Ending gender-based violence: what role does research play?

Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blogs looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.


In this blog, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explores how research from the Centre for Gender and Violence is addressing inequalities and tackling gender-based violence.

Introduction

Gender-based violence describes any harmful act towards individuals or groups on the basis of their gender.

It includes domestic violence which UK law defines as ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.’

Domestic violence is a gendered crime that is unequally experienced by women and perpetrated by men. It is extremely common in the UK. For the year ending March 2019, the ONS estimated 1.6 million women aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse.

Gender-based violence is a well-documented problem and there are many organisations and activists working to stop it. How can research help to address it? Academic staff in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research conduct high quality research, in collaboration with practitioners and activists, to inform action on addressing the inequality that is gender-based violence.

In this blog, I start by explaining why the Centre’s intersectional, inclusive and collaborative approach to research is vital for addressing gender-based violence. I then explain how findings from research projects contribute to ending violence and supporting survivors/victims.

Doing research: why is an intersectional and collaborative approach important?

Intersectionality explains how different social justice issues (e.g. gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age) cross over with one another.

Taking an intersectional approach is important for understanding how different forms of gendered abuse emerge and addressing the needs of marginalised groups who face violence. For example see: Rape, inequality and the criminal justice response in England: the importance of age and gender. This paper takes an intersectional approach and concludes that, ‘(r)esults suggest age and gender are significant factors in how sexual violence, and the criminal justice system (CJS), is experienced. Victims-survivors from BME or LGBTQ+ groups are underrepresented within the CJS, implying these groups are not seeking a criminal justice response in the same way as ‘white’ heterosexual victims-survivors.’

Collaboration with practitioners is also important. As Marianne Hester explains:

“The partnership between practitioners, researchers and activists is absolutely key. We don’t create change if we sit in our little bubbles. We need to work together.”

Using findings: understanding how violence works

The way domestic abuse manifests is constantly changing so it is important to know how violence works and changes in order to act against it, including emerging forms of coercive control. The Understanding and Responding to Coercive Control project addresses a series of important issues in tackling domestic violence and abuse that have not previously been dealt with to any extent, relating specifically to emerging forms of Coercive Control.

Coercive control is defined as an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim, for example the use of chemical restraints (abuse via medication). The project will also look into the use of faith and faith practice as part of coercive control; assess domestic violence incidents recorded by the police for evidence of coercive controlling behaviour; improve measurement of coercive control; explore survivors’ mental health for implications on employment and ability to seek safe accommodation; develop briefings on the relationship between coercive control, financial /economic abuse and housing crises faced by DVA victims-survivors; and briefing on the abuse of pets in the context of coercive control.

Another project will be looking at the questions we ask to collect data about domestic abuse from the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

Conclusion

Research has a role to play in ending gender-based violence, but it does not operate in a silo. The Centre for Gender and violence’s work shows why an intersectional and collaborative approach to research is so important for making change happen.

Read more about some of the issues raised here

Articles and links based on research from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research:

Nine in 10 domestic abusers also target pets, survey finds – The Independent, 24 November 2021

‘My ex-partner would take his anger out on my dog – I’d rather he hurt me’ – The Telegraph, 23 November 2021

Student spikings: universities told to step up prevention efforts – Times Higher Education, 4 November, 2021

‘You couldn’t leave your husband. It just wasn’t done’, The Independent, 02 October 2021

Improving the justice and healthcare response for victims & survivors of gender based violence 

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The benefits of Knowledge Exchange

This Fellowship has allowed us to work collaboratively with a well-respected and established charity, to foster more meaningful relationships with their research, policy, and media teams which will undoubtedly reap future benefits in terms of the sharing of knowledge and expertise in both research and impact activities in the future.

 

Knowledge Exchange Fellowships (KEF) usually involve an academic locating with an organisation or company. This was the first time a Fellow was brought into and located in the University from a National Charity.

