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“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me”

Sticks and stones

The academic year is almost over and it offers the time and space to think.  It’s easy to become focused on what needs to be done – for staff; teaching and marking assessments, for students; studying and writing assessments – which leaves little time to stop and contemplate the bigger questions. But without contemplation, academic life becomes less vibrant and runs the risk of becoming procedural and task oriented, rather than the pursuit of knowledge. Reading becomes a chore instead of a pleasure, mindlessly trying to make sense of words, without actually taking time out to think what does this actually mean. We’re all guilty of trying to fill every minute with activity; some meaningful, some meaningless that we forget to stop, relax and let our minds wander. Similarly, writing becomes a barrier because we focus on doing rather than thinking. With this in mind what follows is not a reasoned academic argument but rather a stream of thought

As some of you will remember, a while ago Manos and I had a discussion around words in Criminology (Facebook Live: 24.10.16). In particular, whether words can, or should, be banned and if there is a way of reclaiming, or rehabilitating language. Differing views have emerged, with some strongly on the side of leaving words deemed offensive to die out, whilst others have argued for reclamation of the very same terms. Others still have argued for the reclamation of language, but only by those who the language was targeted toward.

All this talk made me think about the way we use language in crime and justice and the impact this has on the individuals involved. This can be seen in everyday life with the depiction of criminals and victims, the innocents and the guilty, recidivists and those deemed rehabilitated, but we rarely consider the long-lasting effects of these words on individuals.

The recent commemoration (27.07.17) of the fiftieth anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 brought some of these thoughts to the forefront of my mind.  This legislation partially decriminalised sex between men (aged 21 or over) but only in private, meaning that homosexual relationship were confined and any public expression of affection was still liable to criminal prosecution. This anniversary, coming six months after the passing of “Turing’s Law” (officially, the Policing and Crime Act 2017) made me think about the way in which we recompense these men; historically identified as criminals but contemporaneously viewed in a very different light.

I view the gist of “Turing’s Law” as generally positive, offering the opportunity for both the living and dead, to clear their names and expunge their criminal records. After all it allows society to recognise the wrongs done in the name of the law to a not unsubstantial group of citizens. For me, where this legal righting of wrongs falls down, is in the wording. To offer someone a pardon suggests they are forgiven for their “sins” rather than acknowledging that the law (and society) got it wrong. It does not recognise the harm suffered by these men over the course of their lifetimes; a conviction for sexual offending cannot be shrugged off or easily explained away and leaves an indelible mark. Furthermore, whilst the dead are to be pardoned posthumously, the onus is on the men still living, to seek out their own disregard and pardon.

Failing the Vulnerable

Greg is a BA Criminology graduate of 2017 and was motivated to write this blog through the experience of his own dissertation. His dissertation was on the Experiences of Homelessness, Victimisation and Criminalisation.

Keep your coins

Since 2010 homelessness has more than doubled, rising each year and showing no sign of decline. Such statistics signify the governments failure to help those most in need and vulnerable as well as the government’s unsuccessful and ineffective policies. In addition to the rise in homelessness, affordable housing in London has also fallen by 98% since 2010, coinciding with the rise of homelessness. As homelessness has increased, so has victimisation. This is mainly due to their exposure and perceived vulnerability on the streets as most of their victimisation is hate crimes as they are scapegoated for the structural problems in our society.

Prior to writing my dissertation I knew there was relatively high rates of victimisation amongst the homeless, however nothing would prepare me for the participants’ experiences and stories, providing me with incite into the lives of the homeless; the despair and desperation when rough sleeping and surviving as well as the misfortune and harm they experienced throughout. Participants would explain being urinated on, spat on, verbally abused as well as feeling criminalised, stigmatised and marginalised, with all such phenomena interlinking together. What was evident in their stories was the extent of the damage to self-esteem and identity the experiences of homelessness can do to a person. After being utterly and brutally damaged by the public, council and poor services they isolate themselves further as they ‘give up’ on seeking help from services and reject any form of support as they feel ‘undeserving’ or feel it will not lead to anything. In addition participants explained how they felt like second-class citizens, that they were not treated like humans. I found that the homeless are extremely sensitive and vulnerable, much of how you treat them has extensive effects on their sense of self-worth. What was beautiful to see was the tremendous appreciation they had for services that provided them with adequate and effective support, giving them the confidence to excel as they felt they had found their identity and were not shackled to the stigma of homelessness, no longer isolating themselves.
The subject is indeed a delicate one and services and society in general must treat the homeless with compassion and empathy, and also be sensitive to their reality, interpretations and meanings of their experiences. It is not a black and white issue, it is more complex than that, and for services to work they must tailor to their subjective needs and be aware of the different experiences. Although they may experience similar phenomena, it cannot be generalised to fit a ‘one size fits all’ strategy. For example, I met addicts, refugees, victims of domestic violence and many other different pasts that led to homelessness.

Perhaps we should not question people’s individual circumstances and moral failures but instead protest and reject the never-ending austerity and terrible social and economic decisions we have had for over a decade.

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