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

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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.

Rape and sexual harassment: What justice for women?

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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.

Women Studies Departments in Indian Universities face threat of closure

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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.

Celebrating the new Journal of Gender-Based Violence

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Emma Williamson, Co- Editor of the Journal of Gender-Based Violence and Head of Centre for Gender & Violence Research, introduces the first issue and shares her ambitions for the journal.

As a co-editor of the journal and currently the Head of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, where the Journal is based, it is an honour to launch the first issue of Journal of Gender-Based violence and share what it means to us, to our international colleagues – activists, policy-makers, front line staff, and academics. We have made the first issue free to access online until 30 June and hope it will be widely shared and read.

The driving force behind the journal is Professor Marianne Hester, who has contemplated what this journal might look like for some time. As she highlights in the editorial of the first issue, the launch begs the question ‘why now?’ Increasingly over recent years those working in this field have had the opportunity to reflect on both progress and success. But we are also aware of threats to the legal and social advances which have been hard won, and concerned about how protections can be rolled back – under the guise of ideology or economics.

So, this journal, at this time, offers an opportunity to share knowledge and insights and to resist those threats. The journal has been organised to reflect the different voices of those working in and living with – gender-based violence. It also seeks to share knowledge across a range of divides.
The journal has internationally-based regional editors to encourage the submission of papers from across the world. We welcome submissions from those for whom English is not their first language and will work with those authors to provide a broader platform for that work. Too often the knowledge and expertise of our international and European colleagues is overlooked and we hope to address that. We therefore invite country and region wide networks to contribute to the journal and engage in that very debate.

By recognising the broad spectrum of knowledge which is out there, we hope this journal is a place for all of us to take the field further and learn from one another, not just in terms of academic papers, but in relation to policy, practice, and activism.

At the heart of the journal is a commitment to social justice and the tackling of gender-based violence within the wider context of inequality and disadvantage. With that in mind we envisage the Policy and Practice and Open Space sections being used to report on campaigns, new interventions, and good practice.

We also invite readers to reflect on work which has inspired them and to share with other readers why such works are still important today. We hope this will inspire new researchers to rediscover authors whose work laid the foundations for the current field and to add to current debate. So if you have a book or author whose work you think others should know about, please do consider writing a reflection piece for the Open Space section. Similarly, if you wrote something years ago and want to revisit it – please get in touch!

Finally, the first issue ends with a piece offering memories of Jill Saward, activist and campaigner. Again, we are proud that this journal can recognise the breadth of knowledge that the field of Gender-Based Violence draws upon, recognising the work of campaigners and the knowledge they contribute.

As such, we dedicate this first issue to all those who have experienced Gender-Based Violence, and those who continue to fight for ‘justice’.

Read the journal for FREE until 30 June 2017:

Find out more about the Journal of Gender-Based Violence

Register for the Journal newsletter

Follow @JGBVjournal on Twitter.

Free institutional trials are available for all Policy Press journals. Why not recommend the Journal of Gender-Based Violence to your library?

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

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Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, comments on why recognising the subject of violence against women has never been more relevant than it is now.

25 November marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, followed by 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

On this day, communities reflect on the damage caused by violence against women and its impact on women, children, men, and societies around the globe.

As well as acknowledging the harm that violence against women causes, 25 November is also a day to celebrate the achievements of a movement which seeks to eradicate the gendered violence which many face every day. To recognise the men and women who work to support victims and perpetrators, to challenge abusive behaviours within societies across the world, and to stand up to the causes of violence by naming misogyny and oppression in its many forms.

At the Centre for Gender and Violence Research based at the University of Bristol, we know only too well about the experience and impact of gendered abuse. Researchers are currently engaged in projects speaking to victims and perpetrators of a wide range of abuses; collecting official data from the police and other statutory bodies; working with refugee communities to address violence against women during displacement; and working with a range of non- governmental organisation (NGO) partners to ensure that research makes a difference in the world.

So, along with our partners in the UK, Europe, and internationally, we mark 25 November as a day to recognise the achievements of a social movement which still has many uphill struggles to face.

In addition to the consistently high rates of domestic and sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence which are experienced every year, this year in particular is a poignant year. Women’s rights have been attacked in a number of countries around the world: Poland and its attempts to restrict access to safe abortions; US presidential candidates’ “locker-room banter” about grabbing women whether they want it or not; the re-trial of a footballer on the basis of the introduction of evidence about the victim’s sexual history; and the crowning of Bono as one of Glamour magazines “women of the year”.

