Justice must be seen to be done

An intersectional analysis of observations of Crown Court trials for rape and serious sexual assault.

Ellen Daly

Ellen Daly is a PhD candidate at Anglia Ruskin University. Her research explores the use of rape myths and other narratives in rape and sexual assault trials in England and Wales.

 

In recent years there has been a great deal of media attention paid to the prosecution of rape. Most recently criticisms have frequently centred around the falling prosecution rate in England and Wales. Although reports of rape are increasing, the number of prosecutions continues to fall. This means that many victims are not getting the justice they are seeking through reporting to the criminal justice system. Only a tiny portion see justice, and for victim-survivors from minoritised or marginalised groups the chances of seeing a conviction are even slimmer. This begs the question “why?” – why does it seem that victim-survivors from particular groups are more likely to find justice through the criminal justice system?

Evidence suggests that victim-survivors from particular backgrounds have limited access to justice as a result of structural inequalities and various aspects of their perceived identity (see for example Lovett et al 2007 and Hester 2013). There is little contemporary research that addresses these issues, particularly in the context of criminal court. Criticisms of Crown Court responses to rape and sexual assault often focus on the influence of rape myths on trial practices and outcomes, but very little has been done to explore the links between what goes on in the courtroom and the differences in attrition rates for women from minoritised or marginalised groups. This is what my PhD research seeks to explore.

Rape myths are frequently pointed to as offering an explanation for the lack of justice for rape and sexual assault victim-survivors as a whole, and with good reason. It is well established, through a strong body of research from a range of disciplines, that rape myths are commonly accepted among the general population, including by those involved (or potentially involved) in the administration of criminal justice. This includes research that evidences the existence of rape myths at trial and their influence on jurors.

Rape myths have featured in every rape and sexual assault trial I have observed so far and have usually had the function of either blaming the victim or excusing the defendant’s alleged actions. They are utilised as a tool for casting doubt on victim-survivor testimony and to bolster the defence of the accused.

In my observations I have heard the behaviour of victim-survivors being questioned, implying that but for their actions the incident would not have occurred. I heard a victim-survivor being questioned on her drinking habits and binge-drinking, even though a central argument to the defence case was that she was not drunk on the night in question. These arguments draw on rape myths that seek to minimise the behaviour of the accused by positioning the victim-survivors as bearing responsibility for what happened to them.

I have heard victim-survivors being positioned as liars who are seeking revenge or are embarrassed and regretful. In the courtroom, these myths that position women as liars rely on the misconception that false allegations of rape are common, when actually we know that not to be true.  These lines of argument may be particularly pertinent to juror decision-making when considered against the backdrop of mass media coverage regarding collapsed cases.

These myths can be applied to all victim-survivors though, so their presence doesn’t necessarily answer what could be happening to impact specifically on those from minortised and marginalised groups. Provisional findings from my research indicate that one possibility is that narratives around social class are used in trial and that they intersect with the gendered rape myths that are already known to exist in the courtroom.

There are no direct references to social class, it is more subtly implied through small seeds sown throughout the trial. There are frequent references to victim-survivors and defendants being uneducated and unintelligent, which come against the context of evidence which establishes that they live in an impoverished town, on a council estate, that they receive state benefits, are unemployed or are in insecure work. All of which are things that are reflective of working-class stereotypes in our society. The work of Charles Murray in the 1990s on the so-called ‘underclass’ in Britain and its subsequent and continued uptake by the media and politicians, provides a starting point for arguing that stereotypes often portray working-class people as poorly educated or of lower intelligence compared to those deemed middle- and upper-class.

In my observations, defendants being of low intelligence was being presented by the defence as an inability to lie or pretend, positioning them as the credible party the juries should believe above the victim-survivors. To illustrate, two trials included text message evidence of what could be read as confessions to the events in question. In these trials the specific wording used by the defendants was thoroughly picked apart by both prosecution and defence, with the prosecution proclaiming that the defendants’ explanations were ridiculous. Whilst on the other hand, the defence in both cases rationalised the choice of words as being because the defendants are uneducated or unintelligent, that his words were not intended as a confession to rape or sexual assault and can simply be explained by his poor grasp of English grammar and vocabulary. These narratives are taking the counter-side of the ‘women lie’ rape myth, by suggesting that these ‘unintelligent’ working-class men are too stupid to lie convincingly and therefore must be believed.

Other narratives related to social class draw on middle-class ideals of respectability. Victim-survivors are portrayed as not conforming to these standards of respectability, whether that be through their drinking habits or the way they present themselves. We needn’t look much further than reality TV to evidence how young women, particularly those from working-class backgrounds, have been portrayed as heavy drinkers whose behaviour and ways of dressing are used to depict them as ‘easy’ and ‘up for anything’ (recent examples include Geordie Shore and TOWIE). This of course links to gendered rape myths around respectability, which are based on middle-class ideals.

The findings I’ve outlined here perhaps begin to answer how some groups of victim-survivors appear to have a lower chance of seeing a conviction in their cases. Narratives drawing on victim-survivors’ and defendants’ perceived identity or membership to a particular group, which in the examples outlined here related to social class, intersect with gendered rape myth narratives. Therefore it is not only rape myths that play a role in undermining the credibility of victim-survivors and bolstering the presumed innocence of defendants. The reality inside the courtroom is much more nuanced than that. Myth-busting measures are unlikely to have the desired effect without taking account of broader structural inequalities. Fair justice cannot come from a system where convictions and acquittals can be made based on myths and stereotypes.

