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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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Alex Shar10689909_1016854768344392_8793741729286128967_npe, Professor of Law at Keele University and barrister at Garden Court Chambers, London. Twitter handle: alexsharpe64

We are familiar with opposition to rights acquisition by sexual and gender minorities, at least when it comes from socially conservative and/or religiously moral quarters. Yet, in our topsy-turvy world, it is elements of the liberal or libertarian left that increasingly appear to block the way. In this article, I will consider this disturbing tendency through the example of the recent announcement of the Equalities Minister Justine Greening that the government intends to liberalise legal arrangements governing legal recognition of gender identity.[1]

This reform proposal has led to sustained criticism from several leading liberal or libertarian political journalists. Thus it has been criticised by Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked Magazine,[2] and by Helen Lewis, the deputy editor of the New Statesman.[3] In this article, I want to take to task the central objection each raises. O’Neill objects to what he views as the re-writing of history regarding the ‘facts’ of gender. For her part, Lewis imagines all manner of harmful consequences that reform may produce for cisgender women. In O’Neill’s case, existing legal arrangements, as well as proposed reform, appear to represent an affront, while Lewis focuses on potential harms which she links to expanding the pool of people able to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).

I will argue that O’Neill’s objection is based on a mistaken view of history, of historical analysis, of the doing of history. Conversely, Lewis’ claim is an empirical one, but one utterly lacking in evidence. What unites both is fantasy. Lewis’ imagination runs amok, sensitising the public to the possibility that one of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups in society (trans women) might, if permitted to pee in female bathrooms, have recourse to female refuges and/or be allocated to a gender-appropriate prison, prey on cisgender women. In a different register, O’Neill invokes the cultural power of Orwell and points to the dystopia he believes reform will inevitably deliver. (more…)

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10689909_1016854768344392_8793741729286128967_n

Alex Sharpe is a professor at Keele University School of Law. She has been involved in transgender law reform and activism for over twenty years, and has written extensively on the criminalisation of so-called ‘gender fraud’ under the Sexual Offences Act. Alex has recently been interviewed by CBC Radio Canada on the Gayle Newland case, together with Professor Madden Demsey. Her interview can be found here.

On 15th September, Gayle Newland was convicted of three counts of sexual assault under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. She is currently awaiting sentence, though a custodial term has been indicated. The case is the latest in a series of so-called, and so far successful, ‘gender fraud’ based prosecutions that have come before English (R v Barker [2012] (unrep); R v McNally [2013] EWCA Crim 1051) and Scottish (R v Wilson [2013] (unrep)) courts. Barker and McNally received significant custodial sentences[1] and all convicted defendants have been placed on the Sexual Offenders Register for life.

Most of the media and legal coverage of the Newland case, like the cases of Barker, McNally and Wilson before it, has tended, unproblematically, to reproduce a fraud narrative, rather than challenge the ideological underpinnings of a worldview that makes fraud such an easy conclusion for courts and juries to draw. Of course, prosecution for ‘gender fraud’ is deeply troubling for other reasons. In the first place, prosecutions can be viewed as a significant example of criminal law overreach. That is, and irrespective of where we determine consent to end or deception to begin, the use of the criminal law to regulate deceptive, as opposed to coercive, sexual relations, can be viewed as an overly draconian and counter-productive measure. (more…)

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Kate FitzGibbonKate Fitz-Gibbon

In October 2010 the British government abolished the controversial partial defence of provocation and simultaneously introduced a new partial defence of loss of control. Provocation had long caused controversy in the English courts because of its perceived inability to accommodate the experiences of women who killed a long-term abusive male partner while all too readily accommodating the unmeritorious contexts within which jealous and controlling men killed female partners who were leaving them or had allegedly committed infidelity.

The new partial defence of loss of control was introduced as part of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and retains many of the features of the former provocation defence, including the requirement for there to have been a loss of control. However, notably in an attempt to distance the English law of homicide from the injustices associated with provocation, the new loss of control defence includes a provision to exclude the defence from reducing murder to manslaughter in cases where a person’s loss of control resulted from a situation of sexual infidelity. At the time of implementation, the Ministry of Justice commented that:

‘The Government does not accept that sexual infidelity should ever provide the basis for a partial defence to murder’.

