Image result for diane crockerProfessor Diane Crocker (Department of Sociology and Criminology, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada)

A few years back, my friend and I attended a panel discussing a Facebook group, the “Gentlemen’s Club,” that several male dentist students had set up.[1] The postings included sexist and misogynist comments about female classmates and the panel set out to address how to respond and promote a more respectful campus culture. I met my friend 25 year ago, while we were both undergraduates. At the time, she worked in women’s organizations and provided advocacy for women experiencing violence. But she had been away from that world for many years. At the end of the panel, my friend turned to me and announced her surprise that nothing had really changed in 25 years.

Her point was twofold. The attitudes revealed in the “Gentleman’s Club” echoed those on campuses during our undergraduate years. That hadn’t really changed. But her point spoke to another way in which nothing has changed. She felt disappointed that, in 25 years, we had not developed much new thinking about the problems. It struck her that we still doing the same kind of work to respond to the same old problems.

The “Gentlemen’s Club” presents only one example of current problems on Canadian campuses.

In recent years, Canadians have been confronted by seemingly endless stories about sexual harassment and violence on campuses across the country. At Saint Mary’s University, my own institution, a video surfaced in 2013 showing senior students leading new students in a chant about rape.[2] That year, students at the University of British Columbia, on the other side of the country, recited the same chant.[3] About a year later, the University of Ottawa suspended hockey players suspected of having participated in a gang rape.[4] Several universities have grappled with revelations about faculty members’ inappropriate behaviour toward students.

These highly publicized events have garnered widespread public condemnation and motivated universities and governments to respond.

In the past decade, we have seen universities develop prevention programs and work to improve their response to complaints. Universities are working on better policies, protocols and services aimed at addressing rape culture, sexual violence and confusion about the meaning of consent. Provincial governments have debated, and some have passed, legislation requiring universities to have sexual violence policies.[5] Other have created more informal agreements.[6]

All this activity builds on work started 20 years ago when campus sexual violence first became visible.[7] My friend and I remember the “no means no” stickers and buttons that littered campus and the “take back the night” marches organized by newly mobilized campus women centres. Since then, many sexual violence prevention and information programs have been implemented on campuses across North America and in the UK.

But, despite all this effort, universities continue to confront issues relating to sexual and gendered violence on university campuses. While we are witnessing a new wave of activity and interest in the problem, nothing has really changed.

The research literature suggests several reasons why programs have had limited effect on campus culture:

  • programs fail to raise awareness of the problem[8]
  • students can dismiss what they have learned in various training programs as applicable only to others [9]
  • programs are based on common sense but are not well grounded in theory[10]
  • programs have also been developed without much research having been done on how students understand sex and how they understand and negotiate consent[11]

These arguments have merit, but my work suggests that we might be using the wrong tools to promote broad cultural change on campuses.

I want to frame the problem in a particular way that I think helps us understand the limitations of the interventions we have pursued. To do this, I draw from those who work on complexity theory.[12]

Those who write about complexity describe three contexts relevant to the research proposed here: simple, complicated, and complex.[13] Simple problems are characterized by repeating patterns. They have identifiable linear, cause and effect relationships. These problems may be addressed with “best practices.” Complicated problems require expertise to uncover the less obvious cause-effect relationships and underlying patterns. While there may be more than one solution to a complicated problem, the resolution is still driven by facts. Complex problems present as “fluid and unpredictable.”[14] Because they are non-linear[15] they require innovative responses and creative methods to uncover patterns.[16]

As Snowden and Boone[17] suggest, fixing a Ferrari presents a complicated problem but fixing a rainforest involves complexity. And campus sexual violence is more like a rainforest than a Ferrari. The “rape culture” that supports sexual violence does not present with identifiable causes and effects and how it will respond to interventions is unpredictable. Yet programs and policies to address it work only at the simple or complicated aspects of the problem. Our responses have relied on facts, best practices, expertise and the search for cause-effect relationships.

Responses to university rape culture have tended to assume linear relationships between causes (e.g., students’ adherence to rape myths) and effects (e.g., sexist comments and sexual harassment). We teach students facts about rape, to counter the myths, and expect their behaviour to change accordingly. And sometimes it does. But we have not seen these changes result in the broad culture change anticipated by many policies, programs and interventions.

From a complexity perspective, our responses to university rape culture have failed to recognize that complex problems do not respond well to solutions that assume static, cause-effect relationships.

With that said, how do we get at the complexity? How do we generate data about the complexity so that we can make decisions and promote actions that promote broad culture change on university campuses?

I am working on a project exploring these questions using narrative research methods. I have asked students about their experiences (what happened?) instead of their opinion (what should we do?). The questionnaire I used, called a signification framework,[18] began by asking students to tell a brief story about an experience. The “story prompts” asked about experiences with sexual consent, “rape culture” and general campus safety. They could write about a positive or negative experience.

The stories ranged from sexual harassment to rape; from annoyances to crimes. Some described incidents that had been covered in the media. They recounted incidents in bars, residences and public spaces on campus. Some stories were about consensual relationships that students felt good about or incidents in which bystanders intervened. But most stories evoked highly negative emotions for students, most commonly anger and worry. Just under half the student said they felt disappointed and one third felt powerless by their experience.

