Systemic Elite Abuse: sexual violence against women in universities

If sexual abuse is reported how do the university, police, prosecutors and courts react; how is the accused treated and sanctioned; and, crucially, how is the victim treated?

M Punch

Dr. Maurice Punch, Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE, has worked in universities in the UK, USA and the Netherlands (where he lives): his areas of specialisation have been policing, corporate crime and research methods; he is currently writing on deviance in elite student societies and sexual violence against women in universities. His last book was What matters in policing? (with A. van Dijk & F. Hoogewoning: Policy Press: 2015).

There’s disturbing evidence of an ‘epidemic’ in universities in the UK, USA and Australia which should redirect our gaze to ‘crime in the colleges’.  I refer to Systemic Elite Abuse regarding the sexual harassment and abuse of women students. My focus is mainly student-student and male-female as women are disproportionally victimized. Universities are elite institutions in educational systems including prestigious establishments; women students can be victimized by an offender perhaps with high status in the university community; and the offences can have a systemic character. Indeed, there’s ample evidence with great concern in UK, Australian and US universities. Sexual harassment of women students is said to be “at epidemic levels” in UK universities (The Guardian): and “more than half of university students in Australia were sexually harassed at least once in 2016”. The Australian Human Rights Commission reported on this with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner stating:

“It is confronting to learn that sexual assault and sexual harassment are a common part of these students’ experiences in their academic, their social and their residential life —- Sadly, the impacts of these experiences have devastating impacts and it can be life-changing, affecting health, studies and future careers’” BBC News

In response the ‘Universities UK’ organization has proposed useful guidelines in this area (Changing the culture); US President Obama launched a Task force on college sexual assault; and the AAU mounted a survey in 2015. Some 150,000 students took part in this survey from 27 institutions with around a quarter of “female, college seniors” reporting  “unwanted sexual contact – anything from touching to rape – carried out by incapacitation, usually due to alcohol or drugs, or by force”. Two ‘Ivy League’ universities were high offenders in the survey. I’ll mention a particular US case illustrating incapacitation and force: but first I’ll outline some focal points.

Some material focuses on ‘harassment’ as when in Sydney male students broke into women’s bedrooms and trashed them or barged into female showers. But lists were produced of women considered “bait” for sexual advances who were then pursued which forms potential criminal activity. And if abuse is reported how do the university, police, prosecutors and courts react; how is the accused treated and sanctioned; and, crucially, how is the victim treated?  Particularly in the USA but also elsewhere the university often reacts poorly and / or defensively; the criminal justice agencies are inadequate or reluctant to pursue cases; and if it reaches court the accused gets off lightly but the female victim is systematically discredited. Sometimes the university uses its legal muscle to reach a settlement, to deny liability and to impose non-disclosure: the victim never gets to court to give her account or see the offender prosecuted.

Yet some cases are serious sexual assault or rape, including group rape, and are indisputably criminal. It is a major injustice if such cases are not pursued or the offender gets off lightly while the victim is not taken seriously and is undermined in court. In some US cases involving college athletes as offenders there was clear institutional and judicial bias. One such case attracted intense publicity for the powerful victim statement which went viral (with her approval: The Guardian). At Stanford University during a fraternity party a male student – and star swimmer – took a highly intoxicated woman, not a student, outside and aggressively sexually assaulted her: he was interrupted and caught by passing students. He contested the case with the trial drawing much attention. Firstly, there was the mild sentence passed by the judge (six months with three years’ probation): he served half of the sentence. Secondly, and crucially, this blatantly downplayed  the victim’s suffering. Indeed, she made a court statement which powerfully conveyed the long-term deleterious consequences for women of sexual abuse – irrespective of a trial`s outcome – while the abuser proceeds with his life and career. She graphically details the aggressive nature of the assault; the profound and lasting effect on her; and especially her resentment at him insinuating consent. In court she was subjected to:

“narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy —— After a physical assault I was assaulted with questions designed to attack me, to say see, her facts don’t line up, she’s out of her mind, she’s practically an alcoholic, she probably wanted to hook up” The Guardian.