Contact

Ellen Daly, Anglia Ruskin University

Email: Ellen.daly@pgr.anglia.ac.uk

 

Copyright free images courtesy of the author

 

 

Attending my first ever Academic Conference

An account of my experience, as a first year PhD student, at the British Society of Criminology Conference 2019.

CHerriott2019

 

Charlotte Herriott is a first year PhD researcher at Anglia Ruskin University, researching the impact of sexual history evidence upon mock jury deliberations in rape trials in England and Wales.

 

From the first few weeks of enrolling on my PhD, there seemed to be some sort of buzz about academic conference season. My supervisor, the doctoral school and peers alike all spoke of attending academic conferences throughout their academic careers: to present work, hear about other research being undertaken in the field, and to network with other academics.

To me – being shy, kind of awkward and having the most atrocious memory when it comes to anything academic that I have read – academic conferences sounded scary, intimidating and dare I say, a bit boring. I was definitely anxious about the prospect of having to engage in deep, academic discussion and seeming like I didn’t belong in the academic world, and I really didn’t want to stand up in front of a room full of people and get grilled on my research decisions. So academic conferences were something I tried to put to the back of my mind as these were ‘ages away,’ right?

Wrong! I know everyone says it, but three years really isn’t that long to get a PhD done! All of a sudden I appear to be approaching the end of my first year as a PhD student – whilst still sometimes feeling just as lost and confused as I did back in September – and safe to say, it’s flown by.

Anyway, conference season well and truly approached me.

My supervisor recommended that I submit an abstract for the British Society of Criminology conference. So, trying to impress, but secretly hoping that I got rejected, I sent off my abstract and shortly received that bitter sweet email to tell me that my abstract had been accepted.

The next hurdle was funding. Unfortunately my department had no funding available for me to attend the BSC conference and being a student I didn’t exactly have the spare cash lying around to pay for this myself. Thankfully the BSC run a postgraduate bursary programme for students like myself who are struggling to gather the conference fee and I was lucky enough to receive this award meaning that I was funded to attend the whole conference.

Soon enough, the time came around for me to travel to Lincoln, full of trepidation, to attend my first ever academic conference. Turns out – I had nothing to worry about!

First of all, I was expecting masses of people and huge lecture theatres with presenters presenting to hundreds of people at a time. Yes the plenary sessions (keynotes) may have had around a hundred people – but the panel presentations were given in normal classrooms to up to about 25-30 people: much less intimidating!

Not only this, but the gruelling interrogation that I was expecting presenters to get from their clued-up academic audience, was also far from reality. In practice, the atmosphere throughout the conference was thoroughly supportive, friendly and constructive. Questions tended to be helpful and triggered useful and engaging discussion, not only for presenters but definitely for myself and others in the audience of these talks. The discussions had during and after presentations therefore gave me useful insights into different perspectives and enabled me to really reflect on my own research decisions.

Having never previously studied criminology myself (I did law at undergrad and sociology at masters) I was also slightly apprehensive that I would not understand a lot of the presentations or that these would not be applicable to me (researching sexual violence). Again, this was a complete misapprehension as there were so many different panel talks on at once and always something applicable to my field. These talks were consistently engrossing and worthwhile, making me consider and question my research decisions and ultimately helping me to produce a clearer plan of how I undertake my own research and what to examine in my literature review.

I presented my research poster at the postgraduate conference, which turned out to be extremely valuable and beneficial. Lots of people gathered round the various posters and were really engaged and positive about the research being presented. As I’m sure is the case for many PhD students and academics; once you start talking about your research, you can go on for hours! So it was really nice to be in this informal- but expert – environment and discuss my research decisions, background to my research and my own findings with others in the field. And much to my own shock, I managed to win the poster prize of a £75 SAGE voucher, which was an absolute bonus and a real boost for me to realise that others in the field commended my work.  I was previously told that a poster presentation is great Viva practice, as you have to explain your research and defend your decisions and conclusions – so it was great to have this kind of experience and receive constructive feedback on my work. Whilst it had been something I was anxious about, I actually really enjoyed it.

Finally – the social side and the dreaded ‘networking.’ This was probably the part of academic conferences that I was most nervous about, but in reality turned out to be the best part of my conference experience. I had been nervous that everyone would be involved in deep, intellectual discussion and that I wouldn’t know what to say or who to talk to. In practice, all those who I met at the conference were completely down to earth and easy to get along with. I met a great bunch of PhD students and made some amazing friends who I will definitely keep in touch with. We are constantly told about mental health during the PhD and the isolating experience of conducting PhD research, so to meet other people going through the process and having the same difficulties, worries and fears was absolutely invaluable. At times, we did chat about our research, feminist theory, and methodological choices etc. but this was always useful and interesting to gain other people’s insights: not scary, intimidating or over my head at all. Also at times, we just chatted about anything and everything and had a great laugh.

So what do I take away from my first academic conference?

