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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.

References

[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)

[6]https://novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20160622008

[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

 

 

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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.

(more…)

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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 (more…)

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Professor Alex Sharpe, Keele University10689909_1016854768344392_8793741729286128967_n

Today, at Manchester Crown Court, Gayle Newland was, after a second trial, convicted of three counts of the sexual offence of assault by penetration,[1] on the basis of ‘gender identity fraud.’[2] After serving eleven months of an eight year sentence, the Court of Appeal set aside her original conviction in 2015[3] because they found it to be ‘unsafe’ due to the summing up of trial judge, Roger Dutton.[4] In my view, prosecutions of this kind should not be commenced. My reasons for taking this stance include, but are not exhausted by, opposition to criminal law overreach (criminalisation of non-coercive, desire-led intimacy constitutes a step too far), and concern over legal inconsistency (contrast prosecution of gender non-conforming people for sexual fraud with the fact that deceptions, for example, as to wealth, social status, drug use, criminal convictions, religious belief and/or ethnic status produce no legal consequences), and discrimination (‘gender history’ is not only singled out for special legal attention, but it is the gender histories of LGBTQ kids, rather than people at large (for we all have gender histories), that appears to exhaust state interest in historical facts about gender). (more…)

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Kate Gleeson

Dr. Kate Gleeson, Macquarie University, NSW, Australia

The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is in its closing stages, preparing its final report due at the end of this year. The Royal Commission was established in 2013 in response to allegations of cover-ups of child sexual abuse in religious and secular institutions.

The Commissioners have since embarked on an extensive project of truth recovery and restorative justice, investigating the organisational practices of institutions ranging from dance schools, swim schools and yoga ashrams, to schools, Churches and orphanages of different denominations, although most allegations concern the Catholic Church.

Throughout the past four years the Royal Commission has held public hearings into more than 40 investigatory case studies, and conducted over 6700 private hearings for survivors to tell their stories unchallenged. Another 2000 private sessions are scheduled before the end of the year. Information gathered in hearings is believed to have led to at least 120 prosecutions of historical child sex offences across the country. (more…)

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

The LGBTQ+ Community and “Gay Conversion Therapy”

William Lee, University of Manchester

Malta made history on the 7th December 2016 when the Maltese Parliament unanimously approved the Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression Bill. Among other things, the Bill criminalises “gay conversion therapy”, giving legal recognition that for the position that “no sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression constitutes a disorder, disease or shortcoming of any sort”. This thereby relieves the LGBTQ+ community of potentially being subjugated to any “deceptive and harmful” act designed to change their sexual behaviour or gender identity.

The new Act in effect positions Malta as the first European country to ban “gay conversion therapy”.

The Business Insider states that Malta has been at the forefront of progressive social reforms in Europe since the Labour government was elected in 2013. For that, Malta quite comfortably deserves its ranking of being the best European country for LGBTQ+ rights as deemed by the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA- Europe).

In light of such radical progress in Malta, this post will look briefly at the origins of “gay conversion therapy”. It will also briefly outline the United Kingdom (UK) and American’s current stance in regard to this practice. (more…)

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

H&M’s 2016 Autumn Collection: a step forward for feminism?

Begüm Elif Yılmaz, University of Manchester

A recent H&M film advertisement for the fashion company’s 2016 Autumn Collection has been the centre of attention for feminists on the web in recent weeks. The ad seems perfect on the surface. With the song “she’s a lady” playing in the background, it is made up of footage of a host of ‘real’ women enjoying their lives. The apparent aim of the advert is to challenge people’s understanding of what being a lady really means and to celebrate those women who do not conform to the gender standards of society. In short, the advertisement highlights the important idea that all women are still women regardless of what they look like, where they come from, what they do and how they do it. It includes a trans woman, a woman in a restaurant picking her teeth with her fingers, a curvy woman in her underwear comfortably admiring herself in the mirror, a woman with an unshaven armpit enjoying junk food, a woman with a shaven head, a strong executive directing a meeting, a proud androgynous woman who would traditionally be ridiculed for her so-called “masculinity”, an older woman and a woman in an empty subway spreading her legs. These women come from various backgrounds, making the advertisement not just a feminist one, but also one that adds a broader diversity element to the conversation. Challenging the societal norm that women can and ought to only have a specific look and possess a certain collection of traits, this advertisement seems to reflect a deeply progressive presentation of modern women. Almost all women have been warned at least once in their lives for doing something “inappropriate” because it is “unladylike”, and as such the new advert’s overarching theme seems to be largely positive.

(more…)

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