She especially stresses that being a top athlete at a leading university should never lead to leniency and how fast someone can swim “does not lessen the impact of what happened to me” The Guardian.

The universal factor here is the dramaturgy not only in university sexual offences trials but in most such trials. In campus cases the offender is presented as the ideal student with a bright career ahead and the female victim has to be denigrated. The status of the offender, and the university, are in effect employed to minimize the offence and sentence while the female victim may have to leave the university and remains scarred for life.

This topic does make for gloomy reading: are there, then, any positive developments? In recent years there’s been increasing attention to the matter; several high-profile prosecutions have attracted stiff sanctions; and diverse universities – also medical and judicial agencies – have made provision for prevention and for treating victims. These include:

  • New York State passed a 2015 law requiring, “all universities and colleges in the state to adopt ‘yes means yes’ affirmative consent policies and guarantee the rights of sexual assault survivors”. Police launched an initiative with a dual mission, “reduce sexual violence on campuses and get more victims to file police reports” (Mother Jones: 2018)
  • Sydney University has a confidential, single point of access call-centre and an on-line module on “consent, respect, good communication and positive intervention” (University of Sydney)
  • Cambridge University has been working, “with students, staff, victims and specialist organizations for the past two years to try to improve things. This work has culminated in the campaign Breaking the Silence – Cambridge speaks out against sexual misconduct, launched in October 2017. Spearheaded by the Vice-Chancellor, it raises awareness of the University`s zero-tolerance approach to sexual conduct”. Students can access a ‘University Sexual Assault and Harassment Adviser’ and attend bystander training and consent workshops.

Clearly many initiatives are new and piece-meal but they do raise awareness, establish facilities and, above all, treat victims in a caring manner. A key factor is the explicit stance of the university.

Universities are primarily for scholarship, research and teaching. But nowadays many strongly support diversity, absence of discrimination, gender equality, protection of the environment, free speech and oppose any form of discriminatory conduct. In particular drunkenness, violence, abusive behaviour – especially against women, minorities, staff or visitors – are matters of deep concern. Given the contemporary debate within academia about sexual and other forms of harassment and discrimination, it simply must be that the university endeavours to ensure an environment where everyone can study in peace, everyone is safe and there’s no discrimination; and where a persistent effort is made to tackle sexual abuse. The tenor here is that offences committed within the university community and its remit should be taken most seriously under an explicit code of conduct and be backed with serious sanctions from the university itself.  For it surely cannot be that marauding males can abuse women students with impunity.  And that some universities, police and courts, treat serious sexual offences against female students poorly or weakly and with the offender treated lightly while the victim faces prolonged trauma.

The university should adopt a firm approach on such conduct backed by suspensions, expulsions and possible prosecutions within a strategy to change the culture on sexual harassment and abuse. The key is to mobilize students, academic and support staff along with a multi-agency coalition with external partners, to create a supportive environment for all to study and work in without harassment and without sexual abuse of women.

 

Contact

Maurice Punch, Senior Visiting Fellow, Mannheim Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Email: m.punch@lse.ac.uk

Images: courtesy of the author and WikiMedia Commons CC-BY-3.0

 

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

 

Gangs and serious youth violence: Is the Centre for Social Justice using statistics responsibly?

Violence between young people in the UK is a problem that merits serious attention

KIR profileKeir Irwin-Rogers joined The Open University as a lecturer in criminology in 2017. His current research explores the implications of national and international drug policies and practices, focusing on the links between socioeconomic inequality, consumer capitalism and young people’s involvement in drug markets. He has also conducted research and published papers on the subjects of community sentences, deterrence, young people’s use of social media, sentencing, serious violence, and education for children excluded from mainstream schooling. Keir is currently studying part-time for a BSc in Economics and Mathematics.