  1. Some amazing friends and a brilliant ‘network’
  2. Conferences are definitely nothing to fear (and are actually so much fun)
  3. I have learnt not to be scared to present research at a conference – this experience is invaluable
  4. To attend the BSC Conference 2020!

 

Contact

Charlotte Herriott, Anglia Ruskin University

Website: https://sites.google.com/view/charlotteherriottresearcher

Twitter: @CHerriott6

Images: courtesy of the author

A lens on life inside the IRC

Female asylum seekers talk about their experiences of life inside UK Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs)

author photo

Dr Maria De Angelis is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology, HEA Fellow, and Independent Researcher at Leeds Beckett University. Maria’s research on human trafficking and immigration detention foreground the relationship between criminal justice and social policy responses.

 

This blog is based on a recent article entitled Female Asylum Seekers: A Critical Attitude on UK Immigration Removal Centres’.

Although the UK’s immigration detention estate is one of the largest in Western Europe, what it’s like to be inside an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) remains a mystery to most. Included in this mix are detainees’ relatives, their support workers, local councillors, concerned citizens, and interested academics like myself. Bucking a steady trend of allowing charities and community groups in to befriend and run workshops (see Music in Detention and AVID, the association of visitors to immigration detainees), researcher access is almost wholly precluded (for exceptions see works by Alexandra Hall and Mary Bosworth). Against this preclusionary standpoint, female asylum seekers living in Leeds answered my call to share their experiences with me. Mobile cameras are defiantly fixed on a UK Border Agency site, as women provide this article’s micro-lens on life inside the IRC.

Simply put, this research is a show and tell project – to hear what women have to say about their detention experience and visualise key narratives through photography to maximize their impact.  Publicly available data on immigration detention tends to be quantitative (outlining trends and statistics) and available or not, on Home Office (HO) websites, through government-commissioned reviews , and in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) reports . Contrary to fears that ex-detainees might be nervous of talking detention with me, these women genuinely welcomed the academic interest, demanding to know why it had taken so long. Our semi-structured conversations lasted between two and three hours, with a drink and a bite mid-way to sustain us. The decision to close down the call after the fifteenth participant was based on narrative saturation and not insufficient interest. For this blog, I therefore want to set academic theories of Agamben and Foucault to one side (always a struggle for criminologists) and reflect on the in/exclusionary dynamic which runs through women’s narratives. By this, I mean their accountability (inclusion) under immigration laws and regulations and simultaneous denial of (exclusion from) entitlements and protections under citizenship.

Listening to women’s stories reminds us that these centres are intended to hold for removal persons without a legal entitlement to be in the UK (as indicated in their renaming from immigration detention to immigration removal centres under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, 2002). The fact they provide facilities like a gym, hair salon, shop, or computer room does not distract from the reality of being confined without a criminal charge.  As Trinity from Nigeria remarks, such facilities make for a ‘glorified’ prison environment but it’s still a prison. Women in search of sanctuary relay confinement in an IRC as punishment, with all its inherent pains and losses – family separation, social exclusion, fractured identities, controls and captivity. Importantly, such comparisons with prison and punishment enable women to raise a critical commentary on the ethicality and legitimacy of their immigration detention. As Kia from Uganda puts it:

There was one lady mixed in with us who was classed a foreign national, who killed her husband and her child and who had a history of fighting the guards. She said the toughest place they brought her was the IRC. (Laughs) How can this be right when it’s not a prison and we are not criminal?

But looking at centre routines and practices under the micro-lens of lived experience also raises the fragility of this imposed in/exclusion, firstly across a heterogeneous detainee population and, secondly, between citizen and non-citizen. Unlike ethnic and religious divisions observed in other studies (Bosworth and Kellezi), many describe the kindness of existing detainees towards them on arrival. Joli – a Christian from Namibia – recalls languishing in her room until a Kenyan detainee and professed Muslim showed her where to eat and how to use the computer room. Kia – an Anglican from Uganda – describes arriving with nothing bar the clothes she is arrested in, to be given a wrap by a Russian Orthodox Christian. Inside the walls of the IRC and across such a diverse social group, this kindness magnifies an administrative indifference for ethical care and social belonging (as felt in the removal of mobile phones with cameras and picture galleries; restrictions on free association; and the severance of emotional and community ties). In spite of these segregating measures, women’s affiliation in faith-related networks outside the IRC subverts feelings of non-belonging in wider society, since all faith groups (Mosque, Church, Synagogue) are tasked with prayerful and charitable obligations towards their members. As Kia from Uganda explains:

My local church was like a small community praying and campaigning for people like me. When I had a problem inside they rang round to get legal advice, and when I was to be released they arranged for me stay in the vicarage.

This said, Stonewall has flagged up an absence of faith-inclusive support inside and outside detention for LGBT persons – a shortcoming in need of greater research inquiry.​

In summary, the value of a micro lens on the IRC is the critical commentary on aspects of legitimacy, social exclusion, and ethical care raised through this medium. This, in turn, queries the necessity, efficacy, and defensibility of placing people seeking asylum inside these institutions. Until the Home Office and custodial companies relax their entry restrictions on researchers, it is left to remarkable women like these to make their own plight known and raise a critical challenge of continued asylum governance along present lines.