Okay, so the last one isn’t quite an obvious offence to women and equality – he does a lot of work about poverty and its impacts on women- but in a world where over half the population is female, it would be nice if an honour for women were given to one!

These examples show the struggles which we face to challenge the oppression which underpins gendered violence and abuse. They also show us the power of solidarity in the many acts of resistance they evoke. Polish women striking and taking to the streets against the attack on their already limited rights. Michelle Obama’s eloquent speech about the everyday reality of sexism and misogyny. Government reaction to the use of sexual history in sexual assault cases. We have yet to see how sisters uncut respond to Bono but you can be assured it will be creative and fitting!

Of course we also face an additional challenge in the UK with the recent Brexit vote to leave the European Union. The Centre for Gender and Violence Research in Bristol has a long tradition of working with European partners and we regularly meet to identify the emerging challenges which threaten the elimination of violence against women.

Whilst the terms of Brexit remain unclear, we continue to appreciate the importance and power of a global network of campaigners, researchers, and activists challenging the status quo and fighting for women’s human rights.

In Spring 2017, the Centre will be launching a new Journal of Gender-Based Violence. This is the first European- based international journal focusing specifically on this type of violence and abuse. We believe that now, more than ever, we need a space where evidence, policy, and ways of tackling gender-based violence across national borders, can be shared. It will provide a critical space in which we can continue to learn from one another and recognise the connectivity between the different challenges we face.

To articulate how far we still have to go, take a moment to look at the predicament of women worldwide below. (Infographic reproduced with kind permission from United Nations Women).

infographic-violence-against-women-en-11x17-no-bleeds

#25GenderViolence

 

Dr Emma Williamson

Dr Emma Williamson

Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, updates us on the Centre’s 25 year anniversary celebration event

On Monday 15th June (2015) the Centre for Gender and Violence Research in the School for Policy Studies celebrated its 25 year anniversary.

Set-up in 1990 with, as described by one of the co-founder Ellen Malos, “a piece of headed paper with our names typed on it”, the group has grown from its first project on housing funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to a Centre of 10 staff and more than 10 PhD students from across the world.

The significance of the date gave us an opportunity at our yearly conference to reflect on the work of the Centre and our founding principles, to take stock of the work we have done as well as to look forward and to think about where we want to be in the future.

The group’s co-founders, Gill Hague and Ellen Malos, introduced a welcome film at the event within which they highlighted the early days of the group, the many challenges, and the personal, as well as professional, impacts of starting a group with its roots firmly in the blossoming women’s movement and activism. Key to the principles of the group was a recognition of the need to name power.
Whether that be power between abusers and survivors, participants and researchers, or the centre and colleagues overseas.

As with many of our seminar events, present throughout the day were activists, academics, survivors, and service providers, both as delegates and speakers. We heard how the work of the Centre over the years has influenced practice and continues to do so. How the role of specialist violence organisations as the ‘commissioners’ and co-producers of our work continues to influence the projects we seek funding for to ensure that it has use, purpose, and makes a difference.

The event included talks by practitioners (Steven Jackson, domestic violence lead at the College of Policing) and practitioner/ researchers (Simon Kerrs, Co-ordinator of Cambridgeshire IDVA services), as well as findings from recent research about teen dating violence both off and on-line across Europe (Barter), the plight of Yezidi women kidnapped, abused, and exploited, by ISIS (Begikhani), and the importance of ‘memorable events’ for disclosure by those with experience of childhood sexual abuse (Allnock).

Also celebrated were the books produced by the centre over the years focusing on a range of topics but always concerned with the role of gender in society and the violences associated with it. From Power to Change to the Centre’s recent edited collection, Understanding Gender Based Violence this selection of the centre’s publications illustrates the breadth of work undertaken in the Centre and the International focus of much of that work.

During the event we included Pecha Kucha slots. An idea tried and tested at the Provide conference in 2014, these short three minute presentations give an opportunity for a wide range of speakers (practitioners, phd students) to get their key points across to the audience using humour and creativity alongside the more usual presenting skills. Given the nature of our work – gendered violence is never amusing – this was an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the ways we use humour and creativity in our relationships to help us all, whether academic, survivor, specialist worker, cope with our work and to support each other. A huge thanks must go to all the pecha kuccha speakers – alongside learning more about service provision and new initiatives, we had rock chicks, rainbows, embarrassing revelations, alice in wonderland, and a call to activism to continue fighting against the austerity which impacts on the ability of the sector to support those affected by violence and abuse.

