Co-ordinating a research project in 6 continents

We live in a world where we can communicate with someone across the oceans with a single click and this facilitated research on sexual harassment and sexual assault in transit environments.

The challenge and joy of coordinating a research project in 6 continents in the era of the internet

Vania Ceccato

 

Vania Ceccato is a researcher at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. She is also a BSC International Ambassador.

 

This story is about the challenges and potentialities of doing collaborative work in Criminology using your own computer, with no funding, but supported by a ‘gaggle’ of a highly motivated researchers, ready to work.  Back in early 2016 I was teaching undergraduates how to put together a graduation thesis and teaching them how to apply a survey to general population. I incentivized my students to explore their own mobile phones and digital devices to make the data collection. Through this I taught them how to carry out an online survey and later critically analyze the collected data. I had long wished to question Metro passengers about their safety perceptions; so I handed my students questions on sexual violence and sexual harassment in transit in particular.

That did not work very well. Students were, overall, reluctant to ask such questions and passengers were unwilling to answer them. However, I do not attribute this failure to the students or passengers.  At that time, most of us did not feel comfortable talking openly about sexual harassment, at least when compared to recent years. Therefore, it was no surprise that my students were fairly reluctant to ask transit riders about their experiences of sexual harassment while using transit. Just a year later, the appearance of the #MeToo! Movement on the internet and outside cyberspace made it easier to get information about these problematic daily-life experiences. I decided then to have another go with the survey but this time asking my own students about sexual harassment.

Things went much better—the survey was answered by more than 1500 university students in the Stockholm region. Additionally, it later gained answers from 13,323 students worldwide, in 18 cities (as shown in map below)!

Ceccato Globe

What prompted this sudden change? This project originally began with the suggestion from a colleague in USA. She thought we should extend the original survey, apply it in our respective universities, and write a comparative paper. So we did. In the process, I mentioned our ideas with colleagues in a global user-list and suddenly, we were 14 universities engaged in this global project: researchers wanted to take part and apply the survey in their own universities, from Lagos- Nigeria to Vancouver-Canada, from Tokyo-Japan to Bogota-Colombia, 3 others came along during the process. It was amazing to see so many people, determined to see this project succeed. We did not have any funding to offer and I thought it would be a big of waste of everybody’s time if people would give up along the process … but it was worth it the risk.

I was lucky in having my colleague and mentor Prof Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris at UCLA coordinating this research enterprise with me. She was equally engaged and very interested in getting an overall picture on sexual violence/harassment in transit environments. Apart from the time difference (when she was waking up in Los Angeles, I was ready to go home from work!), it was lovely to have Anastasia to discuss ideas, worries, share instructions and support anyone in the group.

Of course, in a project of such global scope, there will always be incongruences and challenges when collecting and analyzing the data. This study was no exception, we faced a number of challenges: particularly when communicating over email and using various online sharing-platforms. Interestingly enough, most of the challenges we faced had nothing to do with technology or limited funding.

One of the earliest problems was the need to obtain approval from the university and/or from a special Ethical Review Board before approaching the students with the questionnaire. This process turned out to be longer than we expected and varied from country to country (taking around one to four months). I thought some of my colleagues would give up along the way, but thankfully they persevered!

Then came translation. In order to make comparisons with other cities possible, questions were later translated into seven languages (English, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese and Chinese) using Google Docs. This sharing platform ended up working very well and greatly simplified the process.

More complicated, were the differences in local and cultural norms. It was impossible to standardize all questions. In some cities the ‘race’ question in the USA (‘ethnic background’ in Sweden) was substituted with “country of birth/origin question”. In certain cases, the race/ethnicity question had to be omitted because in cities, the law does not allow asking questions on race, ethnicity or religious beliefs. Similarly in some cities, it is not considered appropriate to ask about someone’s sexual orientation in surveys, and our colleagues had to omit such questions.

We exchanged information mostly by email, and during the process of data collection and analysis, we split ourselves into smaller groups. Many of our meetings were performed over Skype or the similar communication platforms. Remote meetings did not always work but ultimately, we were able to put together a schedule of tasks to accommodate time differences between Manila, Stockholm and Los Angeles.

In all but two cases, the researchers were able to gather the minimum requested sample size of 300 students (some got more than 1000 students). To do so, they often had to follow different strategies such as adding an additional university, having a raffle with small rewards of “lucky money”. The questionnaire was distributed in different ways. For the large majority of cases, the survey was distributed electronically, either using a web platform, (for example, WordPress, Google Docs, etc.) email lists, or university pages with links to social media and to external electronic questionnaires. In a few cases, researchers distributed hard copies combined with an electronic version while in two cases, the link to the survey was posted on social media. 18 cities in 6 continents resulted in 13,323 students worldwide.