In the 12 months to March 2017, 61 young people aged 16-24 died as a result of knife crime in England and Wales. Violence between young people in the UK is a problem that I think merits serious attention, which is why I have been supporting the cross-party Youth Violence Commission as an academic advisor for the past two years.

During many meetings, roundtables and conferences on youth violence, I have been struck by people’s fixation on gangs whenever the issue of youth violence arises. Admittedly, I myself focused closely on ‘youth gangs’ for a number of years while I conducted research for the Dawes Unit – a specialist team within the social business, Catch22. During this time, I became increasingly concerned by what I considered to be significant limitations in the empirical evidence base on gangs.

As part of my own research, I recently contacted the Metropolitan Police Service to request their most up-to-date data on violent crime in London. In particular, I wanted to find out the proportion of violent offences that were being flagged as gang-related. Given the prominent place of gangs in government policy initiatives and the media, the results were not what I was expecting:

In 2016, just 3.8% of knife crime with injury (fatal, serious, moderate and minor) had been flagged by the MET as gang-related.

In light of the FOI statistics, I was taken aback by some of the claims made in the Centre for Social Justice’s recently published report, It Can Be Stopped: A proven blueprint to stop violence and tackle gang and related offending in London and beyond. Developing a clear agenda and narrative in its opening paragraphs, Iain Duncan Smith’s Think Tank state:

“It is estimated that gangs are responsible for as much as half of all knife crime with injury…”

I was keen to find out the reason for the discrepancy between the figures I had received from the Met and the claim being made by the CSJ in their report. The source provided to support their claim was the Metropolitan Police Service’s 62 page Business Plan 2017-18. With no page number provided by the CSJ, I proceeded to hunt through chapters on the Met’s vision, finances and performance frameworks. Upon reaching the end of this document, I had failed to find any reference to such a high proportion of knife crime being attributed to gangs.

This begged the question: why were the CSJ misdirecting their readers to a reference that did not support their claims?

I emailed the CSJ to bring this ‘mistake’ to their attention, and asked if they could point me in the direction of the real source on which they based their claims. While waiting for a response (which I have still not received), BBC Reality Check came to the rescue: according to the BBC, the CSJ based this particular claim on data from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC). This indicated that in the year to March 2017 there had been 4,446 reported offences of knife crime with injury. If you remove the cases in which the victim was over 24, and then exclude incidents of domestic violence, this leaves 2,028, which represents 45% of the total.

In a stunning leap of faith, the CSJ have assumed that all of the remaining 2,028 cases were consequently gang-related. To be clear, the claim being made is that knife crime with injury offences involving victims 24 years of age and under, which are not incidents of domestic violence, can all be assumed to be gang-related.

This is utterly implausible. The proximate reasons for knife crime with injury offences involving young people are numerous and varied. Many incidents are triggered by isolated episodes of disrespect that have nothing to do with street gangs. The CSJ may well consider this reality an inconvenience to the gang narrative they attempt to conjure throughout their report (which contains a whopping 478 references to the term ‘gang’).

The claim that gangs are responsible for as much as half of all knife crime with injury not only flies in the face of the Met’s own statistics (discussed above), but of other recent publications, because it is patently absurd. Certainly, it is possible that police statistics are to some extent unreliable, based upon shaky assumptions and/or limited intelligence. If the CSJ believes this is the case, then calls for better data on gang-related violence ought to be accompanied by measured statements about the existing evidence base – not wild claims that lack serious foundation.

Finally, the maxim about ‘people who live in glass houses’ sprung to mind when I saw the CSJ demand in this very report (see recommendation 39 on p.120) that people ‘desist’ from using ‘flawed…statistics’ to fuel ‘false narratives’.

While there is some sound research and analysis in It Can Be Stopped, it will continue to be overshadowed by the CSJ’s refusal to acknowledge their error and be honest with the public about the available (and limited) evidence on the scale of gang-related violence in London and the rest of the UK.