Our two main keynote speakers were Evan Stark, talking about his work on Coercive Control and the concept of gendered violence as a ‘liberty’ or Human Rights crime, and challenges of introducing the new English legislation on coercive control, and Marianne Hester, talking about the importance of Human Rights policy, such as the European Istanbul Convention, in linking gender based violence and inequality, and providing a framework to disrupt abuse at all levels – from individual to society. Introducing Marianne, Evan praised her tireless work over the years in the pursuit of knowledge which has galvanised governments and practitioners to scrutinise their own responses to abuse. Both provided an overview of the political and theoretical imperatives for challenging wider structural inequalities, as a way to inform policy and practice to tackle gender based violence.

As always we thank Evan, and Anne Flitcraft, for joining us in Bristol to share their ideas, friendship, and humour (!).

Finally, the event was an opportunity to recognise the contribution of survivors to guiding the direction of our work, to their bravery in taking part in research, and in holding us all accountable. Many survivors were in attendance on the day and reported feeling energized, inspired, and enthused by the conference. For that, we would like to thank everyone who attended and contributed on the day – both speakers and delegates. We would also like to thank all of the individuals and organisations who have worked with the centre of the past 25 years. Whilst we hope that a Centre like ours will no longer be necessary in another 25 years, we will none the less continue to respond to those at the front line to produce academic work that is rigorous, relevant, and that makes a difference.

Presenting at academic conferences: embracing discomfort

Natasha Mulvihill, Andrea Matolcsi, and Catherine Briddick reflect on their experiences of academic conference presentations in the field of prostitutiongvr-slider

The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable […]. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers. (M. Scott Peck)

The academic conference is an established forum for colleagues to present early findings and to road-test theories.  Ranging from mutually affirming spaces, thronged with like-minded and well-acquainted delegates to more diverse, loosely-knit events where participants strike up haphazard groups, conferences offer different opportunities for communication and intellectual challenge.  But how far should we actively seek out academic conferences that engender some discomfort to, in Peck’s terms, nudge us out of our particular research perspectives?

In April, we attended the first international conference organised by PROSPOL (Comparing European Prostitution Policies:  Understanding Scales and Cultures of Governance), a funded strand of work under the European COST Action IS1209 initiative.  Held in Vienna, delegates were asked to submit papers under the conference banner ‘Troubling prostitution: Exploring intersections of sex, intimacy and labour’.  As researchers on prostitution policy for a number of years, we submitted and each had an individual paper accepted, as well as panel proposal, co-presented with a colleague at Oxford.

The delegate list boasted many of the contemporary researchers across the world writing on prostitution and prostitution policy: and was for this reason a landmark event.  For those unfamiliar with this field of work, there is common demarcation made between researchers who understand selling sex as labour which deserves a statutory footing, with attendant rights and work to reduce harm, and researchers who understand prostitution as a reflection of patriarchy, characterised often by exploitation and abuse, and who lobby for measures to reduce demand for paid sex and support for women to exit.  While this division glosses over the significant diversity of views within and across these positions, it is palpable in its effects.  Researchers adopt terms consistent with the polar perspective (“sex work”, “prostitution”) and first encounters with other researchers can involve a few moments of careful neutrality, like poker players trying to read the other’s hand.  Differences in standpoint have at times been personal and appear increasingly to be played out beyond the academic journals and in to social media.  Institutions on name badges and delegate lists can suggest allegiances: ‘Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol’, for example, positions us as likely ‘prohibitionists’.  Broadly, the PROSPOL conference was sympathetic to the sex work perspective.

We offer three observations.  First, the discussion on prostitution and sex work can echo the story of the blind men and the elephant: researchers are often talking about different aspects of the sex industry and projecting their findings across the piece.  For example, the experience of migrants working in parlours, female street workers, single mothers working independently from home, internet workers ‘on tour’, male escorts or female sex tourists are all characterised by different individual circumstances and different relations of power.  So all researchers need to be careful about how they evidence their claims.

