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.

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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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?

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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

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

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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

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Homophobia and hate

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Dr Emma Williamson

Dr Emma Williamson

The Centre for Gender and Violence Research has always engaged within intersecting forms of oppression and inequality. Recently, that has involved ensuring that those who experience domestic violence and abuse within same sex relationships are heard and provided for. The recent events in Orlando remind us however, that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) community remains subject to threats and violence from outside.

The recent attack in Orlando was a homophobic hate crime.

The massacre of 49 people within an LGBTQ venue, the Pulse, in Orlando, Florida, has shocked us all. As such our thoughts and feelings go to those who lost loved ones during the attack and to the 53 who were seriously injured. Our thoughts also go out to wider LGBTQ communities who feel shocked and under threat not just from the crime itself, but from the response of others too it. Immediately the discussion in the media turned to one of gun control, Islamic terrorism, and radicalisation. In our western culture of ‘terror’ it is too easy for any of us, myself included, to think of any crime primarily within these lens.

Such is the strength of the terror discourse that only those events which fit the Islamic terrorist narrative are recognised. Owen Jones in his Sky News appearance was trying, I think, to make that point. This was first and foremost, a homophobic hate crime. The gunman chose to target an LGBTQ safe venue, because it was an LGBTQ venue. Richard Angell in his article talks about the implications of that for the LGBTQ community as a whole. The attack, horrific as it is, is also a reminder that the LGBTQ community still needs such spaces, and that they too can be violated.

Fundamentally that is shocking and frightening for the LGBTQ community. As such we need to show our solidarity with that community, to make more safe spaces where sexual orientation is more than tolerated, out of sight but genuinely accepted in our town, cities, and villages.

Media interviews with ex-work colleagues and family of the Orlando gunman shows people saying that they never heard him express threats to carry out such attacks, but they do report a catalogue of hate, homophobia, sexism, and racism. A wide range of people sought to remove themselves from his presence due to his hate. Yet when investigated by the FBI, their obsession with a certain type of terror clouded their judgement and the risks he posed to the LGBTQ community, and others, were disregarded.

Finally, the most recent media commentary has focused on whether the gunman was himself gay. That narrative is currently unfolding but irrespective of his own sexuality, this gunman deliberately targeted an LGBTQ safe venue to kill and maim LGBTQ people. All of us have a responsibility to seek to change society so that sexual orientation isn’t a cause for hate. Whether that hate is spoken or acted upon.

It is perhaps helpful at this difficult time to consider Andrea Dworkin’s (slightly changed) comment on the Montreal Massacre of 6th December, 1989:

“It is incumbent upon each of us to be the that wanted to kill. We must live with this honour, this courage. We must drive out fear. We must hold on. We must create. We must resist.” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/dec/03/montreal-massacre-canadas-feminists-remember

Dr Emma Williamson, on behalf of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research.

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Abuse in Ambridge

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The ArchersDr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in The Centre for Gender and Violence Research, School for Policy Studies, discusses how the recent storyline in The Archers highlights the often silent issue of coercive control and its effect on victims/survivors.

I have to admit that I don’t normally listen to The Archers.  And people don’t normally talk to me about the story lines.  That all changed when the long running series began a story over 18 months ago which looked at the issue of domestic violence and coercive control.  One of the most difficult things that victims/survivors of abuse tell us, and have consistently told us since the first women’s refuges in the 1970’s, is that it is the non-physical abuse they experience which is the most difficult to deal with [Williamson, 2000].  The bruises and other injuries victims suffer from physical abuse are visible.  They are evidence to other people but also to oneself.  There it is in black and blue.  What is more difficult to prove and believe, is that someone who purports to love and care for you would bully, undermine, and manipulate you.  The women I spoke too after the fact would either say, ‘how could someone treat me like that?’ or more often than not, ‘how could I let someone treat me like that?’ – still blaming themselves.

As the Archers storyline shows, this type of abuse is characteristic of a pattern of ‘low level’ abusive behaviours rather than the explosive incident people tend to think about when they consider ‘a domestic’.  It involves small everyday things which result in people staying away, isolating victims from their family, friends, and networks of support.  Recent research from Bristol has documented the massive impact of such abuse on friends and family [Gregory et al, 2016], as well as the evidence we know about the impact on victims [Mullender et al, 2005], their children [Mullender et al, 2002], and perpetrators themselves [Hester et al, 2015]. Doctors, the police, courts, social services, all tend to think of interventions in terms of those single incidents which means that the on-going manipulation of victims goes unnoticed.