The questionnaire went on to ask students what the stories meant to them. This approach has allowed me to explore patterns in students’ interpretations of their stories rather than my own. Sensemaker®  software[19] is used to identify and illustrate patterns.

Most students thought their stories were more about relations between genders and sexualized culture than individual beliefs. Students tended to think that changing public awareness and cultural norms would have had more effect on their stories than implementing more roles or policies.

Both these patterns reveal that we will not change students’ stories or experiences by changing individual beliefs or instituting more rules, regulations or policies. The patterns reveal that complexity underpins students’ experiences and that training to change attitudes or instituting rules, while necessary, are insufficient approaches to changing campus culture.

Ultimately, the students’ narratives provide a window on their experiences, and how they understand them. Looking through this window will open opportunities to trigger broad culture change so that the next generation of students have a different experience of our campuses.

Funding for Professor Crocker’s project was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Department of Community Services (Government of Nova Scotia). This blog post is based on a paper delivered by Professor Crocker to the Manchester Centre for Regulation, Governance and Public Law (ManReg) in November 2017. ManReg is based in the School of Law at the University of Manchester.


[1]Backhouse, C., McRae, D., & Iyer, N. (2015). Report of the Task Force on Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in Dalhousie University Faculty of Dentistry. Retrieved from Halifax, NS, Canada: ; Also see http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/report-into-dentistry-scandal-says-sexism-at-dalhousie-faculty-isnt-isolated/

[2] President’s Council. (2013). Promoting a Culture of Safety, Respect and Consent at Saint Mary’s University and Beyond. Retrieved from Halifax: www.smu.ca/presidents-council/report.html ; Also see http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/saint-mary-s-pro-rape-chant-sparks-20-new-recommendations-1.2469851

[3] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/ubc-investigates-frosh-students-pro-rape-chant-1.1699589

[4] http://nationalpost.com/news/canada/u-of-ottawa-extends-hockey-suspension-just-days-after-players-announce-6-million-lawsuit-against-university

[5] https://web2.gov.mb.ca/bills/41-1/b204e.php (Manitoba)

https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/160131 (Ontario)

https://www.leg.bc.ca/parliamentary-business/legislation-debates-proceedings/40th-parliament/5th-session/bills/first-reading/gov23-1 (British Columbia)


[7] Dekeseredy, N., & Kelly, K. (1993). The incidence and prevalence of women abuse in Canada university and college dating relationships. Canadian journal of sociology, 18(2), 137-159.

[8] Hayes-Smith, R. M., & Levett, L. M. (2010). Student Perceptions of Sexual Assault Resources and Prevalence of Rape Myth Attitudes. Feminist Criminology, 5(4), 335-354. doi:10.1177/1557085110387581

[9] Hayes-Smith, R. M., & Levett, L. M. (2010). Student Perceptions of Sexual Assault Resources and Prevalence of Rape Myth Attitudes. Feminist Criminology, 5(4), 335-354. doi:10.1177/1557085110387581

[10]McMahon, S., & Banyard, V. L. (2012). When Can I help? A Conceptual Framework for the Prevention of Sexual Violence Through Bystander Intervention. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 13(1), 3-14. doi:10.1177/1524838011426015

[11] Jazkowski, K. N., & Peterson, Z. D. (2013). College Students and Sexual Consent: Unique Insights. Sex Roles 50(6), 517-523. doi:10.1080/00224499.2012.700739

[12] Patton, M. Q. (2011). Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use. New York, NY: Guilford Press; Snowden, D. J., & Boone, M. E. (2007). A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making. Harvard Business Review, 110.

[13] Patton, M. Q. (2011). Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use. New York, NY: Guilford Press; Snowden, D. J., & Boone, M. E. (2007). A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making. Harvard Business Review, 110.

[14] Snowden, D. J., & Boone, M. E. (2007). A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making. Harvard Business Review, 110.

[15] Patton, M. Q. (2011). Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use. New York, NY: Guilford Press

[16] http://cognitive-edge.com/videos/cynefin-framework-introduction/

[17] Snowden, D. J., & Boone, M. E. (2007). A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making. Harvard Business Review, 110.

[18] http://old.cognitive-edge.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/GH-SenseMaker-brief.pdf

[19] http://old.cognitive-edge.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/GH-SenseMaker-brief.pdf




Dr Guido Noto La Diega is a Lecturer in Law at Northumbria University. Please tweet comments to @guidonld or email the author: guido.notoladiega@northumbria.ac.uk.

While same-sex marriage is visibly gaining momentum (see Australia, Austria, Germany and Malta this year), many countries have not fully recognised the rights of same-sex couples. This usually takes the form of civil unions (e.g. Italy and Greece) or of no recognition (e.g. Poland and Lithuania). However, other solutions are also possible. For instance, some countries recognise only same-sex marriages celebrated abroad (e.g. Armenia and Estonia).

