Co-ordinating a research project in 6 continents

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

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

Vania Ceccato

 

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

 

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

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

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

Ceccato Globe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Contact

Vania Ceccato, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Email: vania.ceccato@abe.kth.se

 

Images: courtesy of the author

 

Women, History, Invisibility and Prisons

Historical records evidence that the development of female prisons is closely related to the development of male prisons; however, denying a history of female prisoners in its own right fosters a stagnation in the discipline.

S Menis

Women, History, Invisibility and Prisons: A contribution to the Women’s History Month

Susanna Menis is a Lecturer in Law at Birkbeck London University, School of Law. Her recent book provides a revisionist prison history which brings to the forefront the relationship between gender and policy. It examines women’s prisons in England since the late 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century.

Historical criminology research on prisons in England comes across as genderless. Yet, these histories reflect the story of male prisons (Naffine, 1997) – not least because, there have been many historical records to draw upon. When we say the ‘invisibility’ of female prisoners, it is meant to suggest that the experiences and needs of women have been ignored. Many have argued that prisons are ‘a man’s world; made for men, by men’, and as a consequence, women have been subjected to regimes designed to deal with the needs faced by the larger prison population, that of men (Heidensohn and Silvestri, 2012; Priestley, 1999; Heidensohn, 1985). When attempts are made to examine the history of female prisons, because, as put by Zedner (1994:100) ‘to suggest that they [women prisoners] were simply “not foreseen” is patently implausible’ – requests are made for comparative analysis (Garland, 1993; Wiener, 1993). It is this sort of intellectual chastisement that has fostered the reproduction of theoretical frameworks shaped upon ‘a masculinist vision of the past’ (Spongberg, 2002:3).

The historiography of women in prisons in England is small (e.g. Smith, 1962; Heidensohn, 1985; Dobash et al., 1986). These (hi)stories however, have used at face value traditional and/or revisionist prison historiography to contextualise the history of female prisons: hence, failing to reclaim women’s subjectivity to a great extent (with the exception of Zedner, 1994). Instead, historical primary sources evidence that despite their small numbers in comparison to men, penal policy was as concerned, proportionally, with female prisoners as it was with the male prisoner (Menis, 2020).

The discourse of the invisibility of female prisoners has lots to do with the taking at face value, the (hi)stories told about the separate and the silent systems. These were prison regimes imported from America in the 1840s because they were financially convenient, requiring minimal contact with the prisoner. They were adopted inconsistently and interchangeably, initially, in the three national penitentiaries: Pentonville, Millbank and Brixton (Menis, 2020). We know lots about these regimes, because volumes have been written on them. However, what is missing from such narratives is that the few women sentenced to the national penitentiaries were subjected to a specific female-version of the regime; also, the majority of women, because of the nature of their offence, were sent to local prisons, where the two American prison regimes were applied unsystematically.

Social reformers such as Mary Carpenter, clearly acknowledged the importance of having in female prisons a different penal regime than in male prisons because ‘there is a very great difference between the inmates’ (1864: 207). Partly, this was informed by the understanding that imprisonment for women was recognised as a hindrance to social integration and the regaining of respectability for work and marriage purposes. Indeed, female convicts were transferred, towards the end of their sentences, to Fulham Refuge. This was aimed at ‘erasing the considerable stigma of being recognised as a female ex-convict’ (Zedner, 1991:171). As explained by Fulham Refuge’s governor, they hoped that people who might be intimidated by the idea of employing female ex-prisoners could ‘be induced to take them from a benevolent institution such as a refuge’ (Revd J.H. Moran (1854), quoted in Zedner, 1991:182). Also Du Cane (1885:170) considered that ‘these “refuges” were not prisons either in appearance or in discipline—they were homes and intended to afford the advantages of a treatment approaching in its characteristics to that of home influence’. However, from 1888 Fulham was reinstated as a ‘prison’, and for the next eight years female convicts were accommodated only in Woking prison; from 1896 it was only Aylesbury prison housing the small numbers of female convicts: on an average day in 1897, 202 women were recorded as present, having the yearly average reception standing at less than 50 (Report of the Commissioners of Prisons and Directors of Convict Prisons for the year 1896-1897, 1897:10, 43).