Contact

Maria De Angelis, Leeds Beckett University

Email:  m.de-angelis@leedsbeckett.ac.uk

Images: courtesy of the author (https://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/staff/dr-maria-de-angelis/) and Jeremy Abrahams (https://www.jeremyabrahams.co.uk). This is part of an ongoing visualisation of asylum lives in and beyond immigration detention.

Crime at the Car Wash? Serious Organised Crime and a View from Inside the NCA

A report on a lively discussion about the nature of modern slavery

LWestmarland

Louise Westmarland, Professor of Criminology and Steve Conway, Lecturer, PuLSE at the Open University, organised a conference in November 2018 bringing together police practitioners and academics working in the field of organised crime. This was held with thanks to funding from HERC and the BSC.

HERC  BSClogo

What is the National Crime Agency (NCA) and how does it deal with organised crime?

On 2 November 2018, the BSC’s Policing Network, in collaboration with the Open University’s Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative (HERC) held a conference on Serious Organised Crime and a View from Inside the NCA at the Open University in Milton Keynes. Details of the event and the speakers are available on the HERC website.

The event gathered a mix of academics and practitioners to consider recent developments in organised crime, its impact and responses.  In recent years, there has been an increasing recognition from both researchers and CJS professionals that a range of organised crimes and social harms can occur in the most mundane of contexts.  Attendees heard about illegal deer hunting in sparsely populated rural areas; exploitation of young people by drug dealers in residential housing estates; and the use of modern slave labour at the local car wash.  The very banality of these settings can further hide and obscure these issues.

Mr Rob Jones, Director at the National Crime Agency (NCA), provided the keynote speech Serious Organised Crime: A view from inside the NCA in which he set out the challenges facing his organisation in relation to cybercrime and county lines. His paper explained the national and international challenges of organised crime. These themes were expanded on by DCI Darran Hill of Thames Valley Police in his paper on The Stronghold Campaign: Fighting Organised Crime in Partnership. Providing a local context, DCI Hill explained the importance of partnership working in combating organised crime, illustrated by the case studies of county lines drug trafficking and successful efforts to close illegal carwashes in Thames Valley.

These papers gave way to a lively discussion about the nature of modern slavery and contributors from the audience included senior officers from the local area. Is it unethical to use a hand car wash as it is possible that the workers are being exploited? If you have used a hand car wash were the workers wearing wellingtons and proper waterproof gloves? After Rob and Darran had given us the police ‘inside view’ on these issues, we enjoyed papers by Dr Anna Sergi from Essex University called From mafia to Organised Crime: A comparative analysis of policing models and then a paper by recent Open University PhD graduate, Dr Sarah Hutton Disrupting Organised Crime?

One of the surprising aspects of the morning conference was the frankness and candour of the talks. Rob Jones’ paper on the NCA was definitely an insider’s view, and the talk about Thames Valley’s efforts related to turning young people away from drug crime certainly raised eyebrows. One of the most unexpected contributions was that Darran contradicted a conventional police view – that all drug crime can be solved and that the war on drugs is being ‘won’.

It was good to obtain the current police and NCA view on organised crime and the response to it from Rob Jones and DCI Darran Hill. It became apparent that their organisations are looking to academia to answer a number of questions in respect of debriefing, evaluating operations and securing expertise to deal with organised crime i.e.

  • What difference police organised crime operations have made (what is the legacy)?
  • How organised is modern slavery and human trafficking?
  • What are the offender pathways into organised crime?
  • How to retain the expertise needed to deal with cybercrime?
  • How to re-balance proactive/reactive policing (especially in respect of policing organised crime) after the balance has been tipped firmly towards reactive policing by government cuts?

From Milton Keynes to mafia?

After a coffee break, Anna Sergi treated us all to an entertaining high-speed ride around the organisation of mafia-type organisations; followed by Sarah Hutton’s ‘insider out’ view (as a cop turned academic), detailing her work with organised criminals, whom, she argued, are actually pretty disorganised. Dr Adam Edwards offered some sage observations, including organised crime policy trends and their analytical focus. As he pointed out in his paper:

The way organised crime is addressed in the UK has undergone a major overhaul in the last few years with the creation of the National Crime Agency. The first strategic assessment provides a good snapshot of the current state of organised crime. However, it points to a lack of knowledge about organised crime and its drivers–some of which could be addressed through research and deeper analysis. If the NCA is going to have a better record than its predecessors, it must work on getting the basics right. Knowing your enemy would be a good start.  (RUSI 2014, cited in Edwards, 2016: 987, emphasis added)

These papers all ended up asking a fairly basic question for a conference on organised crime, namely:

So, what exactly is organised crime?

In fact, Dr Sarah Hutton and Dr Anna Sergi highlighted the difficulties and differences that still exist in establishing a definition of organised crime. This is the starting point for any research into the subject. A good solution was put forward by Dr Adam Edwards, Orlando Goodall and Mark Berry in their explanation of the way that organised specific crimes are being analysed using crime script analysis. Orlando and Mark followed a thought provoking talk by Adam Edwards, who gave us the benefit of his experience and unparalleled knowledge of the field. He talked about Sayer’s (2000) realist social relations approach, from threat indication…and its related problems such as privileging enforcement over prevention, to (realist) causal explanation.