With data in hand, we provided instructions to all researchers to follow a particular set of research questions. Out of 18 case studies, 10 researchers presented their preliminary results in the Conference Crime and Fear in Public Places in Stockholm in October 2018, when a proposal for an edited book was suggested (the book proposal was later approved in early 2019). In order to homogenize the analysis and presentation processes, we created a framework of analysis and shared this via email with our colleagues. They were later invited to write essays of 2,500 words discussing their findings and contextual facts about their city. Using Skype or other communication platforms, they also worked in groups in four chapters putting together data, forming statistical analysis together and then writing.

However, our broad analysis brought with it some problems. For example, why did city A have 35% while city B had 78% in a particular question? Did they understand the instructions of analysis? This process was not always straightforward. It took months until we could agree upon a minimum set of questions and answers that were the same for everyone. Together with my co-coordinator in the USA, we combined statistics, compared results, checked and double-checked numbers and references. During that time we sent hundreds of emails, back and forth, before finally writing the final chapters, often with help from my colleagues. By August 2019, the edited volume was nearly complete. Yet, it took more than a month or so for us to get all permissions and high resolution pictures into one place before we finally submitted the book. There were many complications but eventually we did it!

So what can we take away from this research? The survey showed, without any doubt, that sexual violence/harassment in transit environments is unfortunately a common occurrence globally. However, the extent of harassment, ranges considerably from one city to the other. Additionally, the omnipresence of the potential for harassment in transit settings, leads to the adoption of certain behaviors on the transit riders behalf. Avoidance strategies prompt transit riders to avoid particular times, travel routes, and settings that are deemed as, particularly risky, or even avoid using transit completely, opting for other transportation options. This, of course, demands changes in the way transit systems are built, but also long term changes in society’s values and attitudes towards mobility and safety—both being highly gendered. We finalized this research by critically drawing from the results of the empirical work and proposing recommendations on how to respond to sexual harassment and sexual assault in transit environments.

So what can be learnt from the experience of doing research over emails and communication platforms?

We live in a world where we can communicate with someone across the oceans with a single click! This opens a door to a new world of possibilities, whether it be contacting a family member, friend, or doing research with colleagues.  It was a long and bumpy journey, but a worthwhile one. Our experience shows that it is possible to carry out a Global study like this one.  If you want to try to do something similar in the future, make sure you have three things before you start:

  1. Clear aim and objectives and some pretty good ideas how to achieve them
  2. A computer, internet and some ‘basic internet knowledge’
  3. (Most importantly) A great motivated group of researchers you can rely on to ensure that things are done on time, ethically, and with good care for the research process and quality of data. You might want to share the research coordination with someone senior, more experienced researcher in the area.

A book summarizes this joint efforts (Transit Crime and Sexual Violence in Cities: International Evidence and Prevention) and is coming out soon from Routledge. Country reports might be available on requestA special issue of International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice will be available in March 2020. On behalf of my colleague Prof Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris at UCLA, USA, I would like to thank everybody that took part in this project, and in particular, a friend from the UK who directly contributed to the original survey applied in Stockholm in 2016. Thanks!

 

Contact

Vania Ceccato, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Email: vania.ceccato@abe.kth.se

 

Images: courtesy of the author

 

Working remotely: Criminology in a time of Covid-19

Pace yourself and prioritise. It is too easy to work beyond healthy work limits. Begin to create daily rituals that include breaks.

Dr Charlotte Harris and Dr Helen Jones

How is the BSC – a Society of members with shared interests but geographically disparate –  working during the COVID-19 pandemic? Like you, our sense of normality has changed enormously over the past week. Our sense of ontological security has been rocked.

Many of you will have experience of working from home. It has been part of a working pattern for academics almost since time began. But for most, shared experience was grounded in being present with students through teaching and with colleagues through research activities.  Now, this has  become a more distant set of activities.  And working from home may be even less routine for those who work as criminologists outside academia.   Life has changed perhaps less for us, the paid staff of the BSC, as we routinely work from home and, we wanted to share our experiences – and those of other criminologists – to suggest ideas that might help as we negotiate this isolated and potentially isolating landscape.

Creating a Workspace

As an academic, you might have lots of experience of working from home, or you might have done this infrequently. You might need long-term or short-term ‘fixes’ to help you work remotely. Try to get clarity from your institution of what they are providing. Will your employer pay for your internet costs, pay for an ergonomically suitable workstation (including desk, chair, lighting, webcam, headset). If you need these things immediately, it might be worth buying them now, keeping the receipts and trying to claim the cost back later. But ask first if possible.

