Gender, Violence and Justice: What does justice look like?

Dr Emma Williamson shares her reflections on the recent Thinking Futures event at the University of Bristol, which debated what justice means for victims of gender based violence.

What does justice look like? This was the question asked at last week’s Thinking Futures event run by the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol. The event was part of the wider Thinking Futures programme which celebrates research from the University’s Faculty of Social Science and Law, and supports the national ESRCs Festival of Social Sciences.thinking-futures-cgvr-event

We chose the topic of Gender, Violence and Justice as it coincides with current research looking at Justice, Inequalities, and Gender Based Violence being conducted in partnership with Women’s Aid, England, and Welsh Women’s Aid.

The event, held at the Church Above The Shops, was introduced by Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West. Thangam brought to the evening her experience of working with the perpetrators of abuse, whether individuals or collective within processes and systems. She reminded us of the need to challenge and change those behaviours and the ideas from which they come. Thangam also recognised the long and on-going history in Bristol of women fighting gender based violence, from the early Women’s Aid movement, to Rape Crisis, to Integrate – all of whom were represented on the evening.

Geetanjali Gangoli, from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research was first to speak, highlighting findings from a recent study conducted for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary (HMIC) on so called ‘honour violence’. Geetanjali highlighted the barriers faced by Black and Minority Ethnic Women when trying to challenge abuse which might be categorised as honour based. She recognised that for some of the women in the research other relatives, including male relatives, were sometimes the ones to encourage victims/survivors to seek justice through the police and official systems. Geetanjali also discussed the difficulty of challenging abuse which might be condoned by families and communities, and the importance therefore of thinking about what justice means in wider and community based context.

Layla Ismail was next on the podium, both in her capacity as director of Refugee Women Bristol, and in her role for FORWARD, the national charity concerned, for many years, with the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or ‘cutting’. Again, the importance of community justice was raised. – To stop this particular abuse, adult survivors of FGM should be given the space to talk about their experience and the impacts it had had, in the hope that it would be a catalyst for social change. Young women in Bristol, supported by FORWARD, have been at the forefront of work on this issue nationally, and it was a pleasure to hear about their success in changing attitudes. In terms of our initial question, what does justice look like, justice here looks like no more FGM/cutting.

As well as inspiring the audience, Layla also challenged the multiple and sometimes contradictory oppressions which women might face. In this case the abhorrence society directs to FGM whilst condoning within popular media similar plastic surgery procedures. These contradictions do not go unnoticed within those populations where FGM has been an issue.

Following Layla was Rowen Miller from SARSAS – Somerset and Avon, Rape and Sexual Assault Service. Rowen was talking about sexual violence and justice, and what it feels like, from a survivor’s perspective to walk into a court of law, to take steps to seek formal types of justice. For most it feels like walking into the lion’s den. Rowen highlighted the importance of empowering survivors following assault to make they own decisions about how they wish to proceed, and the systems they have put in place to assist with this, including acting as a go-between for survivors who might want to report anonymously and the police. As with all of the speakers, Rowen offered us hope about the growth which is possible for survivors following experiences of gender based violence, and the importance of supporting, standing alongside and behind, survivors to their sources of justice, whatever that is.

The final panel speaker of the evening was Marianne Hester. Marianne focused more on domestic violence as one part of the wider gender based violence continuum. She highlighted the failures of formal justice to offer ‘justice’ in the sense of convictions for crimes, and discussed the alternatives we might then wish to explore. If formal justice on a population level, on the whole, doesn’t work for victims/survivors then what are the alternative available to us?

Following the panel presentations, the chair opened up the discussion to the audience. Initially reluctant, understandably, the audience come forward with a wide range of ideas about what justice might look like: rough justice, social justice – social change, restorative justice – in its true and safe form, empowerment, and resistance. As well as people’s experience of working in the field of gender based violence, people also talked about their experiences of abuse and the formal justice system.

We would like to thank all of the audience members for creating a safe space and atmosphere where survivors felt able to speak, and to those speakers for sharing their experiences with us. Injustice was not being able to face the perpetrator, in court, and tell him what he did. Injustice is over five years fighting a perpetrator who twists the system to drag you, as a victim/survivor, through the courts repeatedly. Injustice is being told by a therapist that if you choose to report an incident to the police then you cannot continue to receive their help.

So, taking the injustices which unfortunately inform our ideas of what justice might look like, for this group justice was about a wider recognition of gender, and other, inequalities. It is recognising misogyny as a form of gendered hate crime, and of finding new ways to challenge it. It is challenging schools to implement relationship and respect education – despite the government not making it mandatory. It is fighting for the support services needed to allow victims/survivors to seek the help they need, and to stand alongside them in their struggles to stop it happening in the future to others. Above all justice was what victims/survivors think it should be.

In a week when the US elected a president who admitted sexually groping women without asking (many would call that sexual assault) – justice is living in a society that says that is not okay and stands together to change it.

For further information about the Centre for Gender and Violence Research: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/sps/research/centres/genderviolence/

Anyone interested in talking to the research team about experiences of abuse, as part of the Justice Project, please contact us via the project page or email: sps-justiceproject@bristol.ac.uk

#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.