Then the afternoon kicked off into a lively no holds barred discussion, with nearly everyone in the audience taking part. This numbered around 30 by now, having reduced from 50 in the morning (well, it was a Friday). All of the papers throughout the day, whilst from contrasting standpoints, had highlighted an interesting range of largely unexplored areas of organised crime. Until recently who would have thought that the local car wash was a site of organised crime? Or a nail bar?  By providing a detailed analysis of the organisation of different crime types, as diverse as the illegal taking of deer, the speakers stimulated so many questions that the session overran, we went straight to tea break and home.

Louise Westmarland and Steve Conway with thanks to Dick Severns and all the conference speakers, convenors and helpers.

Also published on the HERC blog

Contact

Email: louise.westmarland@open.ac.uk

 

Copyright free images courtsey of the authors

 

From Narrative Justice to Narrative Methodology

Exploring the relationship between narrative representation and the reduction of ideologically-motivated crime and harm

RMcGregor

Rafe McGregor is Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Edge Hill University.  His research specialisations are narrative criminology, criminological fiction, and neoliberalism.  Narrative Justice was published by Rowman & Littlefield International in 2018.

 

In Narrative Justice (2018), I defined methodology as a theory of research, set of principles, and system of methods regulating a particular inquiry or a discipline more generally.  The theories I developed involved research into the ethical and cognitive values of exemplary narratives (narratives high in narrativity in consequence of their circumstantial, causal, thematic, and closural complexity) and concluded that regardless of their truth or falsity: (1) every story has a moral, but that moral may be virtuous, vicious, or somewhere in-between; and (2) stories can provide genuine knowledge just by being stories.  These conclusions were combined in the theory of narrative ethical knowledge, which establishes the first principle for a methodology: (a) stories convey knowledge of what lived ethical experience is like in virtue of their narrativity.  The second principle is widespread and uncontroversial within criminology: (b) explanations of crime or social harms have the potential to reduce crime or social harm in virtue of developing understanding of the causes of the crime or social harm.  The methods employed for the three practical examples in Narrative Justice involved a comparative analysis of two exemplary narratives.  The first employed two biographies, one of a real person and one of a fictional character, in order to establish the former’s responsibility for collaboration in crimes against humanity.  The second employed two narratives concerned with totalitarian oppression, one fictional and one documentary, in order to understand how an exemplary narrative can succeed in exploring the psychology of a torturer while simultaneously condemning his or her actions.  The third employed a comparison of two ostensibly documentary narratives, an article and an essay, to illustrate the fictional basis of both.  With respect to the distinction between fiction and documentary, these can be set out as: (i) the use of a fictional narrative to illuminate a real person’s character; (ii) the use of a documentary narrative to illuminate a novel’s psychological failure; and (iii) the comparison of two documentary narratives to reveal their fictional basis. (i) and (ii) can be collapsed into: the comparison of a fictional and documentary narrative for the purposes of disclosure.  (iii) is the comparison of two documentary narratives in terms of fiction for the purpose of demystification.  In each case, the relationship between fiction and documentary is exploited in order to explain the causes of ideologically-motivated crime.

The method involves the careful selection, analysis, and comparison of documentary and fictional narratives.  One begins with the subject of inquiry and then selects two complementary exemplary narratives, either one documentary and one fictional (if one’s purpose is disclosure) or two documentary (if one’s purpose is demystification).  In the former case, the fictional narrative is employed to illuminate the documentary (by direct or indirect means) and in the latter, the comparative analysis of two documentaries as exemplary narratives (rather than as documentaries) reveals the extent to which they are fictional.  Two brief examples will demonstrate the method in practice.  If one wanted to explore the extent to which wealthy expatriates are complicit in the crimes against humanity the Emirate of Dubai perpetrates against migrant workers, one might select Jim Krane’s Dubai: The Story of the World’s Fastest City (2009) as one’s documentary narrative and Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog (2014) as one’s fictional narrative.  At the general level, the two can be juxtaposed so as to exploit the extent to which the latter’s basis in the imagination complements the former’s basis in fact, combining the representation of objective facts about the relationship between expats and migrants with the representation of subjective experiences that could not be achieved in non-fiction.  More specifically, there is a contrast in the way in which the two narratives represent the relationship between prosperity and deprivation in Dubai.  Krane is for the most part concerned with growth, development, and success, devoting only one of four parts of the history to the cost in terms of human rights violations and environmental damage, whereas O’Neill’s narrative focuses on the moral corruption of the anonymous narrator, of the extent to which his lucrative employment requires him to not merely consent to crimes against humanity but play an active role in their commission.  If one wanted to explore the fallacies employed to justify the crimes against humanity perpetrated by colonial powers against communist insurgents during the Cold War, one might select George Robert Elford’s Devil’s Guard (1971) and Tim Bax’s Three Sips of Gin (2013).  The two can be apposed so as to reveal the identical contradictions in form and content that undermine both narratives from within.  Elford’s narrator and Bax’s autobiographical narration describe situations in which traditional non-combatants are prepared to die for their freedom and combatants to fund their resistance by any means available, belying the colonisers’ claims that the counterinsurgency was in the interests of the indigenous populations.  The comparative analysis of the two texts exposes a multiplicity of self-contradictions that demystify the justifications endorsed by both authors – which are revealed as at best ignorant and at worst deceitful.