Most women, however, were sent to the 65 local prisons around the country. The second Prison Commission report for 1879 and Susan Fletcher’s memoir (1884) provide a valuable insight into the regime applied in these local prisons. By the end of 31 March 1879, only 63 prisons also housed women, and only Westminster gaol was a female-only prison. These prisons could have had a daily average population of as few as one woman (e.g. Southwell) and as many as 500 women at one time (e.g. Westminster and Liverpool). The Report tells us that only Lancaster goal employed women in gum breaking and cotton picking; otherwise, policy informed by (as we identify it now) stereotypical understanding of femininity and womanhood, meant that female prisoners were subject predominantly to employment in housekeeping. Susan confirms that also later in the century, the ‘hard labour’ she was sentenced to was ‘rather a myth’; as far as she was concerned, she ‘did a little knitting’ because she liked it, ‘but not an hour’s hard labour during the twelve months’ (1884:337).

Historical records evidence that the development of female prisons is closely related to the development of male prisons (Menis, 2020); however, denying a history of female prisoners in its own right fosters a stagnation in the discipline. The uncritical assertion of women’s ‘invisibility’ has led researchers to neglect the contribution of policy specifically concerning the female prison population in the shaping of mainstream prison policy. However, let us not confuse ‘bad’ with ‘different’; prison regimes have left much to be desired for, whether you were (are) a man or a woman. When first arriving to Westminster gaol, Susan Fletcher was faced with the ‘filthy horrors of the reception’. She describes in her memoir how ‘all wash from one tank, and wipe on one towel, and the poor women, wild with grief, or crazy with delirium-tremens, are screaming in the reception-cells’. Despite still being served bacon and beans during her stay (in 1879 the Prison Commission requested for these items to be removed), Susan thought that the food was not nutritious; her ring, which ‘fitted so tightly’ when she had just arrived to prison ‘came off very easily’ after only a week in custody. While waiting to progress to a position of trust (e.g. work in the kitchen and laundry), Susan had to spend 23 hours of the day in her cell. In that regard, she said (1884:320-1, 329):

A saint might grow more saintly by such a discipline, perhaps; but even a saint’s body could hardly get more healthy. Common men and women, social beings, with all their best instincts unsatisfied and blighted, must be made worse in every way by such unnatural conditions.

Women’s History Month raises awareness by documenting, acknowledging and celebrating women’s lives; it is about reclaiming historical ownership for experiences which have been kept muted. To find out more including relevant events:

Women Making Waves https://www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/women

Alternative arts http://www.alternativearts.co.uk/womens-history-month/4581216304

Women’s History Network https://womenshistorynetwork.org/

 

References

Carpenter M (1864) Our convicts. London: Longman, Vol 2.

Dobash RP, Dobash ER and Gutteridge S (1986) The Imprisonment of Women. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Du Cane E (1885) The Punishment and Prevention of Crime. London: Macmillan and Co.

Fletcher SW (1884) Twelve months in an English prison. Boston: Lee and Shepard.

Heidensohn F (1985), Women and Crime. London: Macmillan.

Heidensohn F and Silvestri (2012) Gender and Crime. In Maguire M, Morgan R, and Reiner R (ed.) The Oxford handbook of criminology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 5th edn, pp.336-361.

Menis S (2020) A History of Women’s Prisons in England: The Myth of Prisoners Reformation. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Naffine N (1997) Feminism and Criminology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Rafter NH (1983) Prisons for Women, 1790-1980. Crime and Justice 5: 129-181.

Priestley P (1999), Victorian prison lives. London: Pimlico.

Smith A (1962) Women in Prison. London: Stevens & Sons.

Spongberg M (2002) Writing Women History since the Renaissance. Palgrave Macmillan.

Zedner L (1994) Women crime and custody in Victorian England. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Second Report of The Commissioners of Prisons (1879). London: HMSO.

Report of the Commissioners of Prisons and Directors of Convict Prisons for the year 1896-1897 (1897). London: HMSO.

 

Contact

Susanna Menis, School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London

Email: s.menis@bbk.ac.uk

 

Images: courtesy of the author and permission given by artist, for Woman in a cell © Noriko Hisazumi 2019

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.