The new partial defence has now been in operation in England and Wales for nearly four years, begging the question: to what extent has the new offence allowed the English law of homicide to distance itself from the problems previously associated with the heavily discredited provocation defence?

(more…)

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SKDr Sarah Keenan teaches and writes on property, feminist and critical race theory at SOAS School of Law.

This piece was originally posted on halfinplace and is reproduced here with permission and thanks.

This is the text of a speech I gave at the SOAS teach-out as part of the UCU strike on October 31, 2013:

It’s great to see you all here at the teach-out today.  As you know, a strike is one strategy in trying to fight the neoliberalisation of higher education, but any political campaign that aims to fight or destroy something needs to also actively think about and start creating what it wants to build instead.  By working together to make this teach-out happen the SOAS SU and UCU haven’t just helped to protest against unfair pay for university staff, but have actually created an open, free and diverse space where students and lecturers can discuss ideas, which is exactly the kind of space that we want our universities to be.

By doing that and being here at the teach-out today creating our own space, we are resisting the politics of inclusion.  Those of us who are trying to achieve real social change need to be careful that we aren’t just asking or fighting to be included in systems and institutions that are already broken.  That means for those of us who occupy marginal identity categories, that we need to avoid political campaigns that aim for our inclusion in systems and institutions that are elitist, and/or that are sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist or otherwise violent.  Those systems and institutions weren’t built by or for marginalised and oppressed people, and inclusion in those systems won’t end structures of power that produce gross social and economic inequality. (more…)

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kathrynElizabethSharpProfessor Kathryn Hollingsworth with Dr Elizabeth Sharp

During periods of rapid social change we are presented with opportunities to alter the status quo: to move towards a more equal society, to address the oppressive conditions experienced by those lacking economic, social, political, and cultural power and to engender social renewal (that is, to encourage individuals and communities to thrive).  However, times of change also generate new contexts for the power structures of the past to be perpetuated and further entrenched, creating more – not less – oppression.  This we can see when we consider the position of women in the UK, in 2013.   

Think about the economic crisis.  In June 2013, a report entitled The Impact of Austerity Measures on Women: A Case Study of the North East was published by the Women’s Resource Centre and the NE Women’s Network.  The report, which was presented later in the summer to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), found that women are disproportionately affected by unemployment (especially in the North East), by welfare cuts, and by the closure or reduction of services that help prevent or respond to the problems (including sexual and domestic violence) that women experience.

And what about developments in technology? (more…)

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vulnerablebodies%20003PECANS WORKSHOP 2013

CALL FOR PAPERS

Encounters with vulnerability:

The victim, the fragile, the monster, the queer, the abject, the nomadic, the feminine, the shameful, and the rest 

An interdisciplinary conference for postgraduate and early-career academics in the area of law, gender and sexuality

 

Nov 22nd, 2013

Venue: Newcastle University

Host: Gender Research Group, Newcastle University

This one-day conference seeks to bring together postgraduate and early-career scholars from across the UK and beyond to explore the general theme of ‘Encounters with vulnerability: the victim, the fragile, the monster, the queer, the abject, the nomadic, the feminine, the shameful, and the rest’. This interdisciplinary conference in the field of Law, Gender and Sexuality’ will investigate what lies beneath vulnerability, how it is deployed, what it calls for, and how it is denied, among other. Despite its ubiquity, the concept of vulnerability has been fine-tuned in the last decade or so. It has been used to explain and counteract the different dimensions of how the ‘subject’ and the body that it inhabits are deployed – represented, regulated, normalised – through atomistic notions, without relations. To the extent that normative orders, from politics to law, assume or idealize disembodied subjectivity, it encourages us to re-encounter and re-think the different forms of relating to embodiment, with vulnerability as one of its aspects. (more…)

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