messages is that the Tipsters give a much higher profile to citizens – focus on how smart technologies can meet needs and deliver benefits. The report thus aligns with the more citizen-centred approach that is very much at the centre of Smart City debate right now.

Stephen and I summarize the key messages from the APPG report under five headings: citizens; resources to do the job; priorities for action; data; and partnerships. We then give a flavour for the sorts of arguments being made by the Tipsters under each heading. Download our report to find out more.

In our subsequent reflections we highlight a number of issues that the APPG report does not dwell on but which, in our view, are absolutely vital.

We note that while the rhetoric of the Smart City has embraced the importance of citizens that is not the same as ensuring that citizens are meaningfully involved in practice. Plenty of effort will be needed to make ‘citizen-centred’ development a reality rather than a slogan.

The issues of leadership and governance of the Smart City are increasingly recognised as important, but there is much hard thinking still to do about effective leadership styles and appropriate governance structures and processes.

Smart City approaches are pursued at local level for a variety of reasons: embracing digital is perceived to offer a diverse range of potential benefits. Local smart city policy often has a mix of objectives. Yet these objectives are not necessarily entirely complementary. Hence, we would argue the potential for conflicting priorities needs to be acknowledged and managed.

There is currently much advocacy in favour of Smart City approaches. There is, we submit, an element of hype and hyperbole. The benefits claimed for such approaches run quite a long way ahead of the benefits that have so far been demonstrated. As one Tipster observed, “most potential applications are not yet commercially proven”. That doesn’t mean that benefits are not there to be derived from smart. But it is important to look beyond the hype to probe the when, how and for whom value will be generated. Similarly, there are hard questions to be asked about sustainable business models: who is going to be paying to keep infrastructure and services operational?

Finally, privacy and security are a key component of public debate about our digitally-saturated world. They are equally important in thinking about the Smart City. Applications typically make use of big and open data, which can be gathered from sensors or captured as a byproduct of citizens’ day-to-day online activities. How to we ensure our uses of such data are viewed as legitimate? And how can we ensure that Smart City infrastructures and the data derived from them are secure?

These are not necessarily new questions, and they are not questions to which are no answers. But they need to be kept front and centre of the Smart City conversation.

The APPG Top Tips report offers a quick route to gaining a flavour of current thinking on the Smart City. Our message is to that we need to make sure we keep out eyes on some broader issues of fundamental importance, alongside the specifics of how smart might be put to work for the benefit of citizens.