The purpose of the KEF was for the Fellow (Lizzie McCarthy from Women’s Aid) alongside Womens Aid staff and UoB staff to: 1) benefit directly from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research’s expertise in compiling and analysing sensitive qualitative data, thereby aiding capacity building for Women’s Aid’s research and policy unit; 2) carry out secondary analysis on an existing dataset (ESRC Justice project) held by CGVR to establish evidence to directly inform national policy debates and practice; and 3) based on Womens Aid’s experience as the national Domestic Violence Charity, for the Fellow to provide specialist seminars for the School on working with Government departments to impact policy.

The Fellowship ran from December 2019 to April 2021 (extended due to covid restrictions).

This exchange of knowledge was made possible by an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), Knowledge Exchange Fellowship awarded to colleagues from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, in collaboration with Women’s Aid In the autumn of 2019.

The IAA focused on exploring the ‘gendered experience of justice and domestic abuse – evidence for policy and practice’, and the final report will be published in a few days time, on 20 July. As such, this is a good opportunity to reflect on what has been a very successful Knowledge Exchange Fellowship process, to identify key elements of learning and offer insights to colleagues who may be interested in doing similar work.

With regard to the KEF project, this proved to be an exciting opportunity to conduct rigorous data analysis to address a key policy problem facing the domestic abuse sector. There were inevitable practical issues in terms of access by the KEF to data and file-stores exacerbated by covid restrictions which limited access to on-site computing equipment.  But by sharing knowledge and approaches, we were able to learn from one another and create a piece of work which is both academically rigorous and policy relevant.  Womens Aid’s extensive practitioner and policy networks have meant that the work has been presented at the national Women’s Aid conference as well as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic and Sexual Violence. Initial presentations of the work to practitioners, academics, and policy makers has been positive and generated much interest and ideas about changes required in policy and practice.  The publication of the report and a related media campaign next week, will ensure that the research’s potential to inform wider public opinion, and challenge the ways sexism and misogyny are used by perpetrators of abuse, are also maximised.

The final report will be launched on 20 July 2021.  This will involve joint press and social media releases of key findings from Womens Aid and UoB, alongside the publication of the report itself.  Developing a joint press strategy for the launch has involved sharing knowledge and expertise across Women’s Aid and the University of Bristol in terms of policy, media, and impact work.

Written by Dr Emma Williamson, Reader in Gender Based Violence with Marianne Hester, Head of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, Sarah-Jane Walker, Senior Research Associate, and Lizzie McCarthy, Knowledge Exchange Fellow, Woman’s Aid.

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Supporting vet practitioners to recognise signs of domestic abuse in animals and their owners: a PhD student-business collaboration

Q&A with Mary Wakeham on the links between domestic abuse and animal abuse, developing and disseminate training resources to veterinary practices around the country and her experience of research/business collaboration.

The research – business partnership

In August 2020, Mary Wakeham – a PhD student in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol – was successful in bidding for an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Accelerating Business Collaboration (ABC) award.  Funded through the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF), the awards seek to build the capacity and capability of social science doctoral students and early career researchers to engage with business.

Mary’s aim was to use her emerging PhD findings into the links between domestic abuse and animal abuse to develop and disseminate training resources to veterinary practices around the country.

To do this, she partnered with Dr Wendy Sneddon, Company Director of the Lodestone Lounge, a Business Coaching, HR and Recruitment Consultancy.  Wendy is also a qualified vet nurse and a Trustee for the Links Group.  The Links Group are an organisation who work to raise awareness about the relationships between the abuse of people and animals through support, training and inter-agency working.

Alongside her PhD research, Mary has founded the charity Refuge4Pets, who foster animals for victim-survivors of domestic abuse so that they can escape to safety before being reunited with their much-loved animals. Mary previously worked as an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate prior to starting her PhD.  The combination of Mary and Wendy’s knowledge and networks was therefore formidable!