Second, as researchers writing from a feminist perspective, we are nevertheless interested in the interconnections between experiences of women and men across the sex industry and how these relate to gender-power relations.  We are mindful that despite some diversity in those selling sex, and despite the intersectional relations of race, economic status, migration status (or lack thereof), sexuality or disability within the prostitution encounter, the purchase of sex remains an overwhelmingly masculine practice.  This deserves further analysis.

Third, we note that prostitution as a practice rooted in patriarchy has been re-envisioned through the sex work movement and imbued with new meanings of freedom, choice, rights and transgression.  Much of the current research is exploring the tensions between this understanding of prostitution and a less sympathetic legal and political context.   However, rather than a brave new world, our concern would be that that this perspective reinforces prevailing power relations.  For example, there was discussion within one panel that gender equality within sex work would mean more equal numbers of men and women paying for sex.  Yet, this is surely the old gender politics where role equity for women has required women to move in to male constructed domains (politics, the workplace, front-line combat etc.) but rarely requires role change for men, or a significant challenge to the rationale, operation or normative status of those domains.

Despite our different viewpoints, we learnt a great deal from the breadth of research presented.  We got to meet the people behind the printed word and exchanged stories of how we found ourselves researching this difficult area.  We had common experiences on methods, on ethics, and on working with other organisations such as the police and health services and indeed with the women and men selling sex.  There was universal agreement that these individuals should not be criminalised.

So while our experience at the conference was at times taxing, we came away from Vienna with new knowledge, new friendships and the recognition that a little discomfort can be a good thing.

Authors                                                                              

Dr Natasha Mulvihill is a Research Associate and teacher at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Gender and Violence Research.

Andrea Matolcsi is a third-year PhD student at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Gender and Violence Research. Her participation in this conference was fully supported by the University of Bristol Alumni Foundation.

Catherine Briddick is studying for a DPhil in Law at the University of Oxford where she teaches international law and the protection of refugees, migrants and displaced persons.

Men experiencing or perpetrating domestic violence linked with two to three-fold increase in mental health problems

Marianne Hester, from the Centre for Gender Violence Research in the School for Policy Studies is leading research on domestic violence involving men as perpetrators or victimsMH

Men visiting their GP with symptoms of anxiety or depression are more likely to have experienced or carried out some form of behaviour linked to domestic violence and abuse, according to a new University of Bristol study. Researchers say the findings highlight the need for GPs to ask male patients with mental health problems about domestic abuse.

The study, led by Professor Marianne Hester OBE, and involving Dr Emma Williamson from the School, and published in BMJ Open, aimed to find out whether there is an association between men who have experienced or carried out domestic violence and abuse with men visiting their GP with mental health problems or who are binge drinking and using cannabis.

Researchers distributed a questionnaire across 16 GP practices in the South West that was completed by 1,368 men aged 18 years and above. The survey asked the men whether they had experienced or perpetrated any of four negative behaviours linked to domestic violence and abuse, such as feeling frightened, physically hurt, forced sex, or having to ask permission from a partner.

The survey then asked about experiences of these negative behaviours, followed by questions about their relationship with the perpetrator, frequency and escalation of the experience. Subsequent questions were then asked about the perpetration of any of the four negative behaviours towards a current or former partner in the past 12 months.

The study found 309 men, [22.7 per cent or nearly a quarter] of the 1,368 participants  experienced at least one of the four negative behaviours associated with domestic violence and abuse, and 212 [16.9 per cent or one-sixth] of 1,294 respondents reported perpetration of these behaviours at least once.

Researchers also found that men who used some form of negative behaviour towards their partners were three-to-five times more likely to report symptoms of anxiety than non-perpetrators. However, the study found no strong association between domestic violence and abuse with excessive drinking or cannabis use.

These findings indicate there is a higher likelihood of men who present symptoms of anxiety and depression in primary care could be the victims or perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse.

Professor Marianne Hester OBE, lead author of the study “Research on domestic violence and abuse has largely focused on women and there is a lack of research on men, both as victims and perpetrators.  The findings from this study are important as they suggest that when men present to GPs with anxiety or depression, they should be asked about domestic violence and abuse as there is a higher likelihood that they will be victims or perpetrators. The findings are consistent with previous studies, which found that mental health problems are more common in men who either perpetrate or experience domestic violence and abuse, and serve as an important indicator to clinicians.”