Some call this type of abuse coercive control [Evan Stark, 2008], others intimate terrorism [Johnson, 1995], but for many victims it is this type of abuse which has the greatest impact on their liberty and personhood.

Work conducted at the University of Bristol has shown the long term health and emotional impacts of this type of abuse on victims [Abrahams, 2010; Williamson, 2010].  Indeed researchers at Bristol have been at the forefront of developing adequate measures which enable us to include this type of insidious and often invisible abuse within our survey’s and analysis of DV within various population groups [Hester et al, 2011].

In 2016, following work with Evan Stark, oft time visiting professor at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, the British Government introduced a new criminal law on domestic violence which explicitly identified coercive control as a pattern of abusive behaviours.  It is this concept which forms the basis of the current Archers storyline and which the script writers have slowly and meticulously explored.

Working with national charities, including Women’s Aid[i], the script writers have demonstrated the impact of this type of on-going abuse and by taking their time, shown how such a manipulative partner operates.  18 months in it is harder for the listener to simply blame the victim and ask why she doesn’t leave.  Hopefully the audience can begin to understand how the gradual nature of the abuse undermines someone’s sense of self, their personhood, and ultimately their liberty and/or human rights.

I don’t know what the outcome of the current storyline will be.  I hope that there is enough evidence so that Rob gets his commuppence, yet we know from sad reality that for many in this situation escaping the abuse is easier said than done.  Even when victims physically leave an abusive relationship they are not ‘free’.  Many women are blamed when they retaliate, or killed during the process of leaving[ii] , when the abusers control is being challenged the most.  For those with children their contact with the abuser might be on-going through child contact proceedings[iii] [Hester, 2011].

What we do hope however, is that whatever happens with the current story, that the audience leaves with a greater understanding of the ways in which domestic violence operates and how it impacts on those involved.  We hope listeners will understand how hard perpetrators make it to leave.

If anyone has been affected by the storyline, and wants to talk to someone in confidence, then the National Domestic Violence helpline are an excellent resource.

24 hours, 7 days a week.  0808 2000 247.

References

Abrahams, H. (2010) Rebuilding lives after domestic violence: long term outcomes. London: Jessica Kingsley

Gregory, A., Williamson, E., & Feder, G. (2016) The impact on informal supporters of domestic violence survivors: A systematic literature review.  Journal, Violence and Victims.  3 Mar 2016.

Hester, M, Ferrari, G, Jones, S, Williamson, E, Peters, T, Bacchus, L & Feder, G (2015) Occurrence and impact of negative behaviour, including domestic violence and abuse, in men attending UK primary care health clinics: a cross-sectional survey. BMJ Open, vol 5: pp. 1-10.

Hester, M. (2011). The three planet model – towards an understanding of contradictions in approaches to women and children’s safety in contexts of domestic violenceBritish Journal of Social Work41, 837 – 853.

Hester, M., Fahmy, E., & Donovan, C. (2011). Feminist Epistemology and the Politics of Method: Surveying Same Sex Domestic Violence. In C. Hughes, & R. Cohen (Eds.), Feminism Counts: Quantitative Methods and Researching Gender. London: Routledge.

Johnson, M.P. (1995) Patriarchal terrorism and common couple violence: Two forms of violence against women. Journal of Marriage and the Family 57 (2):283-294.

Mullender, A., & Hague, G. M. (2005). Giving a Voice to Women Survivors of Domestic Violence through Recognition as a Service User GroupBritish Journal of Social Work35 (8), 1321 – 1341.

Mullender, A., Hague, G. M., Imam, I., Kelly, L., Malos, E. M., & Regan, L. (2002). Children’s Perspectives on Domestic Violence. SAGE Publications Ltd.

Stark, Evan (2008) Coercive Control.  Oxford Uni Press; Oxford.

Williamson, E. (2010) Living in the world of the domestic violence perpetrator: Negotiating the unreality of coercive control, Violence Against Women, 16, pp.1412-1423.

Williamson.E. (2000) Domestic Violence and Health: The response of the medical profession, Bristol: Policy Press.

 

[i] http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/guest_posts/2607008-Guest-post-Domestic-abuse-I-am-a-real-life-Helen-Warning-upsetting-content

[ii] https://kareningalasmith.com/counting-dead-women/2015-2/

[iii] https://www.womensaid.org.uk/launch-of-nineteen-child-homicides-report-child-first-campaign/

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#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.

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