PhD Blog – The police and domestic abuse crime: positive steps but much more to be done

larissaThis weeks PhD Blog is from Larissa Povey, final-year PhD Candidate within the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research and Associate Lecturer in Criminal Justice at Sheffield Hallam University. Larissa’s PhD explores the impact of changes in UK criminal justice and welfare policies on the everyday lives of women at the social margins. Using a mixture of qualitative interviews, visual and ethnographic methods her study examines the lived experiences, perceptions and sense-making narratives of women who have been subject to multiple interventions from state agencies spanning both welfare and penal systems. Larissa hopes to make a contribution through using a feminist lens to explore the gendered character of social control and disciplining, texturing theoretical debates which often focus on men.

Larissa’s broad research interests lie in the areas of women and criminal justice, punishment beyond the prison, welfare policy, labour markets and social control.

PhD funding: Sheffield Hallam University Vice-Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship. This PhD is linked to the ESRC-funded “Welfare Conditionality: Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change” project (http://www.welfareconditionality.ac.uk/).

Contact: larissa.j.povey@student.shu.ac.uk

The police and domestic abuse crime: positive steps but much more to be done

As a PhD candidate researching women’s experiences of the criminal justice system and welfare reform, I was recently invited to take part in a Domestic Abuse Crime Scrutiny Panel for a national police agency. This got me thinking about the way we deal with this type of crime in England and Wales; alongside small steps in the right direction there are contradictory developments which thwart such advances, particularly broader shifts in social policy under austerity.

Based on efforts by the Crown Prosecution Service to show transparency and engage the local community in examining police work, the earlier scrutiny panels focused on hate crime; the first, piloted in West Yorkshire in 2004 focused specifically on race hate crime. The development of domestic abuse crime scrutiny panels followed and more recently we have seen panels focusing on cases of violence against women and girls.

Efforts such as these indicate that across the criminal justice system agencies are attempting to take domestic abuse (DA) crimes and violence against women and girls more seriously. Indeed, statistics from a recent Crown Prosecution Service report (2016: 1) show that it is “prosecuting and convicting more defendants of domestic abuse, rape, sexual offences and child sexual abuse than ever before”. Importantly, there has been an 11% rise in convictions for Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) crimes, a trend that has been seen over the past three years. Prosecutions of this nature currently account for almost 20% of the Crown Prosecution Service’ total case load.

While new panels provide encouraging indicators that the police want to improve the way that they handle DA and VAWG crime, things are not entirely rosy. For example, the Home Office does not gather official statistics on the number of women and girls killed through domestic violence, a vast oversight. We do know the number of women killed by men in the UK because of the work of one individual Karen Ingala Smith, CEO of nia (a domestic violence charity) who began Counting Dead Women in 2012, her efforts are now supported by Women’s Aid and has developed into the Femicide Census to record all cases of ‘the murder of women because they are women’ (Women’s Aid, 2016). These efforts show a year on year increase in the number of women dying, averaging two women per week, at the hands of a partner, ex-partner or family member.

On the one hand we have the highest recorded reporting and prosecutions for DA and VAWG crimes. On the other, we have an increasing number of women dying from this type of crime. So what are some of the reasons that might be contributing to this? Since 2010, we have seen swinging cuts to services under austerity. This includes large cuts to women’s refuges resulting in the loss of 17% of specialist refuges and a third of referrals being turned away. Police guidelines outline refuges as a key intervention in the effective protection of victims, so with fewer refuges and places for vulnerable women and children it is a no brainer that this may have a detrimental effect on victims’ ability to get themselves to safety.

Though prosecutions are up, these cases reflect a small proportion of the overall number of incidences reported. And there are new ways of committing these offences as seen in the proliferation of online abuse specifically using social media as a tool for stalking, harassment and control. Policing these new mechanisms of abuse take investment and resources, there is much work to be done and things are likely to get worse as we see continued cuts to police budgets meaning fewer specialist police.

Other reforms such as changes to legal aid have been felt particularly acutely by women, who will have little recourse to free legal aid. According to this report such changes “raise disturbing questions about the state’s failure to protect women, especially those at risk of – and those who have already experienced – domestic violence” (Mayo and Koessl, 2015: 9).