The Principal Investigator for the project was Dr Natasha Mulvihill, Lecturer in Criminology and researcher in the Centre of Gender and Violence Research.  Her role was to support Mary as needed through the project.  Here, Natasha interviews Mary about the outcomes of the project and what she learnt.

Q&A

Mary, can you explain briefly the links between animal abuse and domestic abuse?

People often refer to animals as ‘family members’ and ‘best friends’, but for those experiencing domestic abuse, animals may provide their only source of comfort, companionship and love. Perpetrators may exploit this bond that someone has with animals and abuse those animals as a way to coerce and control their partner.

Animals experience similar types of abuse to human victim-survivors including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/psychological abuse and neglect.  Some perpetrators may even kill animals as a way to hurt their partner and demonstrate their power in the relationship. 

And what does your PhD look at?

My PhD it titled, Animal Abuse as a Strategy of Coercive Control. I set out to explore how and why animals are abused in the context of domestic abuse and the implications for victim-survivors (animals and people). I was also interested in exploring the extent to which professionals are aware about the link between domestic abuse and animal abuse and how professionals respond to victim-survivors’ concerns about the welfare of animals.

What did you achieve over the ESRC-ABC project?

Our aim was to develop resources and training to increase veterinary practice managers’ knowledge about domestic abuse, both how it may present in animals and their owners, and how to support practice staff who may be affected.  Over the three-month collaboration period we produced:

  • a one-hour basic domestic abuse training for vet practice teams
  • a guidance document with basic information about the dynamics of domestic abuse, the link with animal abuse, how to spot the signs of abuse and how to support victim-survivors (animals and people)
  • a poster for vet practice staff rooms
  • a poster for vet practice waiting rooms
  • and a short animation to raise awareness about the link between domestic abuse and animal abuse

The resources that Wendy and I produced together are about to be distributed across 5000 vet practices in the UK.

What have been the unintended outcomes of the project?

This collaboration has opened up many new doors for me to talk about my research and awareness about the parallels between the abuse of people and animals. I have also been asked to comment on and provide information for policy and legislative changes.

Through the project, I have developed new professional relationships and have a collaboration in plan with Dogs Trust.  The Links Group have also asked me to join them to coordinate their research subgroup.

Looking back, why did the partnership with Wendy work so well?

Wendy brought to the collaboration expertise in HR and the issues and challenges that veterinary practices face.  I was able to apply my experience working in the field of domestic abuse as well as the new knowledge from my research which explores animal abuse as a strategy of coercive control.  We share a passion and determination for tackling domestic abuse and safeguarding people and animals.  It was a great combination of mutual knowledge and networks.

What were the challenges?

I think the main challenge is around building the relationship with your business partner at the start and having absolute clarity about what you are going to do and how you are going to work together. Once we had that clarity, the collaboration really started to blossom.  I have learnt so much from Wendy’s insight into how veterinary practices work.

Another big challenge at the end of the collaboration was ’signing off’ the resources, since by that point the key stakeholder group had grown quite large.  That was a key learning point for me and I will manage that process more efficiently in the future. But the benefit of that wide input was that we ended up with a quality set of resources, that will hopefully benefit many people and animals.

A final challenge was timing.  I think when you write a proposal, you tend to over-estimate what you can achieve in the timeframe and under-estimate how long things take.  The collaboration – originally funded August to November 2020 – overran with final resources not being signed off until late January 2021. And this at a time when I was about to submit my PhD…

So was it all worth it?

Absolutely!  Although the collaboration has come to an end it was just the start for me as it has helped me to get my research recognised and gain credibility as a researcher with practitioners. I now have lots of webinars in plan to continue to share my research findings.

And will people be able to see any of the resources that you produced online?

All of the resources will be available to members on the Links Group website www.thelinksgroup.org.uk.  If you have animals you may see a poster in your veterinary practice reception area.