Knife crime, we can all agree, needs to be treated seriously. But doing so requires a rigorous evidence base, accurately and faithfully represented, if we are to avoid counter-productive, knee-jerk policy responses.

Originally posted on Harm & Evidence Research Collaborative Blog on September 5, 2018

Contact

Dr Keir Irwin-Rogers, Department of Social Policy and Criminlogy at the The Open University

Email: Keir.Irwin-Rogers@open.ac.uk

Twitter: @KeirIrwinRogers

Website: http://www.open.ac.uk/people/kir8

Image: with the permission of HERC

 

The punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness

In the UK, following the financial crisis of 2007 – 2008, the government response took the form of austerity measures. This has had far reaching implications, one of which being the punitive shift towards the criminalisation of vulnerable and marginalised people within society, such as those affected by homelessness.

Sharon Hartles photo

Sharon Hartles is a MA student with the Open University. She has an interest in state-corporate crimes, white-collar crimes and how these exacerbate social harms. Sharon has worked in the education sector for 10 years and believes that knowledge is paramount to challenging the crimes of the powerful which are permitted and not prohibited by black letter law.

The number of people living in poverty in the UK dramatically increased as a consequence of the governments shift towards market-based capitalism, underpinned by the social-economic reforms endorsed in the 1980s. This situation was further exacerbated by the financial global crisis of 2007 – 2008, which led to the UK government bailing out the British banks to prevent a collapse of the British banking system. Unsurprisingly, the ramification of the government’s decision to bail out the banks initially took the form of a stimulus programme which was superseded in 2010 by austerity measures. The government’s spending cuts, as part of these measures, led to a reduction in the budget deficit which has had far reaching impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable/marginalised people in the UK, including those affected by homelessness.

Since the onset of austerity in 2010, the estimated number of people sleeping rough in England has increased year on year from 2010 – 2017. Approximately, 4,751 people bedded down outside overnight on a snapshot night in autumn 2017 compared to 1,768 people on a snapshot night in autumn 2010. Rough sleeping has therefore more than doubled over these seven years. However, the reason why rough sleepers are becoming more visible in British cities and public open spaces is because support services and hostel availability are diminishing, as a direct result of the government cuts and reform to areas such as welfare.

In July 2014, the Home Office published its reform of anti-social behaviour powers to support the effective use of new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour which takes place in public and open spaces. According to the Home Office reform information, “where the actions of a selfish few ruin these spaces, through public drunkenness, aggressive begging, irresponsible dog ownership or general anti-social behaviour, these places can be lost to the communities who use them”. This powerful form of labelling stigmatises homelessness as othering, the act by which groups of individuals become represented as an outsider and not one of us. Such stigmatisation associated with homelessness limits exposure, opposition, active resistance and the publics’ outrage, enabling the government to punitively criminalise homelessness and enforce this through the criminal justice system.

In England, between 2015 – 2016, 2,365 people were prosecuted for committing vagrancy-related offences including begging. Prior to the financial crisis and the introduction of austerity measures 1,510 people were prosecuted during 2006 – 2007. Vagrancy-related offences have increased by more than 70% in one decade.  In 2014, three men were nearly prosecuted for taking discarded food (cheese, tomatoes and mushrooms) from a refuse bin. In 2015, sixty-two rough sleepers were arrested by the Sussex Police for accepting money from the public. On the other hand, no members of the public were arrested for offering and donating money to rough sleepers. The resurrection of the Dickensian vagrancy law together with the new Public Space Protection Orders which have been enacted in over 50 local authorities has resulted in a growing number of vulnerable homeless people being fined, given criminal convictions and even imprisoned for street drinking, defecating, urinating, begging and rough sleeping in public spaces.