In Northern Ireland, adoption has been available to same-sex couples since 2013, even though the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against same-sex marriage (Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Re Judicial Review [2013] NICA 37). However, in many countries where there is no same-sex marriage, these couples cannot access adoption. This is the case in Italy, even though the case that is commented on here brings some good news.

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Ever wondered why more women don’t report upskirting to the police? Here’s one possible reason – some police simply do not take this form of harassment seriously. Indeed, some seem to think it’s funny.

Aoife O’Donoghue and Clare McGlynn


A couple of days ago, UK Cop Humour re-posted a piece from the Bexley Gazette containing images of upskirting. The photo is of two women in the process of being arrested by two police officers – taken presumably by a member of the public – and shows them in a humiliating and degrading position. Held down by police over the bonnet of a police car, with their skirts raised and underwear showing, they cannot adjust their clothing and must suffer the glare of the public on their bodies. The decision of UK Cop Humour to re-post this image is seriously troubling.

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IB imageSnapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.

Female-only Cambridge University college allows transgender students

Arizona Hart, University of Manchester

A female-only College at the University of Cambridge has changed its admission policy to allow applications from transgender students who identify as female. The change was made following a decision by the Council of Murray Edwards College, one of three female-only Colleges at the prestigious university.

Prior to the decision, the College only admitted students who were legally recognised as female. In the UK, a person’s legal gender may be proved by a Birth Certificate or by a ‘Gender Recognition Certificate,’ a legal document that was introduced in 2005 by the Gender Recognition Act.

Under the change, the College will now admit students who are not legally female, but who identify as female and have “taken steps to live in the female gender.” What exactly will be required to prove this is unclear. In effect, it means that transgender persons who identify as women but who have not legally changed their gender under the Gender Recognition Act – a process which is lengthy, complicated, and cannot begin until a person turns 18 – will be allowed to apply to the College for the first time. Continue Reading »

Feminist Legal Studies celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2018.  The Editorial Board invites new members to join us as we look to the future in sustaining and regenerating feminist legal studies.  Since the new editorial board was established in 2013, we have continued to operate as a feminist collective committed to publishing interdisciplinary, theoretically engaged feminist scholarship relating to law and legal phenomena. Editors have consolidated FLS investment in critical approaches through, for example, stronger engagement with critical race perspectives.  We are also interested in the practical development of our field through encouraging documentation and analysis of exciting new engagements, including feminist legal activisms, decolonizing techniques, and governance adaptations.  We have started a dialogue about how best to ‘mix FLaK’ and draw on feminist commitments to openness, dissent and experience as we engage with new methods of inhabiting difficult spaces while sustaining the legacy of gender based critique of doctrine, policy and institutionalism.  Members of Feminist Legal Studies are committed to the journal as a living thing, which enables collaboration with others in trying to make our multiple worlds – of research, publishing and everyday life – more habitable.

Would you like to join us?    If you think you might be interested:

  • Read more about what is involved (e.g. here and here);
  • Check out our statement of principles;
  • Fill in the form overleaf, telling us a bit more about yourself; and
  • Send the form to Harriet Samuels (H.Samuels@westminster.ac.uk) by 4pm on Friday December 16th.

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Kyle L Murray & Tara Beattie are both PhD candidates at Durham Law School.

The Case

Gayle Newland’s case is likely not news to many – her retrial and conviction for sexual assault of a female friend has attracted wide-ranging media coverage. This is perhaps no surprise, given the numerous case-elements which challenge typical expectations of the nature of sexual assault, and the profile of an offender. As the Telegraph reports, “a woman who preys on another woman confounds expectations” – the public often picturing sex offenders “as seedy men who lie in wait for strangers.” But so too does the nature and extent of the deception surrounding the assault. The victim believed that she was in a romantic, sexual relationship with a man named ‘Kye’ – a false persona created by Newland. Although the two met, ‘Kye’ was never seen in person, with the victim being requested to wear a mask during their meetings, on account of supposed embarrassment at a disfigurement. When together, Newland carried out sexual acts using a prosthetic penis, and forbade the victim from touching her.

The case raises ethical and legal considerations surrounding deception, identity and consent. For some, Newland’s conviction is a worrying reflection of the state of gender and consent in criminal law, and something which could have repercussions for the LGBTQ community. For others, those voices do not fully acknowledge the damage caused by building a relationship upon lies.

For two law researchers, with respective backgrounds in moral scepticism and sexual privacy, this was the topic of an afternoon conversation which proved troubling to both parties. Our full commentary is provided in in dialogical form here. A summary of the issues discussed is provided below.

Trans rights, deceit, and bodily autonomy Continue Reading »

Guest editor: Dr Angela Dwyer and Dr Olivia Rundle

Abstracts due September 8, 2017. Final papers due February 5, 2018.

The Journal of Lesbian Studies, a peer-reviewed academic journal published by Taylor and Francis, invites proposal submissions for a special issue on the subject of Lesbians and the Law. The Journal of Lesbian Studies examines the cultural, historical, and interpersonal impact of the lesbian experience on society, keeping all readers – professional, academic, or general – informed and up-to-date on current findings, resources, and community concerns. The journal is interdisciplinary in scope and is essential reading for independent scholars, lay people, professors, and students.

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