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Work contributes to end violence against women and children

Prof. Ravi Thiara

Professor Ravi Thiara

Professor in Sociology, Department of Sociology


Sexual violence remains far too common in society with far-reaching consequences for victim-survivors. Despite greater public attention in recent years, sexual violence is highly under-reported and persistently under-prosecuted. Recent events have highlighted even more the inadequate responses provided to victim-survivors by public services such as the police, with trust in the criminal justice system considered to be at an all-time low. Research on sexual violence and minoritised women in the UK has been extremely limited, and identifying this gap in evidence, the project sought to challenge this invisibility and the short-term and siloed policy and practice responses. The research aimed to assess the nature of sexual violence experienced by women who experience specific forms of marginalisation, its impact on their wellbeing, disclosure patterns and help-seeking, and the responses they receive when they do approach support services.

What prompted you to engage with this policy/project?

Over the last 25 years, I have worked in the area of violence against women and children, in particular domestic violence and abuse, and formed close links and research partnerships with a range of third sector organisations providing support to victim-survivors. One of the close collaborations developed over the last 20 years is with Imkaan, a second-tier national organisation, which works to end violence against Black and minoritised women and girls, supports organisations helping Black and minoritised survivors and advocates for policy change. My research over a decade and a half identified a gap in knowledge, practice and policy development about sexual violence in the lives of minoritised women and the responses they received from mainstream provision. Together with Imkaan, funding for research was secured to explore these issues so that evidence could be generated for the strengthening of both policy and practice.

 Where did you hear about it, and who dd you contact?

The idea for the research was co-developed with the Head of Research at Imkaan. It was considered an important focus for the policy work of the organisation and for the strengthening of service responses by Imkaan members and Rape Crisis services, both sectors which provide important advocacy, advice and support to victim-survivors.

What support did you receive, and from whom?

It took almost seven years to secure funding for the research, despite it being widely recognised as a gap in knowledge. In part this reflects the lack of priority given to marginalised survivors in the policy and commissioning world. Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, recognising its significance for strengthening policy and practice, provided the necessary resources. The network of Imkaan members (services providing dedicated support to minoritised survivors) and Rape Crisis England and Wales (RCEW) members gave their time, input and feedback. RECW also provided valuable space at its annual conference for the research team to give presentations and run workshops. Dawn Butler, MP hosted a launch event in Parliament, which was chaired by Nadia Whittome, MP.

How does policy engagement impact the rest of your work?

My research on various dimensions of violence against women and children, often completed in collaboration with non-academic partners, speaks to pressing contemporary policy and practice issues. This has included, for instance, collaborative research on disabled women and domestic violence, the mother-child relationship in a context of violence, and bride price and its links to violence against women in Uganda. Working with second tier and third sector organisations has crucially strengthened the ways in which research can be utilised to impact policy and practice. Such collaboration enables me to build long-term relationships and to also generate ideas for further meaningful research. Having built a track record of such research has created opportunities to work with local government to develop action plans on violence against women and girls and to conduct literature reviews for national campaigns, such as Women’s Aid’s ChildFirst campaign seeking to reform the family court processes and the more recent Deserve to be Heard campaign on mental health and domestic abuse. In my view, rather than research that has limited circulation, the satisfaction and sense of achievement gained from working to bring about change is second to none.

What advice would you give to other academics when engaging with policy and policymakers?

Don't go it alone - building positive partnerships with organisations and bodies that lobby policy makers and government amplifies the impact of research. I find this an invaluable approach. Research has to be focused and contribute to the policy debates of the day and enable partner bodies to use the evidence to lobby and pressure.

Have a clear message - while research can generate complex findings, it is important for policy to have a clear and concise message, backed by rigorous research, which can be used by campaign organisations.

Link in with existing mechanisms - by sharing research through networks and bodies such as the APPG, approach individual MPs who can ask questions in parliament, and present at key non-academic conferences. I regularly present at annual conferences of bodies such Rape Crisis England and Wales, Women’s Aid, and the European network WAVE, as well as multi-agency practitioner conferences and policy roundtables.

There are no shortcuts - developing and nurturing collaboration takes time and humility. You also have to go over and above the usual dissemination activities and be prepared to go outside of your comfort zone. I see it as a part of giving back. Ensuring policy makers listen takes time and has to be done by building critical alliances, which takes us back to my first point – don’t go it alone!

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