Professor Gene Feder, co-author on the study from the Centre for Academic Primary Care  at the School for Social and Community Medicine said: “The extent and health impact of negative behaviours consistent with domestic violence and abuse among male patients is largely invisible to GPs.  Our study will help focus attention on this hidden problem in general practice and provides a basis for training GPs in how to identify and respond safely to men experiencing or perpetrating domestic violence and abuse.”

Paper

Occurrence and impact of negative behaviour, including domestic violence and abuse, in men attending UK primary care health clinics: a cross-sectional survey by M Hester, G Ferrari, S K Jones, E Williamson, L J Bacchus, T J Peters and G Feder in BMJ Open.

Further information:

National DVA help service for men:

http://respect.uk.net

Sexual violence in India: feminists and others

Geetanjali Gangoli, from the School for Policy Studies, discusses the issues raised by ‘India’s daughter’

The recent furore around the BBC Four documentary, India’s Daughter, has once again brought to the forefront the issue of sexual violence in India. Sexual violence continues to be a serious issue for Indian women. The latest crime statistics released by the Home Ministry’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB, 2014) show that 93 women are raped every day in the country. The number of reported rapes a day has increased nearly by 700% per cent since 1971 — when such cases were first recorded by the NCRB.

GG

The documentary, made for BBC by a British filmmaker Lesley Udwin was based on the well publicised rape and murder of 23 year old student, Jyoti Singh in a bus in New Delhi, and featured controversial interviews with Mukesh Singh, one of the six men accused in the case. He is currently on death row, awaiting an appeal to the Supreme Court, and he made several misogynist statements about the victim, including arguing that women were more responsible for rape than men were. He also argued that the woman should not have fought back, and that if he was executed, that it may lead to murders of rape victims. The film also included interviews with the defence lawyers, who also argued that the victim should not have been out at night with a male friend, and with her quietly dignified parents, and friend, whose voices are used effectively to challenge these pervasive rape myths.

As is well known by now, a group of feminists wrote an open letter to NDTV, an Indian news channel, which was planning to air the documentary on March 8th 2015 (at the same time as BBC Four), asking them to show restraint and postpone the broadcast, as the appeal against the death sentences is still pending; but also raising some other objections to the film, including that it promoted ‘hate speech’ against women, that it could lead to increased violence against women, and that it included graphic and gratuitous descriptions of sexual violence. The Indian government however banned the film, on the grounds that it violated ‘permission guidelines’ in airing the interviews with Mukesh Singh, and his comments were ‘highly derogatory’ and violated the dignity of women.

The documentary was, however, aired on BBC Four and released on you tube, rendering the ban ineffective. Since the ban, a number of interesting feminist views on this issue have been voiced, not one of them supporting the ban. What to me has been most impressive is that Indian feminists have been one of the strongest voices standing for the rights of the accused to a free trial (even and especially in a case where the ‘facts’ of the case appear to be clear), and arguing that the death penalty is not only counterproductive, but against feminist principles.

The film itself is interesting and well made, though at points tends to suggest that not much happened in the public and social sphere against sexual violence in India before this particular case, and that sexual violence owes much to poverty, deprivation and social exclusion made worse by globalization, and commodification of women. It projects Jyoti Singh’s rape and murder as emerging from a clash of culture between the upwardly mobile, forward thinking section of Indian society and the socially excluded working class, who have not been able to benefit from globalization. By virtue of omission, it also tends to project sexual violence as happening primarily in the public sphere, by strangers, rather than within the domestic sphere. Recent statistics released by the Delhi police suggest that in over 95% of all recorded cases of sexual violence, the accused was either a family member or known to the victim.

Indian feminists have of course, challenged these rape myths since the 1970s. They have constructed sexual violence as an act of patriarchal power and control, rather than as class warfare, and pointed to the endemic nature of rape and assault across social class, caste and region. Even though most cases of sexual violence around which Indian feminist campaigns have been centred on the rapes of working class and/or Dalit women by those in power (for e.g. the Mathura rape case in the late 1970s, and Bhanwari Devi case in the 1990s), feminists have placed sexual violence as an integral part of the domestic sphere, and demands have been made to the State to criminalise marital rape since the early 1980s. That these have still not been met reflects the pervasive nature of popular beliefs of the sanctity of marriage as a ‘private’ sphere, and the acceptance of male entitlement to women’s bodies, particularly in the home and within the private sphere.