These examples are textual rather than visual, but the theory and principles underlying the method facilitate its application to any type of exemplary narrative as well as across different modes of narrative representation.  In consequence, one might juxtapose Roméo Dallaire’s autobiographical Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (2003) with Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda (2004) in order to illuminate the question of responsibility during the Rwandan genocide.  With respect to the methodology I am setting out here, the distinction between minimal and exemplary narratives cuts across the distinction between descriptive and depictive modes of representation.  The method involves the selection of two exemplary narratives, one fictional and one documentary (if the aim is disclosure) or both documentary (if the aim is demystification), and facilitates a variety of combinations within these parameters (including the use of more than two exemplary narratives for sustained analyses).  There is coherence among the theories, principles, and methods described above such that the theories determine the principles, which underpin the methods and although I have identified two methods, these are more accurately described as two instantiations of a single method of comparative analysis.  The central thesis of Narrative Justice, which is that exemplary narratives can reduce ideologically-motivated crime, thus establishes a new methodology for criminology and my hope is that it will be adopted, adapted, and developed by others.

 

Contact

Dr Rafe McGregor, Edge Hill University

Email: mcgregor@edgehill.ac.uk

https://sites.google.com/site/rafemc/

 

Images: courtesy of the author

Thinking about Knife Crime Beyond Dangerous Myths and Comfortable Untruths

Knife crime has recently become the staple of public discussion in the media, but remains frequently misunderstood through a series of dangerous myths and comfortable untruths that are unhelpful as they are misleading

Dr Lambros Fatsis, Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Southampton and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is the 2018 BSC Blogger of the Year.

A weekday evening in front of the telly usually evokes images of idling on the sofa, engaged in bouts of momentary eye-rolling, head-shaking, and throat-clearing in response to breaking news. For criminologists and other social scientists, however, the situation is much worse. The tiniest falsehood attacks us like a mutating virus which instantly transforms us from spectators, who tune in to find out what is going on, into detectives who comb out truths that news anchors and their guests ignore, conceal, avoid or deny. Unsurprisingly, recent news stories about knife crime are one such example of media frenzy and a source of criminological nightmares. This is because what often passes as serious discussion on this issue often degenerates into a grotesque pantomime where “the right approach” is sought without due respect for the available evidence or regard to the communities that are worse affected. As a result, much of what non-criminologists are exposed to when knife crime becomes news is blunt sophistry at the expense of sharp-edged facts. Sensible, perceptive, and considered responses are hardly absent of course, but they are drowned out by the white noise of superficial, impulsive, knee-jerk punitive reactions that reinforce, instead of challenging, dangerous myths and comfortable untruths about the issue in question.

In the aftermath of the Jaden Moodie murder, the usual explanations (gang membership and “black-on-black” crime) reappeared for an inevitable encore, accompanied by their equally predictable solutions (more stop and search). The best illustration of such views can be found in the last twenty minutes of the recent Question Time  in the form of Melanie Phillips’ ill-informed spiel on the matter, with Rod Liddle’s Sunday Times op-ed being another contender. If such analyses and their recommendations were correct, it would all be well and good. But since they are not, a fierce rebuttal of these frequently recurring falsehoods is due especially since rogue demagoguery of this kind has achieved the status of common knowledge despite most, if not all, evidence to the contrary. The remainder of this blogpost, therefore, will tackle these issues head-on before concluding with an invitation to think about crime by enlisting our intellectual, moral, and civic conscience as active ingredients of any solution to the social problems that cause crime.

Gangs

Every time knife crime is debated, gangs quickly appear as the usual suspects that ought to be responsible for the violence that haunts city streets and citizens’ minds. In fact, this idea is so widespread, even among senior law enforcement officials, that the commentariat could be excused for falling prey to it. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, for example, recently declared a ‘relentless war on gangs’ as a fitting response to the “knife-crime epidemic”. Given the seriousness of the matter, the head of the Met could be excused for her rough and tough approach were it informed by evidence and not so gravely misguided.

However, recent data on gangs from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies show no concrete evidence of the link between knife crime and gang membership, as does the evidence from Stopwatch and Amnesty International on the Metropolitan Police Gangs Matrix database. To make matters worse, a recent investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office found the Matrix in breach of data protection laws ‘with the potential to cause damage and distress to the disproportionate number of young, black men on the Matrix’. This echoes criticisms voiced against the Matrix by criminologists like Becky Clarke who describe it as ‘racist’ as did the UN’s Special Rapporteur on racism who feared its disproportionate use as ‘the basis for surveillance operations against young men and boys who are predominantly black and are listed as potential future violent offenders, sometimes without any basis’.  A previous posting on this blog in 2018 by Keir Irwin-Rogers was also critical of the significant limitations in the empirical evidence base on gangs. Such evidence-less approaches to knife crime as the modus operandi of young Black gangsters simply expose the allure that “gang talk” has on the minds of police chiefs, while also demonstrating how easily young Black people “become” gang members when they are perceived, labelled and processed as such by criminal justice system institutions. This might explain why 78% of the people on the Met’s Gangs Matrix database are Black when the Met’s own data shows that only 27% of people accountable for serious youth violence are Black as criminologist Patrick Williams, dutifully reminds us on page 5 of the aforementioned Stopwatch report.