There are deeper, enduring structural inequalities which place women in a position of less power in relation to men, this legacy can be seen in the persistence of devaluing of social reproductive work, the gender pay gap, gendered labour, maternity leave policy to name just a few. It is this power imbalance that creates a breeding ground for domestic abuse which is about power and control. These inequalities will be made worse by ongoing reforms to both in-work and out-of-work benefits. Upcoming reforms are likely to worsen the financial situation of vulnerable women, particularly lone parents. These factors explain some of the reasons behind the statistics and we may see further increases in DA and VAWG crimes and dead women.

PHD BLOG- Here.Me.Now: the voicing of aspiration by youths living in ‘gang’ labelled communities

img_5618This weeks PhD blog is by Charlene Crossley.

Charlene is a 2nd year PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is undertaking a PhD that examines the aspirations of young people in areas labelled as ‘gang’ effected. She does this using interesting and innovative methods. Here  she offers a short summary of her PhD work to date.

If you would like to hear more from Charlene you can tweet her @Charrrr_xx or email C.crossley@mmu.ac.uk. Charlene is also presenting a poster and an oral presentation at the BSC conference on the 6th July 2016.

 

Here.Me.Now: The voicing of aspiration by youths living in ‘gang’ labelled communities

Do we know what youth transition means? The young people in my research certainly don’t. They know they want a good job, to live in a decent area and have a family. Does it matter how they get there? Is there a clear path? Here.Me.Now looks at the goals and aspirations of young people living in communities labelled as gang effected. Questioning if it is the application of labels like this this that allow the path to become fragmented?

I’m challenging the idea that young people have clear transitions journeys and that they lack aspiration. Aspiration IS important; it dictates where we will aim to be as an adult. Within gang affected communities it is often assumed that young people’s aspirations are to simply join a gang. Therefore, aspiration is not a value that is nurtured or prioritised within these communities; particularly by institutions of social control. The implication is that already disadvantaged communities are expected to support young people’s transitions to adulthood without resources to encourage those young people to aim higher. This research will update the literature with a contemporary account that looks at diverse lives by moving away from a focus of traditional England and with it the school to work transitions and a move into contemporary England where young people are living in very different societies.

The methodology for this research is rather large, but what a great way it has been to engage young people. All too often as researchers we assume we are the experts. Well, here’s a thought – why not situate the young people as experts of their OWN lives. After all, they’re the ones living it. That’s what I decided to do in adopting participatory action research (PAR) as my methodology. At two diverse youth centres in areas of Manchester, completing ethnographic research over a period of eight months, the young people would often talk about the lack of opportunities and how those were limited further by the ‘gang’ label that was attached to their community. It was only through the identification of these issues that I developed a number of research tools to use with the young people. They wrote letters, engaged in mapping, participated in a blog, discussed local media and did activities with flash cards. This has allowed the young people to tell me what the issues are for THEM, in ways that they have chosen. This has allowed young people to be heard, giving them a VOICE. At the end of the research, it is envisaged that the young people will disseminate the research findings from their own experiences to individuals within the wider community.

Researchers all too often assume that individuals want to participate in the research. Even with the development of participant led tools, there is an expectation that they want to be involved and at all stages, which is not always the case. What this process has allowed is for young people to discuss as much or as little as they want. To generate discussion on issues that are important to them. To listen to them and not make assumptions about what we fell is important to us in order to answer what WE want. The methodology hasn’t been without its challenges. From the building of trust to weeks of no engagement. However, what this has allowed further is for the process has been truly participant led.

So, who then gets to decide successful transition is? Is it just school to work? Yes, the literature has extended to cover leisure and home life, but isn’t transition different for different people? Is it, for example, that a successful transition can be that they haven’t got involved in crime or have completed high school? Aspiration is ultimately crucial in guiding YP through their journey, towards what the government would categorise as a ‘successful transition’. However, the labels attached to the particular neighbourhoods in my study do not support this linear transition. This means that these young people are automatically written off as having no aspiration. In fact, certainly for the young people in my research, they have high aspirations, but they have difficulty in achieving their goals. As one young person has said to me, ‘I want to be a PE teacher but I know I ain’t getting there’.