Feminists have always (often simultaneously) collaborated with and opposed State (and media) engagement with gender based violence. Following Jyoti Singh’s rape and murder, feminist groups have fed into Justice Verma Committee , a committee made up of Justice J.S. Verma, Justice Leila Seth (both retired judges) and Gopal Subramanium constituted by the Government to look into possible amendments to the Criminal Justice Law ‘to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals committing sexual assault of extreme nature against women’, and some recommendations of the committee were passed into law through ordinance in early 2013. In opposition to feminist demands, the ordinance retained the marital rape exemption; therefore women in violent and abusive marriages continue to be unable to access the law when raped by intimates. It also created the offence of rape and sexual assault as a gender neutral offence, both in terms of perpetrators and victims, in ‘everyday contexts’ as well as the aggravated rape cases (e.g. gang rape and custodial rape cases).

Demands for legal changes are often an immediate response to social issues, especially in the area of gender based violence, but even moderate ‘successes’ – such as the inclusion of the custodial rape clause and the repeal of the ‘past sexual history’ clause – are often rendered useless where social attitudes regarding women’s sexuality remain unchanged. Legal intervention, even where unsuccessful or partially successful, therefore, must be seen as part of multiple strategies within the Indian women’s movement which seek to challenge, redefine and reshape patriarchal conceptualizations of women’s sexuality in law and society.

Celebrating 25 years of Gender Violence Research @ Bristol Policy Studies.
Save the date: June 15th 2015.

You the man

Geetanjali Gangoli, from the School for Policy Studies, on a novel way of changing attitudes to gender violence

There is increasing interest in the role of bystanders in preventing gender-based violence. You the Man is a 35 minute theatre- production combined with workshop that promotes bystander engagement addressing the themes of: promoting equal and respectful relationships between men and women; promoting non-violent social norms and reducing the effects of prior exposure to violence (especially on children); and improving access to resources and systems of support. The project has been used internationally in the fields of education, workplaces, local government, health and community services and the community.

 The University of Bristol’s Centre for Gender Violence and Research hosted a You the Man workshop last month led by international contributors Professor Ann Taket from Deakin University, Australia, Professor Cathy Plourde and actor Glenn Maynard. It brought together an audience of 25 local practitioners and policy makers. This group comprised advocates (such as Next Linkthe BridgeBristol Rape Crisis),  local community networks and agencies (including Bangladeshi Association, the Barton Hill Settlement), youth organisers (such as the Prince’s Trust), Bristol City Council and representatives from Bristol University and UWE.

The 35 minute one man play is based on responses and fears expressed by six men responding to the dating violence experienced by a young woman university student, Jana. It highlights the seriousness of unhealthy relationships and dating violence and how early intervention by family and friends may be able to help victims in these situations.

The play was followed by a panel discussion involving Professor Ann Taket, Professor Cathy Plourde, Glenn Maynard, Dr Geetanjali Gangoli, Dr Christine Barter (expert in intimate partner violence in teenage relationships), and Shabana Kauser-Iqbal from Women’s Aid and the Sky Project, an expert in BME communities. Having originated in Australia, the play was critiqued by the audience as to its ‘translatability’ into a UK context and more specifically to BME and/or sexual minority communities. Having already been effectively translated from its original American setting to an Australian setting, it was considered to be suitable for adaption to a UK audience (with further consultation with minority groups) – and particular interest was shown in introducing the play in university settings.  The audience heard about evaluations undertaken showing that the play was effective in changing attitudes to sexual and domestic violence in both the short and long term. Queries were raised about the need for support services not only for victims of sexual and domestic violence, but also for family members and friends; such support was said to exist to a limited degree in Bristol.

The play is a powerful and simple tool, requiring minimal resource. It can be effective as part of the strategy towards prevention of gender-based violence, increasing awareness, providing resource information, and changing attitudes to sexual and domestic abuse. This workshop is the first step to enable us in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research to build on our existing networks with practitioners and policy makers. It could be effectively used in conjunction with existing local programmes on reducing and preventing gender-based violence. We anticipate that such an initiative has potential to demonstrate long term impact and to change local policies.

GGDr Geetanjali Gangoli organised and moderated the workshop on behalf of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research. The workshop was supported by PolicyBristol, where this post was first published