Natasha and Mary would like to thank Business Engagement Coordinator Ruth Welters in the Social Sciences and Law Faculty for her invaluable support in drafting the application; research impact experts Eloise Meller and Nikki Hicks in the Research and Enterprise Directorate and Cath Pullinger in Finance Services, for their work and endless patience with us.

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Self-isolating and domestic violence and abuse

Dr Emma Williamson, from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research highlights the concerns of the Coronavirus pandemic and self-isolation for people who experience abuse and points to research, resources and actions that can help make a difference.

As many of you will already know, home is not always a place a safety for those, predominately women and children, who experience abuse. The Centre for Gender and Violence Research has been researching abuse for 30 years and the impact of control, manipulation, and isolation on victims-survivors has a profound and lasting impact.  For many survivors going out to work, or going about their daily lives away from the abuse, is what sustains them and keeps them safe.

Whilst everyone is anxious about the current Coronavirus pandemic, for those whose homes are not a place of safety, this is a deeply difficult time.  Calls to specialist helplines often increase after holidays where families spend more time together.

So what can people do?

Be conscious that for some people self-isolating might be dangerous.

Support on-line services. For those isolated at home, possibly with a perpetrator, it may not be possible to call a helpline. On-line services, like that run by women’s aid, is therefore a crucial lifeline and they need support: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/urgent-appeal/

Friends and family members can make a big difference. If you are aware things ‘might not be right’ at a friend or family members home – give them a call. Let them know that they have support, particularly in this time of isolation. More on the impact that domestic violence and abuse has on people providing informal support to a survivor.

There is no doubt that many families will be financially impacted by the current crisis.  Financial abuse and poverty can also impact on families where abuse is an issue. More on Poverty and domestic violence and abuse (DVA) in the UK.

Finally, whilst many survivors will cope and get through this crisis, as they do everyday, the impact of self-isolation might be a catalyst for change.  Support services for survivors of domestic violence and abuse are already suffering from significant funding cuts over recent years and a lack of commitment to their long-term funding.  Ensuring that these services are given the funds to pick up those who need support after this crisis is going to be crucial.  https://www.womensaid.org.uk/what-we-do/campaigning-and-influencing/campaign-with-us/sos/

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Secondary Trauma and Researchers

Drawing on new research based on the experiences of a research team working on a project exploring gender based violence, Dr Emma Williamson discusses the negative emotional impact that can arise for researchers working on traumatic issues, their coping mechanisms and calls on funders and Universities to look at positive ways to address this.

The Centre for Gender and Violence Research has been conducting research on gender based violence (gbv) for 30 years.  Over that time researchers have collectively interviewed hundreds of victims-survivors of different types of abuse: domestic violence (dv), sexual abuse, rape, FGM, (so-called) honor based violence, bride price, dowry related abuse, family violence, child abuse, and child exploitation. We have also read, and written, thousands of articles on this subject and analysed thousands of case files in social care, child protection, police, criminal justice, health, housing, welfare, and third sector support agencies.

We have learnt many things over the years and contributed to knowledge and understanding globally about gbv. We also know, first hand, the difficulties faced by researchers themselves when trying to work in this emotionally difficult and draining environment.

Many of us have worked in other sectors, as advocates or professionals. We have, in those arenas, had access to clinical supervision.  As researchers we routinely do not. This is in spite of the obvious impact that working in this field has. In response to these issues we recently published an article1 which looks at the impact of working in potentially traumatic areas on researchers. That article, in the Journal of Academic Ethics, looks at the wider context of secondary trauma; the impact on researchers in the gbv field; considers both individual and collective coping mechanisms; and makes recommendations for policy in this area.