“Black on Black” Crime

Following gang membership, “Black on Black” crime often comes second in the causal pecking order of knife crime, the assumption here being that since most young Black men are the perpetrators and the victims of such crime there must be something criminogenic about “blackness” either as a biological or a cultural trait. Melanin levels excluded, there can be no other explanation for this like involvement in criminal activity because of levels of poverty and disadvantage. Yet according to a recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report, Black and minority ethnic groups are disproportionately locked into a position of disadvantage; a fact which might serve as a more reliable predictor of violent crime than skin colour or cultural pathology.

Against airy-fairy fantasies such as structural disadvantage, however, unqualified self-appointed pundits would have us believe that “blackness” is among the causes of knife crime much like “the evil eye” causes natural disasters or fiscal crises. There must, therefore, be something intrinsically “criminal” about Black people and their deficient ‘fatherless’ family arrangements which causes young people to stab each other. It couldn’t possibly be inequality or social exclusion that lead people to commit desperate and often unjust acts within a violent living environment marred by inequality and social exclusion. The only apparent solution must be to reduce or eliminate “blackness”, not remove the structural barriers that block Black Britons’ welfare.

Stop and Search

Having established that knife crime is what gangs of marauding Black youths do with as well as to each other, dispatching police officers to prowl the streets in search of suspects must be the most appropriate response. Otherwise known as stop and search, this police power enjoys the unequivocal support of police chiefs, the Home Office, and mainstream political parties. So much so that the Home Secretary leapt to his feet to ‘reduce bureaucracy and increase efficiency’ in the deployment of “suspicionless” stop and search which was (thankfully) overturned by government ministers shortly after. Despite such skepticism about the use of “suspicionless” stop and search, authorised by section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, there was a 400% rise in the use of those powers in 2018. Reservations notwithstanding, the widespread use of stop and search to combat knife crime or gang violence remains unchallenged, despite all evidence to the contrary.

According to the latest evidence, this ostensibly indispensable police power is as ineffective and ill-judged as it is discriminatory and criminogenic even, due to its damaging effect on the public’s trust of the police (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Indeed as LSE academic Michael Shiner and his colleagues (p.2) note, the ‘defensive rhetoric’ around stop and search as ‘a ‘vital tool’ in the fight against knife crime does not ‘stand-up to empirical scrutiny’. Contrary to ‘police narratives about stop and search’ which ‘revolve around knives, gangs, organised crime groups, drug supply, county lines and modern slavery’, the authors’ ‘analysis tells a different story – one of deprived, minority communities being over-policed and selectively criminalised’. Equally, despite Melanie Phillips’ belief that the police refrain from using stop and search for fear of being accused of racism, Shiner and his co-authors (p.8) found ‘no credible evidence’ to support such a claim. Yet stop and search always wins over facts, acquiring talismanic powers and totemic status by those who defend it, including police leaders whose professional practice should be informed by the available evidence not reflex responses.

Moving forward

Faced with a culture of denial about illegitimate police practices and the institutional racism that guides them, any step forward becomes an uphill struggle especially when evidence of it is regarded as treason. In Melanie Phillips’ mind for instance, it is not the conclusion that institutional racism exists that shocks, but the very suggestion that institutional racism exists. Whatever her confusing argument was Sub-chapter 6.45 and Chapter 46 of the Macpherson report, which she mentions, prove her wrong either way. The challenge is to recognise that (knife) crime is often the visible manifestation of deep-seated patterns of inequality and social exclusion. Policing our way out of social problems, therefore, seems misplaced when the emphasis should be on improving ‘dangerous places’, not hunt for ‘dangerous people’ as Eric Klinenberg argues in Chapter Two of his new book. Taking a stand against the conditions that produce knife crime, therefore, ought to be our civic and moral priority instead of pursuing scapegoats by rethinking knife crime and (re)acting towards it through a combination of a public health and social justice approach to public safety, defended by the Youth Violence Commission and London’s nascent Violence Reduction Unit in London.

This article gives the views of the author, not the position of the institution he works for.

Contact

Lambros Fatsis, University of Southampton

Twitter: @lfatsis

 

Copyright free image courtsey of Shutterstock

 

Writing the Perfect Blog for Criminology

Thinking of writing a blog? Show us what you’ve got!

 

The perfect blog post probably does not exist.

But it does help to give it an eye-catching title: admit it, the title of this piqued your interest didn’t it?!

We at the BSC have just been judging the 2018 blogger of the year prize for this site and we were struck by how good the stable of blogs from our first year was – spanning a wide range of what criminology and the BSC is all about.  The experience of reading the blogs was so enriching that we now  feel able to offer some pointers that you might find useful if you are thinking of submitting a blog to us and have maybe never thought to do it before.

First of all, we give the floor to our 2018 Blogger of the Year, Lambros Fatsis (Policing Black Culture: One beat at a time).

Blogging is often thought of as something that doesn’t quite feature as a priority, either because it is regarded as too time-consuming or simply pointless. After all, or so the thinking goes, our posts won’t really be read, they won’t make a difference to our career progression, and have little impact on the issues we specialise in. These objections are of course understandable, especially when they are weighed against the demands that our day jobs make on our time, intellectual resources, or our ability to make public interventions. Yet, blogging can paradoxically be thought of as an antidote to such pressures in at least four ways.

