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by Rebecca Tomlinson
14th September 2020

It’s been well documented that domestic violence has been on the rise since the start of lockdown back in March. While lockdown was intended to protect us from the virus, confinement with family meant, for some, confining themselves with their abuser, too.

It has been proven that lockdowns can worsen existing inequalities for women and girls, as well as increase discrimination of other marginalised groups including LGBTQ+ people, people living with disabilities, older people, migrants, refugees and those in extreme poverty.

The pandemic has also meant that medical services and support for those affected by gender-based violence has been cut off either by visits being restricted to ‘emergencies’ only or the victim’s own reluctance to overburden services already under strain.

Refuge, which provides advice and helps facilitate safe accommodation, reported a 120 per cent increase in calls to its helpline in the week beginning 30 March. Respect, which provides a service to individuals who have been violent towards their partners or are fearful of losing control, recorded an increase in hits on their website of 125 per cent in early April.

There’s no denying that domestic abuse is a scourge on our society and academic research in this area is therefore so vitally needed. I feel incredibly lucky to be working with fantastic researchers who are dedicating their time to understanding and ending domestic abuse and really proud that we’ve got such an extensive range of books dealing with the issue.

Charlotte Barlow and Stephanie Kewley have brought together leading experts in this field to publish their collection Preventing Sexual Violence. The book highlights current strategies and thinking in this area, and critically considers the limitations of existing frameworks. Combining psychological, criminological, sociological and legal perspectives, it explores academic, practitioner and survivor points of view. It addresses broad themes, from cultures of sexual harassment to the role of the media in oversexualising women and girls, as well as specific issues including violence against children and older people.

August of this year saw the publication of the paperback of Alexandra Fanghanel’s Disrupting Rape Culture. Using specific cases from the US and UK such as the de/sexualised pregnancy, the troublesome naked protest and the errant BDSM player, the book looks at how the female body is figured through, and revolts against, gendered violence. With instances of rape on the rise and the number of people prosecuted and convicted declining, this book demonstrates how it happens, the politics that are mobilised to sustain it, and how we might act to stem it.

It’s not only preventative measures, though, that are so important. Angela Marinari’s Restorative Justice for Survivors of Sexual Abuse offers radical solutions for the development of programmes for survivors of abuse. With a unique focus on the people in the survivor’s circle rather than on the abuser, it addresses the harm caused to survivors by those who enable their abuse, who fail to protect them, or who are reluctant to believe their accounts.

Unfortunately, domestic, gendered and sexual violence aren’t the only issues affecting (primarily) women and girls that have increased during the COVID-19 age. Globally, most sex work has largely ceased due to lockdown measures and most sex workers, even those who can move their work online, have been financially compromised, with some unable to afford to stop their in-person services. Sex workers are one of the most marginalised groups in society and yet we’ve seen a worrying lack of concern or help for them from those in power.

One place getting it right is New Zealand, where a law introduced in 2003 as part of the country’s decriminalisation model brought sex work in line with other forms of work. As a result, sex workers were able to fill in a self-employed loss of earnings form to tide them over until lockdown had ended. As the coronavirus spreads around the world, uncovering entrenched inequalities and deep-rooted biases, New Zealand’s decriminalisation shift has proved to be a lifeline for sex workers and helped them find financial security and safety.

As a model it has been endorsed as best practice by international organisations, leading scholars and sex worker-led organisations. Yet in some corners, speculation is ongoing regarding its impacts on the ground. Lynzi Armstrong and Gilliam Abel discuss this in some detail in their collection Sex Work and the New Zealand Model. Written by an international group of experts, this ground-breaking collection provides the much-needed in-depth research into how decriminalisation is playing out in sex workers’ lives and how different groups of sex workers are experiencing it, while uncovering the challenges and tensions that remain to be negotiated in this field.

In their article published on Transforming Society, the authors say: ‘COVID-19 has highlighted how legal rights and respect for sex workers are paramount during times of crisis to ensure they are not left behind. The New Zealand government was put to the test during the COVID-19 crisis and it passed with flying colours. Not only did its leaders take a quick, decisive and courageous stance, by putting people first; they also stood by the principles of the PRA to safeguard the human rights of sex workers. They acknowledged that sex work is work, supported sex workers in minimising their exposure to COVID-19, and in doing so, sent a clear message that they are valued citizens of Aotearoa.’

It’s clear that more needs to be done to protect those most vulnerable in our society and to recognise that the needs of those most often marginalised are often the first to be ignored, especially during times of crisis. Our aim here at Bristol University Press is at the very least to bring their circumstances into the public consciousness.

Rebecca Tomlinson is the Commissioning Editor of our ever expanding Criminology list. Find out more about how to submit a proposal. @Bec_Tomlinson

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