In a bid to save money the UK government implemented a crime control approach to homelessness, concerned with promoting security and controlling crime, in favour of a social welfare approach, concerned with promoting equality, inclusion and well-being. Such a decision to shift to an enforcement-based approach was underpinned by the following political and economic factors: the financial global crisis of 2007 – 2008, coupled with the government’s choices to bail the banks out and introduce austerity measures to reduce government spending.  This causal relationship between the government’s policy to shift towards a crime control approach to homelessness resulted in the punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness. In contrast, only 28 people were charged and only 5 people were convicted in the UK for their part in the financial crisis (bankers – guilty of white-collar crimes), which was considered by economists to be the worst and most significant crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The tax-payers in the UK have borne the financial brunt of the bankers’ crimes since 2010 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  However, there are others such as those affected by homelessness who are fighting for their right to exist, not to be criminalised and not to lose or have their liberty restricted.

While homelessness in the UK has increased by 134% since 2010 in line with the imposed austerity measures, homelessness in Finland has fallen by 35% over the same period of time. In contrast to the UK government ushering in its crime control approach that punitively criminalises homelessness, the Finnish government is promoting a social welfare approach and is committed to abolishing homelessness altogether. It is clear that the UK government has scapegoated homelessness to whitewash the financial deficit resulting from the bankers’ white-collar crimes (repackaging loans and playing roulette games with the stability of global markets). As is common practice through the exercise of ‘smoke and mirrors’, the government has orchestrated the punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness in order to divert the publics’ gaze away from the real crimes and the real criminals who are responsible for causing the worst financial crisis in global history.

The original form of this article was posted on  sharonhartles.weebly.com and is republished here with the permission of the author.

Contact

Sharon Hartles

Email: sh28739@my.open.ac.uk

Twitter: @shartles1

 

Copyright free image: from Flickr

 

Confronting campus hate crime through forum theatre methods

Forum theatre methods enabled us to educate students about hate crimes in an interactive, safe and supportive environment

Jane Healy

Dr Jane Healy is a Lecturer in Sociology and Crime and Deviance at Bournemouth University.  Her research interests include victims of hate crime, disablist crime and human trafficking. She is co-investigator of the Hate Crime on Campus project at BU.

 

 

According to Universities UK, hate crimes on campus have a considerable impact on student well-being, academic attainment, retention, institutional reputation and recruitment (UUK, 2016). Their report encouraged a culture of ‘zero tolerance’ and the need for visible and accessible hate crime reporting mechanisms for students. To address this, my colleague James Palfreman-Kay was awarded funding by HEFCE to promote student awareness of hate crimes, including where to report them and how to signpost student support. I joined the project in Autumn 2017 and we prepared to launch our first session in the spring 2018. The timing could not have been more prescient: by early 2018 ‘Campus Hate Crime’ was attracting widespread media attention in the UK, with a spate of high profile incidents targeting BAME students, such as, for example, at Nottingham Trent, Sheffield Hallam, Warwick, and Exeter.  ​

Our approach to the project was one of local partnership, working with our student union (SUBU), Dorset Police, Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, Dorset Race & Equality Council (DREC), Intercom Trust, CPS Wessex and Access Dorset, to identify clearly what our outcomes should be. We engaged the services of Cornwall-based theatre group Theatre Learning to create campus-based hate crime scenarios to present to the students. These scenarios, in the form of forum theatre, were based on reported cases (not from Bournemouth University) and were acted out by professionals. They reflected situations that students might be exposed to and encouraged them to consider how they might respond. Scenarios were designed to include multiple forms of hate crime strands within an intersectional framework.

Forum Theatre (Boag, 1979) is a drama-based, interactive approach to addressing public issues or working with marginalized groups (Hamel, 2015) and gender-based violence (Mitchell and Freitag, 2011). With a strong emphasis on voice and empowerment it has been successful in generating collaborative dialogue between actor and audience. Our goal was to present scenes of discrimination and hate crimes within a safe public arena, where spectators can become participants and identify, challenge and question the decision-making by ‘characters’ within each scenario.