The researchers highlight the different ways that interviews, case file analysis, and literature reviews on difficult topics can have a profound impact, as one researcher stated:

Reading through police case files could be just as depressing and upsetting in some of the worst cases and especially the cases involving child victims of rape and family abuse. The police files /child sex abuse cases were particularly hard because of the language and detail of information I was reading – very matter of fact descriptions of the physical sexual acts/ abuse (which I didn’t hear generally during the interviews with victims-survivors). There was also a time when I was collecting data on a DV case and there was a warning attached to the victim’s file which said *DEAD* so I had read all about her history of domestic violence, family abuse, drug and alcohol abuse and then found out that she had actually been found dead 2 weeks after the latest incident and her partner had [previously] been arrested on suspicion of her murder but no further action had been taken (when you could see the pattern of abuse she had suffered and was obviously extremely vulnerable) – that made me gasp out loud in the open plan (and quiet) office I was in (embarrassing) and made me incredibly sad. I cried on my drive home that day.

As well as many incidents of negative impacts of this work, the paper also highlights why researchers continue to work in these traumatic fields and the many healthy and unhealthy coping strategies they adopt when conducting fieldwork. These strategies included:

Definitely mindfulness, meditation, and running (not at the same time!). Spending time with family. Counting my blessings. Also wine, chocolate and binge TV watching.

One of the main conclusions of the paper is a call for funders and Universities to look at whether a form of academic clinical supervision should be automatically funded and made available to successful research projects dealing with traumatic issues. We believe that current provision is generally reactive, rather than proactive, and the minimal additional cost would allow researchers to make choices about whether the negative impacts of such research is sustainable for them, outside of the normal line management structure. With researchers struggling to fit their existing costs within the parameters of funding calls (particularly in some disciplines where funding is lower) we believe ring fenced additionally provided resource for clinical supervision also ensures that researchers who recognize this as an important issue are not penalized in the application process.

As such, we call on funders to address this issue.  At a time when health and well-being are clear objectives in research council priorities, it is surprising that this is not being discussed in terms of the research community already.

Having 30 years experience of working in this area, the Centre for Gender and Violence Research is well aware of the support researchers need to conduct this type of work, we call on others to join us to address this issue and look at positive ways to minimize the negative impacts of working in this area.  As one researcher said:

You think it would get easier over the years, but it doesn’t. The fact that we keep having to have these conversations is in itself depressing on top of the nature of the issues we are dealing with.

If we want to continue to develop researcher’s skills in difficult areas then addressing the ways in which traumatic research can negatively impact on them is, in our view, essential.

1Secondary Trauma: Emotional Safety in Sensitive Research in the Journal for Academic Ethics.
Williamson, E., Gregory, A., Abrahams, H. et al. J Acad Ethics (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10805-019-09348-y

See also: Call to fund counselling for researchers in traumatic subjects in the THE.

 

CGVR 30th Anniversary
The Centre for Gender and Violence Research will be holding a day conference event and wine reception on 13th May 2020 to celebrate it’s 30 year anniversary. For more details please keep an eye on the School for Policy Studies event page.

 

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

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.

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

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.

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Rape and sexual harassment: What justice for women?

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.

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What the development of prostitution policy tells us about how gender is understood in Britain

Dr Natasha Mulvihill, lecturer in Criminology at the School for Policy Studies and member of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, explains how gender power relations were implicated in how “responsibility” and “exploitation” in relation to sex purchase were defined during the parliamentary debates of the Policing and Crime Bill.

How policy is made matters. How gender power relations – how gender is understood and organised in society – are implicated in the way policy is translated from first to final draft also matters. The journey of the proposal to criminalise the purchase of sex in England and Wales is an apposite case study for how a certain version of policy becomes authoritative while others are discarded.

Prostitution is a practice patterned by gender. Research in England and Wales and internationally shows that it is disproportionately men who pay for sex from women (and from men and children). This pattern is consistent with prevailing gender power relations, which, broadly speaking, have privileged masculine interests. Accordingly, English prostitution policy has traditionally focused on ‘managing women’ – from the Contagious Diseases Acts (1864–1869) through to the use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders against street sex workers since the early 2000s. Concern for public decency has also brought visible buyers – kerb-crawlers – in to the legal spotlight.

