Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Comparing US and UK approaches to preventing violence against women

CRFR associate director Nancy Lombard reports on the last leg of her US lecturing tour, visiting the Centre on Violence against Women and Children at Rutgers University.

Rutgers University in New Jersey is known for its research. I was excited about the opportunity to find out more about the Centre on Violence against Women and Children, its ethos, aims and research - with a view to further expanding and consolidating our own Gender Based Violence Research Network back in Scotland.

Sarah McMahon, one of the associate directors, spoke about how the Centre works alongside shelters and other organisations to provide research, evaluations and training, with an emphasis on complementing existing services so as not to compete for the limited funding that was available. One of the main ongoing projects was the evaluation of bystander programmes and their effectiveness - read the published papers online.

An interesting comparison with Scotland is that in the USA it tends to be women's organisations that are involved in the delivery of Mentors in Violence Prevention programmes whereas in Scotland the delivery has mainly been by the police,for example through Scotland's Violence Reduction Unit, with the exception of Get Savvi, by Scottish Women's Aid.

The Centre at Rutgers has identified similar benefits and issues with the bystander programme as we have in Scotland. Members of the Centre questioned Scotland's use of a primarily US initiative transplanted 'wholesale' to a Scottish audience. They stressed the community base of the programme, which extends beyond the scope of the school day. In the US the programmes are based on university campuses or at community centres: in the UK they are mostly delivered in secondary schools.

The success of the Mentors in Violence Prevention initiative relies upon getting participants to identify with particular women and girls, i.e. that woman could be your mum, your sister, your girlfriend. However, as we saw in Stubenville - where one of the boys involved in the filming of a gang rape repeatedly said ‘that could be your sister man’ off camera - trying to personalise 'the victim' does not always work.

In our discussion about ‘othering’ the researchers from Rutgers shared my concern about what effect the process has on those women with whom a perpetrator does not identify, perhaps on a cultural, economic, or ethnic basis. Does it allow perpetrators to rationalise that ‘my (mother, girlfriend, sister)  wouldn't get herself in that position’?

Some of the other research projects at Rutgers include creating economic independence education programmes that will be delivered in refuges, to help women build a life for themselves. Another is looking at the drop-out rates for female engineers on the degree programme at universities in Liberia trying to find out why they are so high.

I talked about Scotland and its unique position in the UK, in relation to the gendered definition of violence against women. When asked about the gendered definition and the LGBT community I referred to the work of Scottish Women's Aid's Nel Whiting: A Contradiction in Terms?: A Gendered Analysis & Same Sex Domestic Abuse.

Around 90 people who worked with children and young people, or were active in the violence against women movement came to a breakfast event where I presented my research on young people's understandings of men's violence against women. Sarah McMahon introduced me by saying I had a mesmerising accent! Surely the best introduction ever!

I would like to thank all of the women I met at the Centre and those who attended my talk. I was made to feel so welcome and left feeling inspired and motivated by our shared interests and vision.
Nancy standing at a lectern

Dr Nancy Lombard

associate director, Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR) University of Edinburgh Editorial Board Violence Against Women http://vaw.sagepub.com/

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