You may not have a separate room at home that you can work in. A room divider might be useful to not only give you a blank space behind you when you are on the webcam, but also to pin things to and to screen off your workspace when you are done for the day. Creating a sense of work/home separation is vital to your mental health.

Pace yourself and prioritise. It is too easy to work beyond healthy work limits. Begin to create daily rituals that include breaks. You might be self-isolating but you can still do some stretches in front of a window, brew some tea, set a timer for regular breaks

Sharing a workspace

One thing has changed even for some of us at the BSC office – you will probably not be the only person working from home.  You may have to share workspace with family members, some of them children.  And it won’t be just the children who might struggle to differentiate work and leisure time and contact.  Have set times to take a break, make coffee, establish  a timetable for the ‘oncall’ parent but try and be flexible to spontaneity and the joyous interruption.

Keep a work journal

You might already do this: many people who work remotely do. It is easy to lose track of what you have been doing. At work our day is punctuated by teaching, visiting the library, having a meeting (that is likely to be minuted), or having a coffee with colleague. You do not get this at home, so make a note for yourself of what you have done, what you need to do (and tick those things off your list as you do them) and document decisions taken. Do this and your work doesn’t become invisible.

Communication

Communication is central of effective remote working. You will need ways of clarifying immediate questions, coupled with regular scheduled meetings.  There are a range of tools and your university is responsible for organising this. It might be Slack, Hangout Chats, Skype, Teams or some other communication tool but you shouldn’t have to figure this out for yourself. There has to be an organisational strategy underpinning communication, even in these quickly evolving times.

Your institutional IT protocols should allow you to access all necessary resources remotely.  However, this might take time to arrange and can seem insurmountable if you are not very technologically-minded, and have never had to be.   Don’t panic, most will be sortable.

It might help you (and other people) feel less isolated if you have webcam on. We are visual creatures and it helps to visually connect with others. But if a camera does not work for you, do not feel pressurised to have the camera on. Don’t give in to pressure.

Managing emails

How can we avoid the perils of endless emails? In the era of ‘reply all’ it can feel that every email needs to be responded to, and now. Well they do not. Practice what you want other people to do. If an email is for information only, put those recipients into the C.C. panel and make it clear that they do not have to reply. Just check emails twice a day and also let people know. This allows more reflection time, and you will notice that some of the ‘Urgent’ emails have already been answered. It is about managing expectations, so be clear about what you can and cannot do.

Being human

Even in these pressured and quickly changing (and challenging) days, being present to your colleagues is a good thing. A quick message (entitled ‘Good Morning’), that people know is non-urgent and they do not have to reply to can go a long way to creating a sense of camaraderie. A paragraph of what you did yesterday and what you plan to do today would suffice. Maybe something funny or a small win (‘I got what I needed from the supermarket!’): it doesn’t have to be work related.

Your message may be as small as ‘I’m here’ when you start work, but it helps to create a sense of presence and awareness that we are still here and we still matter. If you feel isolated reach out, to a colleague, to your Faculty head, to us here at the BSC (because we are human too and we have been working remotely for many, many years).

Words of Wisdom from our colleagues

Emma Milne, University of Plymouth – As much as is possible, separate work and home – don’t work on your sofa or bed, work at a table and (ideally) in a spare room. So work stays work and home stays home.

Tim Newburn, LSE – On the issue of extended periods at home trying to write etc, I think the greatest dangers of remote working relate to the absence of (a) structure, and (b) human contact. I try (and often fail, but still try) to have a sense of the shape of the day. It is easier to keep going, ironically, if one has regular breaks. So, dividing the day into chunks tends to help. Then, regular checking in with others is crucial (another thing I’m only too good at letting slide). I think in the coming weeks and months we’ll discover that Skype/Zoom/FaceTime etc and going to be essential tools for keeping in touch with colleagues as well as friends and for looking after our own, and others, mental health. Other than that, I recommend both listening to lots of music and reading lots of fiction. Both are extraordinarily good for the soul.

Vicky Canning, University of Bristol – Time: the amount of time which goes into effective – quality – online teaching should not be underestimated and will shift the current workload model. Online teaching also opens up issues on both the delivery of sensitive materials and copyright with regard to use of online materials and images. Online institutions generally have legal teams to consider potentially libellous claims (such as when discussing corporate crime). This puts individuals at serious risk (I have 3 colleagues taken through court for this) so this should be considered. Also, from a worker rights perspective, we differ from other countries in that our institution owns copyright to our work. Whilst replay actually legally requires our permission to be reused under performance rights (so universities can own it, but not play it without our explicit permission) however this is not the case for lecture slides. As such, it would be good to have a formal agreement in kind from the University that we can delete our materials at the end of term so we are not at risk of writing ourselves out of jobs.