Among other factors, recent international obligations in relation to the trafficking of human beings for sexual exploitation has shifted the political discourse to focus on ‘demand’ – on the sex buyer. These developments made it possible for Gordon Brown’s Labour Government to introduce Clause 13 of the Policing and Crime Bill (2008), a proposal to part-criminalise sex purchase in England and Wales. I use the term ‘part-criminalise’ because the clause made buying sex an offence in certain circumstances, rather than representing an outright ban.

This initial proposal in December 2008 went through multiple iterations, emerging as Section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009. My analysis of Hansard records reveals that around 25% of the time spent discussing the Bill was focused on this single clause. Moreover, the scope of the clause was narrowed over time from criminalising the purchase of sex from individuals ‘controlled for gain’ to individuals subject to ‘force, threats or deception’ by a third party.

A detailed analysis of the relevant parliamentary papers and records reveals that central to the discussion were contested definitions of ‘responsibility’ and ‘exploitation’. But we need to understand these contested definitions as evidence of gender and power in action.

Read more…

The above text draws on the author’s published work in the Journal of Public Policy. The article was first published on 23 August in British Politics and Policy, a blog by the London School of Economics and Political Science.

 

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Women Studies Departments in Indian Universities face threat of closure

Dr Geentanjali Ganjoli, Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, School for Policy Studies, discusses the future of Women’s Studies in India.

There are 163 Women’s Studies Centres (WSCs), funded under the University Grants Commission (UGC) in universities and colleges across India, most of which now face the threat of being wound up after September 2017.

Concerns over the future of the Centres were originally raised in March 2017 but were temporarily allayed when the UGC issued a public notice on 29th March stating that all existing schemes would continue for the fiscal year 2017-18. However, on 16th June, the UGC published a revised notice that ongoing schemes under the Plan Head would be funded only up to September 2017.

The women’s studies centres in India are organically allied to feminist movements in India, and are historically linked to the UN international decade for women (1975-85), and the Status of Women Report led by a group of Indian feminists in 1974, which revealed the myriad social and economic hardships and inequalities suffered by Indian women. Women’s Studies was introduced into the National Policy of Education in 1986. The late 1970s and 1980s also saw the rise of women’s movements’ campaigns against forms of violence against women, including rape, sexual harassment in public spaces and the workplace, dowry, domestic violence, representation of women in the media and female infanticide, and is also linked to wider secular movements.

These concerns have always been represented in the teaching and research interests of women’s studies departments in India. For instance, the Research Centre for Women’s Studies, SNDT University, which was the first women’s studies department set up in the country in 1974, conducts action research programmes on topics as varied as assessing the extent of sexual harassment in university campuses, research on problems faced by the girl child within the family, and teaches women’s studies at Masters and research PhD levels.

In spite of the intellectual and political insights provided by women’s studies scholars in India, the discipline itself has often been treated as marginal by universities and funding bodies. One suggestion is that the challenges to patriarchy and gender roles posed by the Women’s Studies Centres threaten the inherent misogyny within the academy, and this may the reason why this discipline is under threat now. As observers of Indian society are aware, women students have always been subjected to discriminatory policies. Examples of this include: curfews for women in hostels, women students being evicted from their hostels in the summer break and dress codes imposed on female students in different universities.

Within this context, the threat to women’s studies centres indicates the further shrinkage of secular and feminist spaces within Indian academia, and is concerning particularly within the wider context of the rise of misogyny and right-wing Hindu politics in the country, and indeed internationally.

The Centre for Gender and Violence Research has always had close working and personal connections with women’s studies departments in India, and elsewhere, and this is reflected in our new journal in its scope, editorial board and papers. The first issue of the journal has an interesting paper written by academics from the Women’s Studies Centre in Tata Institute of Social Sciences which showcases the work of women’s studies departments in India in terms of its links to activism and feminist concerns with regard to policy and practice on gender based violence.

To read more articles like this, sign up for a free trial of the Journal for Gender Based Violence.

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