Firstly, blogging allows us to test, experiment with and share ideas before we feel ready to submit them to the peer review process.

Secondly, blogging gives us the opportunity to outflank platitudes, point at facts, draw attention to nuance, and salvage truths from irresponsible, misguided, ill-judged, and doctrinaire messages that litter our (social) mediascape.

Thirdly, writing blogs allows us the possibility of reaching audiences within as well as beyond academia to fellow-citizens, journalists, campaigners, activists, and monitoring groups who may be interested in our work but cannot afford the luxury of paying for the paywalled research we produce.

And fourthly, blogging encourages more thoughtful contributions compared to tweets, not only because of the 280 character limit, but also because the writing process imposes a better structure on our thoughts by urging us to make an argument as well as tell a story in a well-crafted manner unlike individual tweets or longer twitter threads.

Given that crime is almost always present on the media and political agendas, it seems all the more important to blog for the British Society of Criminology. Especially when we see our specialist knowledge denied, ignored, or misrepresented by much of what passes as public debate on matters we know a thing or two about but rarely see discussed with the seriousness they deserve.

Wise words indeed, and our aim is to make the process of submitting (and having published) as easy for you as possible.   As academics we spend our lives writing, so the last thing you want is to have to re-write. Write it once, have it published, and wait for the praise to roll in (we cannot guarantee the last step).

Here are ten things you can do to turn your content into a (slightly?) more perfect blog post, with examples from some of our 2018 blogs:

  1. Choose a relevant and interesting title

You want the right readers to find your article easily with a simple search, so don’t give it a wacky or funny title unless some of your core terms are included.

See for example: For LGBT People, Criminal Justice Equality Remains Elusive, by Dr Matthew Ball, Crime and Justice Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology

  1. Keep it short

A blog has a conversational format and is shorter than journal articles, with minimal references (but links to fuller articles is useful). Our guidelines are 700 – 1500 words (although some topics could take up to 2,500). The key thing is that articles are optimised for mobile viewing and communicate in a clear manner. Paragraphs should be much shorter online than on paper. Two to six sentences per paragraph is a good guideline for blog posts.

See for example: Conference Update, A message from the Birmingham City Conference Committee.

  1. Include a List

Look what we are doing here – letting you skim through until you find something interesting. It also encourages readers to continue until the end – everyone wants to know what’s at number 10.

A website or blog is missing the usual cues that let us know how long an article is. Pick up a book or a journal article, and you’ll instantly be able to gauge how long it will take to read. Online the only way to find that out is to scroll down to the end of the blog post and that’s what most people do. While they’re at it, they’ll also try to scan-read the post. Because reading is harder online, it’s best to break text into manageable chunks.

See for example: What future(s) for juvenile justice in Europe? Professor Barry Goldson, Charles Booth Chair of Social Science at the University of Liverpool.

  1. Provide links

Keep your bibliographies for your academic articles. In a blog post you can prove the breadth of your knowledge by linking to other online sites. Good links to longer-form content should do the heavy lifting in your article.

See for example:  The punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness, Sharon Hartles, MA student with the Open University.

  1. Use Images

Use of images will draw readers in and emphasise your message. The easiest way to get hold of copyright free images is to take the photos yourself! This also makes them more interesting to your readers rather than using an image they may have seen elsewhere already.

See for example: Recent Travels in a Trump Gun culture, BSC President Peter Squires

  1. Use Keywords

Provide us with 5 well-chosen keywords. This is what people will be searching for on Google, so make sure your posting is what they find.

See for example: How Lucky Am I: Victim, to Researcher, back to Victim, David Wilkin is a Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Leicester

  1. Keep Length in Mind

Yes, we have already said keep it short but honestly, it is important. In general, keeping a post to around 1,000 words is perfect – even with a really heavy topic. Make your key points and finish. You can always write another blog article to make further points – in fact, we encourage you to do so.

See for example: Working Together: ‘Invisible’ crimes, victimisations and social harms, Hannah Bows and Pamela Davies

  1. Be of contemporary interest

We can often turnaround a blog posting from submission to publication in less than a week. Our record so far is two days. The proof of the pudding of whether it is of contemporary interest is proven by how many times it is read. We can help with this too by publicising the post through our other channels.

See for example: Criminology and the USS Strike – the View from Sussex

  1. Write about what you know

Write from a position of knowledge. If you really know your stuff it will shine through.

See for example: Exploring the UK Ministry of Justice, Explaining Penal Policy Harry Annison from Southampton Law School.

  1. Be Yourself

We can give you these pointers and hopefully they are useful, but you’ve got to write your own truth. THAT is what people want to read, they want to know what YOU find fascinating or worthy of THEM giving you their valuable time. The perfect blog post will make your audience stop and think.  It will make them share your post with others and they might even tweet about it or cite it in their next book!

See for example: ‘BSC Blogger of the Year’ Lambros Fatsis for his blog ‘Policing Black Culture: One Beat at a Time

The BSC Blog 2019 will be as good as you make it. Make the BSC Blog worthy of your reading time by submitting your own posting. Come on, show us what you’ve got.

Charlotte Harris and Helen Jones, BSC Office

How to submit

 

Original copyright free image under a CC licence: pixabay.com