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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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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. (more…)

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Charlotte O’Brien, University of York

[This post was originally published in The Conversation and is reproduced here with the kind permission of that blog and the author]

It has emerged that the team being sent to Brussels to lead on talks to take Britain out of the EU includes just one woman – out of nine named negotiators.

This imbalance is not only embarrassing. It’s negligent. Failing to include women on the frontline of this incredibly important process jeopardises the quality of the negotiations.

Men don’t know (or do) what’s best for women

Having women on your team matters – and not just because of optics. It affects the quality of the laws that are made. The Equal Pay Act of 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 were both passed by parliaments that were 96% male and 4% female. Both pieces of legislation are great achievements on the surface but both were deeply flawed. The original equal pay rules required a job evaluation survey, effectively meaning that women had to seek permission from their employers (back then: men) to mount an equal pay claim. Until the EU intervened, the Sex Discrimination Act appeared to require pregnant women to be compared to sick men, making it easier to sack them. This unfavourable treatment on the grounds of pregnancy was not considered sex discrimination. (more…)

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

World’s first male rape centre

Aidan Bull, Durham University

A hospital in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, is believed to be the first rape centre for male sexual violence victims.

Sweden has the highest rate of rape in Europe, but this is partly because the country records allegations in a different way to most countries, tracking each case of sexual violence separately. For example, if someone says they were raped every day by their partner for a week, officers will record seven potential crimes. In contrast, many other countries would simply label it as a single incident. This wide reaching tracking system has helped to uncover the hidden statistics of male rape.  In 2014, some 370 cases of sexual assault on men or boys were reported across Sweden, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, although experts believe that the actual figure is much higher.

(more…)

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

Supreme Court Decides on Fraudulent Divorce Case

Catherine Ravenscroft, Durham University

On 14th October 2015, the Supreme Court handed down judgement in the landmark case of Sharland v Sharland. This case concerned the division of assets upon divorce where one party, in this instance the husband, has fraudulently misled the court as to their future financial plans. Mr Sharland owned shares in a company which he told the Court he had no intention of selling. Mrs Sharland signed a consent order on the basis of this assertion. However, during the court hearing, it was discovered that Mr Sharland did indeed have plans to sell his shares, which would significantly affect the claim which Mrs Sharland advanced. She appealed to the Supreme Court on the basis that the consent order should be sealed. It was unanimously held that ‘fraud unravels all’ and the consent of Mrs Sharland was found to be vitiated by the fraudulent behaviour of her husband. The consent order was, thus, set aside.

The importance of this decision is to be found in its consequences. The decision of the Supreme Court has allowed Mrs Sharland to return her claim to first instance and have its value reconsidered by the courts. Although the full significance of this decision may not be felt for some time, it appears to create significant scope for the re-opening of divorce settlements on the basis of fraud. In contrast, there are also concerns that this decision may open the floodgates to couples attempting to revisit divorce agreements.

(more…)

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Enright,_MaireadMáiréad Enright is a lecturer at Kent Law School and is completing a PhD at University College Cork which examines the legal treatment of questions in Muslim divorce practice in the UK and the United States from the perspective of a multiculturalist feminism. This post is cross-posted from humanrights.ie with permission and thanks.

The High Court handed down judgment in PP v. HSE today.  The Irish Times provides a useful summary here.  P., who was 15 weeks pregnant, died on December 3rd, but her body  was subjected to medical processes to ‘facilitate the continuation of maternal organ supportive measures in an attempt to attain foetal viability’ for several more weeks.  We call the experimental treatment her body received ‘somatic care’. ‘Somatic care’ seems a benign phrase, but it involved a tremendous amount of intervention designed to postpone the inevitable collapse and decay of P.’s other organs following the cessation of blood flow to her brain, thereby sustaining the pregnancy. Medical evidence given in court made clear that the eventual effects of these interventions on her appearance, and the consequent distress to her family, undermined her dignity in death. Nevertheless, doctors in both hospitals where she was treated apparently believed that the law required them to follow this unusual course of action, given that the foetus still had a heartbeat. By the time the case came to court, P.’s body was deteriorating rapidly. There was no real prospect that, even if treatment were continued, the pregnancy could be maintained until viability. Her family and partner wanted the somatic treatment discontinued, and her father applied to the court for this purpose. This morning, the  High Court exercised its inherent jurisdiction and authorised P.’s doctors to discontinue treatment, at their discretion.

(more…)

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

‘Equal Recognition’ campaign launched in Edinburgh; hope for a ‘third gender’ within the UK?

Oriana Frame, Durham University.

On the 1st of November 2014, the Equal Recognition campaign was launched in Edinburgh. The campaign, pioneered by The Scottish Transgender Alliance alongside the Equality Network, has vocalised the notion that Scotland, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, is falling behind countries such as India, Denmark, Bangladesh and Germany who have already legally recognised a ‘third’ non-binary gender.

(more…)

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