James Treadwell, Staffordshire University –  Firstly, this is not something to fear, and my big lesson is, regardless of your mode of delivery, that a real passion for subject of criminology and a love of debate and teaching cuts across all forms of delivery. I really do believe that. Secondly in the early days it is easy to get concerned about how people react to you when you can’t see them, and that for me is often the big change between in person and online. In my experience many engage with webcams off in live sessions. Do not be too phased by it. Also, do not let recorded sessions make you try and adopt a style that is not you. After a while it becomes second nature. I really like the live online forum because it can actually help to be even more topical, post articles, news stories and things in the message board and be contemporary and you will not have too much to fear about the shift to online.  But as you spend more time delivering in these new ways, find time to do the simple things too, stretch your muscles, do some exercise, spend half hour with a book in the sun in the garden to make up for the time you would walking to and from lectures. It is still important you enjoy your job, but it is a job and it is now coming into a different part of your world. But it is a job. Now more than ever it is vital you do not let it take over that home world.

Emma Williams, Canterbury Christchurch University – Make a call to a colleague every day and talk.

Marian Duggan, University of Kent – Make a (realistic) schedule of the day / week where possible. I have this on a whiteboard, broken into hourly chunks. It is a helpful frame of reference for what I should be doing and when. I also use the Pomodoro Technique (time allocation system) to keep tasks to their allocated time. Info about this is available online. For people (like me) who are unable to keep their working space separate from their general living space, try to get in a routine of setting up and packing away your work stuff to mentally break between ‘work’ and ‘home’.

Lizzie Seal, University of Sussex – Don’t have a 5 year old.

Do you have any other tip that you can share?   Tweet us @BritSocCrim and use the hashtag #WorkingFromHome

 

Copyright free image courtesy of: https://www.lostandfoundinedtech.org/

Unmasking Ineffectiveness: The UK’s Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

Unmasking ineffectiveness of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 exposes thirteen years of corporate killings, resulting from an unenforceable rule of law.

Sharon Hartles (002)

Sharon Hartles was awarded a Master of Arts in Crime and Justice (with distinction) from the Open University in December 2019. She has an interest in crimes of the powerful, including state and state-corporate crime.  In an explicit attempt to move beyond criminology, she draws upon a zemiological approach to evidence the social, political and economic context in which crime is produced and interwoven into society via socio-economic inequalities.

 

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (CMCH Act) has never been as visibly under the spot-light or as open to public scrutiny as it is currently. The reason this is the case is the loss of life of 72 individuals (and subsequent contempt) which occurred during a preventable and foreseen fire that took place at the Grenfell Tower. This fire occurred on Wednesday 14th June 2017, and has been labelled amongst other things as ‘Britain’s worst fire in a century’. If an event such as this was not tragic enough, it resulted from the failures of a plethora of companies and large organisations fuelled by cost-cutting measures in the pursuit of profiteering.

On Monday 10th June 2019, Scotland Yard announced its intention to pursue suspects for offences of corporate manslaughter and gross negligence manslaughter. However, due to the delayed public inquiry, a 2021 timeframe was given as a date for formal charging decisions. This reveals the clear links to corporate manslaughter and provides the grounding for why this law is now centre stage of media interest. A more recent headline on Thursday 6th February 2020 by the BBC News entitled: ‘Grenfell Tower inquiry backs protection for refurbishment firms giving evidence’ reveals an additional layering of contempt taking the form of ‘protection’ granted to those potentially suspected under the CMCH Act. It is apparent, that such ‘protection’, in the form of impunity, is deeply ironic given the fact that, had ‘protection’ – in the form of health and safety of the Grenfell residents – been the driving force behind the Grenfell Tower refurbishments, ‘protection’ against incrimination would not be required by those who now find themselves facing possible corporate manslaughter charges.

Critical academics with an interest in crimes of the powerful, particularly corporate crimes, are well versed in the ineffectiveness of the CMCH Act. Within this field of study, a large body of data can be readily drawn upon to evidence that in its first ten years only a paltry total of 26 companies have been successfully prosecuted under the CMCH Act. What is even more noteworthy, is that 25 of these companies could have been prosecuted under the previous law. The law of Involuntary Manslaughter was underpinned by the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought. Gross Negligence Manslaughter was a subsidiary element under which successful corporate prosecutions took place. However, this was not without its flaws because it did not reflect the way modern organisations operate, which may have been a factor behind the significant lack of its implementation.