To date, the project is ongoing and involves ‘hate crime awareness’ sessions either built into student timetabling or as independent ‘campus’ events that are promoted through the Equality and Diversity unit at BU. The project continues to engage with new students, most recently during induction week in September 2018, but partial analysis was conducted on student evaluations that were collated after the first events held earlier this (calendar) year. Our provisional findings from 90 participants found that forum theatre had much to offer students, who reported being both impressed and shocked by the method of delivery and the topics under debate.

The students, the majority level four social science undergraduates (71), were asked about their knowledge of hate crime before and after the forum theatre (FT) event, and the impact, if any, that it had on them. More than half of the participants were aged between 18 and 24 (n=76) and identified as female (n=60). Fifty four participants identified themselves as White British, with the remainder Asian, Black, White other, Mixed ethnicity or unknown.

Three main themes emerged from provisional analysis of the impact of the FT method: 1) FT was an informative process which enabled students to know more about recognizing and responding to hate crimes in a ‘safe’ way; 2) participants felt empowered to recognize and challenge hate crimes following the event; 3) participants reported an emotional impact from the sessions.

Comments included:

made me more conscious about people around me and how other people around them could impact the victims”;

eye opening, informative, thought provoking”;

will be more proactive in challenging hate crimes”;

Giving me confidence to report things that are not right” and;

made me understand that my voice has value and to always speak out and that I matter”.

Participants’ confidence to be proactive and report hate crime supports the active bystander approach that is encouraged within the FT method. Participants spoke particularly about how the event was “very powerful” and “opened my eyes on how individuals feel”. One participant asked that the sessions to be “shown to a lot more people” because of the emotional attachment they had to the characters in the scenarios.

As well as having an emotional and practical impact on participants, the sessions also provided greater knowledge and understanding about hate crimes. Participants emphasized how the use of FT was a “much better and interactive way” of learning more, “a great way of seeing certain examples played out and how we would address it” and “the examples were sensitively executed and addressed issues” that were “thought provoking”.

Many participants had expected some form of ‘interactive event’ and reported how the performances achieved this and kept audiences interested in an imaginative way. Three students gleefully wrote how they were expecting to be bored – but were then surprised to report how they gained “a lot of insightful knowledge”, “learnt a lot” and how “my expectations have been exceeded, engaging and informative”. For the majority of participants, the performative nature of FT provided relatable and effective methods of presenting, understanding and responding to hate crimes. Some reported being ‘shocked’ by the method but recognised the value of this as a method of engagement. Participants perceived that FT is a creative way of learning and particularly emphasized that interaction allowed for a “judge free zone” that gave students the confidence to challenge hate crimes in a safe and consenting environment.

Emphatically, we recommend the use of FT as an engaging, effective and safe method of hate crime awareness education.  We have made minor amendments to future events to ensure students are confident as to where they can report hate crimes and to provide more time for them to reflect and consider upon solutions to hate crimes, following feedback.  We found that those sessions that were directly embedded in teaching timetables had the greatest attendance and therefore the better outcomes and impact. We would strongly encourage ensuring a balanced representation of diversity within the FT scenarios so that all members of the audiences feel they are being represented. Interested readers are encouraged to contact James Palfreman-Kay or myself to learn more about our project.

 

Boag, A. (1979) Theatre of the Oppressed. New York: Urizen Books.

Hamel, S. (2015) Translation between academic research, community and practice: A forum theatre process. Canadian Journal of Action Research 16(3), pp.27-41.

Mitchell, K. S. & Freitag, J. L. (2011) Forum Theatre for Bystanders: A New Model for Gender Violence Prevention. Violence Against Women 17(8), pp.990-1013.

Universities UK (2016) Changing the Culture: Report of the Universities UK Taskforce examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students. London: UUK.

 

Contact

Dr Jane Healy, Bournemouth University

Email: jhealy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Twitter: @hatecrimehealy

Images: courtesy of the author