In the 50 years prior to 1998 there were a total of four cases, where individual directors and business owners faced manslaughter charges. Each of these cases was successful because they were small organisations where the management had a more ‘hands on’ involvement. Between 1998 and the introduction of the CMCH Act the number of cases rose to approximately 20 due to a joint protocol between the Police, the HSE and the Crown Prosecution Service. All of these prosecutions had something in common and that was they all concerned small businesses (and not large corporations). In part, this was because it is easier to identify an individual such as the senior manager or director as being ‘a controlling mind’ in small companies, and therefore relatively easier to prosecute. Unlike the previous law, the CMCH Act was designed to encompass the failure of health and safety management, the degree of that failure should determine the corporate and individual charges laid.

The CMCH_Act, defined corporate manslaughter in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and corporate homicide in Scotland, and was given Royal Assent on Thursday 26th July 2007, coming into force on Sunday 6th April 2008, and was fundamentally devised to hold both small and large organisations to account. Yet none of those, aforementioned 26 companies prosecuted under the CMCH Act have been large organisations. In contrast to the 26 prosecutions under the law of corporate manslaughter in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in almost twelve years there have been no prosecutions in Scotland under the law of corporate homicide. For this reason, Claire Baker, Member of the Scottish Parliament put forward a proposal for a Bill to reform the law to ensure ‘where loss of life is caused by the recklessness or gross negligence of individuals, companies or organisations that, where proved, the wrongdoer can be convicted of the offence that reflects the appropriate seriousness and moral opprobrium of what occurred’. The final proposal was lodged with The Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 12th November 2019.  This Private Member’s Bill has since received the right to be introduced and subject to the three-stage scrutiny process.

The ineffective nature of implementing corporate law can be seen globally and is not localised to the UK. This can be illustrated through the SNC-Lavalin scandal that demonstrates how: ‘Canada is weak on corporate crime’. The law is manipulated to favour ‘powerful interests, and the unprecedented power of multinational corporations’. Such crafting leaves ‘ordinary people exposed to the harms that result from corporate greed taking precedence over the rule of law’. According to Professor Gary Slapper, ‘Justice is mocked if an important law goes unenforced‘ and this has certainly been exemplified by the lack of successful prosecutions under the CMCH Act, when compared to the thousands of fatalities, resulting from gross breaches of a duty of care.  A key criticism of this law is the loophole in the form of the inclusion of section 18, which explicitly states ‘No individual liability’.

On Friday 21st July 2006, in response to the government publishing the Corporate Manslaughter Bill, Dorothy Wright, a founder member of Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) stated:  “Having read it I don’t feel the bill is worth the paper it is written on”.  Furthermore, Hazards Campaign noted that FACK met with Labour Government ministers and argued without success, for individual Directors Duties and Responsibilities to be included in a bid to tighten up the Bill. In the light of this, FACK openly claim that the CMCH Act was a betrayal of families as soon as it was passed. Thirteen years in the making (between the initial proposals in 1994 and the introduction of the CMCH Act) its legacy is that companies which kill will never be anything more than symbolically ‘at risk’ of a corporate manslaughter conviction. Therefore, this leads to multiple questions including: what was the purpose of enacting an ineffective law? and: Who stands to benefit from it?

It has taken the death of a further 72 people (increasing the corporate death toll rate) and the high profile nature of the Grenfell Tower tragedy to yet again unmask the ineffectiveness of the CMCH Act.. Almost fourteen years after the government published the Corporate Manslaughter Bill, FACK’s response proved to be predictively accurate. ‘A fine however large is not an appropriate or a proportionate penalty for the crime of killing a person by flouting health and safety law which is in fact criminal law. Larger corporations will pay the fine and carry on killing and maiming as usual’.

The Grenfell survivors, those bereaved and the community, should not have to play a pivotal role in pursuing truth, justice and accountability. However, their publicised plight may serve to save other families from suffering the same fate at the hands of large organisations/corporations whose actions appear to be beyond the reach of the CMCH Act. The legislation has to be reviewed. Adopting Claire Baker’s Proposed Culpable Homicide (Scotland) Bill which encompasses an appropriate sentence for the wrongdoer is a fairer form of justice. For this reason debate around enacting reform into the UK’s Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide laws must be prioritised.

Originally posted on:  sharonhartles.weebly.com

Direct link: https://sharonhartles.weebly.com/unmasking-ineffectiveness-the-uks-corporate-manslaughter-and-corporate-homicide-act-2007.html

 

Contact

Sharon Hartles, Open University

Email: sh28739@ou.ac.uk

Twitter: @shartles1

Images: courtesy of the author