Sexual Bullying, Humanity and the Abuse of Power
Bullying and the Abuse of Power Project: 5th Global Meeting
Wednesday 6th May – Friday 8th May 2015
Call for Presentations
Like other species of bullying, sexual bullying is rooted in the abuse of power and manifests itself in many ways. Among these, perhaps the most worrying for many people is the sexual abuse of children by family members and other trusted adults, as well as by strangers. The recent revelation in the UK that between 1997 and 2013 at least 1400 children in one town were sexually abused by strangers who groomed and used them for sex, often beating them and threatening them with extreme violence, prostituting them and trafficking them to other parts of the country to be abused by others, raises the question of how common such activities are across the globe.
Much sexual abuse involves the betrayal of trust, as is the case when teachers have sexual relationships with older pupils, or wilfully abuse younger ones, as well as when media personalities use their charisma and celebrity to seduce young people into participating in sex, often with the promise of some personal gain. It is also true when elders and people with learning disabilities are abused by those who are charged with their care and support.
The nature of sexual abuse depends, to some extent, on who the victims are, and on the context and culture within which it takes place. Sometimes it is closely linked with physical violence, as is the case where rape features as part of a pattern of domestic abuse and where it takes place during armed conflict, when it is sometimes referred to as a ‘weapon of war’. Some species of sexual abuse are genuinely global phenomena, including the trafficking of women and children for prostitution both globally and within national boundaries.
Though the prototype of sexual bullying and abuse involves the imposition by one or more people on another, of sexual acts, it is important to realise that some sexual bullying and some sexual abuse does not involve physical contact between the perpetrator(s) and victims. For example, the use of ‘sexting’ messages to harass, confuse, upset and harm others is undoubtedly sexual bullying, as is the invasive use of mobile phones and social media to circulate private/illicit sexual images and video with the intention of harming others, especially the use of what has become known as ‘revenge porn’ to punish former partners and the ‘outing’ of homosexuals by making public that which they wished to keep private. And those who do not touch others who have not consented to being treated as sexual objects, but watch as others do so, are clearly guilty of sexual abuse.
Sexual bullying, humanity and the abuse of power is aimed at lay people, as well as at professionals and scholars who recognise sexual bullying and abuse as a major global issue, including psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, ethicists, theologians, cultural theorists and historians; teachers, therapists, counsellors, physicians, social workers and clergy; politicians at local, national and international levels; community leaders and activists, and human rights lawyers. It will create a space in which to discuss the nature of sexual bullying and abuse; how they should be defined and how they can be identified; to explore the range of contexts in which they take place and the commonalities between sexual bullying and abuse of different kinds. It will also offer a forum for discussion of ways in which sexual bullying and abuse of different kinds can best be tackled at local, national and international levels.
The outline themes that follow begin to sketch out the range of areas that we expect to be addressed in Sexual bullying, humanity and the abuse of power. It is not complete, but should serve to draw attention to the range of topics and questions that may be addressed.
What are sexual bullying and abuse?
The first thematic strand of Sexual bullying, humanity and the abuse of power focuses on the nature of sexual bullying and sexual abuse, on the attempt to define them and specify how they might be identified in practice, and to clarify how they relate to one another. Most definitions of sexual abuse offer descriptions of physical actions, but it is clear that intentionality and meaning – for both the bully/abuser and the bullied/abused, are also important in deciding what human actions constitute abuse, as are considerations of ethical ideas about respect for persons and responsibility.
- How should sexual bullying and abuse be defined and how might they be identified in practice?
– What is the relationship between sexual bullying and sexual abuse? Are all instances of sexual bullying also instances of sexual abuse?
– Is physical contact necessary for sexual abuse?
– Along with the individuals who cajole, groom, or bully their victims into participating in its production, are the users of child pornography guilty of sexual abuse? (Would the same be true of pornography featuring adults?)
– Can consensual sexual activity be abusive? Can sexual bullying be consensual?
– When teachers and school pupils engage in sexual activity together, does it matter whether the pupil is legally ‘under-age’?
– Can members of vulnerable groups, including children and people with learning disabilities) be not only victims, but perpetrators of sexual bullying and abuse?
– Could a person with learning disabilities consent to sexual activity and yet be the victim of abuse?
Contextualising sexual bullying and abuse
The second theme focuses attention on the contexts in which sexual bullying and abuse take place, and on the range of actions that might be viewed as sexual bullying and abuse. Along with discussions of the conditions that underpin and support the growth of sexual bullying and abuse in particular locations, research reports and case studies of particular locations where sexual bullying is found, or that focus on specific species of sexual abuse, are welcome.
- How has the growth of new media and in particular, the growth of social media, contributed to the development of a culture in which sexual bullying and abuse seems to flourish?
– What is it about some cultures and societies that encourages the violent bullying of homosexuals and members of sexual minorities, including transgender individuals?
– How important in the rise of sexual abuse and bullying is the ready availability of pornography via the internet?
– Is it easy access to pornography via the internet implicated in the formation of unrealistic (unhelpful and arguably unhealthy) sexual expectations that lead to coercive, bullying and abusive sexual behaviour within some relationships, especially among young people?
– What part has the ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960s and 1970s played in creating an atmosphere in which sexual abuse and bullying seem to have flourished?
– How could the British television personality Jimmy Savile manage to sexually abuse so many young people, especially girls, in so many different places, over such a long period, without any of those who subsequently voiced doubts about him, taking action?
– Is there a relationship between the sexual bullying that happens in the armed forces (regardless of the gender of the victims and perpetrators) and the apparent use of rape as a strategy of war?
– How could the Austrian Joseph Fritzl have imprisoned and systematically sexually abused family members for over twenty years without other members of his community raising the alarm? And how could Phillip Garrido in the US, escape detection for twenty years after abducting and holding Jaycee Lee Dugard prisoner while sexually abusing and fathering two children with her?
– Why is sexual abuse and bullying so common in families, including the abuse of children and elders as well as rape inside marriage?
– Is sex between university lecturers and their students OK, or should it be considered as sexual abuse in the same way as sex between schoolteachers and their pupils, consensual or not?
– Is there a relationship between the sexual bullying that happens in the armed forces (regardless of the gender of the victims) and the apparent use of rape as a strategy in warfare?
What can be done about sexual abuse and bullying ?
Our third major theme focuses on ways of tackling sexual bullying and abuse in all their forms – both on prevention and on ways of addressing the problems that they cause. We are interested, for example, in education aimed at attitude change, both in potential perpetrators and in those who might fail to spot and thus act in relation to sexual bullying when it occurs. We are also interested in the range of ways in which the trauma that results from sexual bullying may best be addressed and in ways in which the concerns of ‘whistleblowers’ who bring abuse to public attention might best be respected and acted upon, while protecting the interests of those in question. We thus anticipate contributions about tackling sexual bullying through educational initiatives and legislation and ‘policing’ at both national and international levels. Case studies and reports of action research about interventions, including education programmes aimed tackling sexual bullying are especially welcome, along with reports about both qualitative and quantitative research.
- What environmental and cultural changes might help to reduce the incidence of sexual bullying and abuse?
– How do we educate young people about the dangers of ‘grooming’ – both by people they know and trust and by strangers on the internet?
– How can sexual abuse that occurs within the context of organised religions, including the Catholic, Anglican and other churches, as well as religious cults, best be addressed?
– What should be done about cases of historic sexual abuse by, for example, entertainers and other celebrities; teachers; clergy; parents, carers and leaders of youth clubs and organisations? Must every case that comes to light be prosecuted, perhaps at the expense of taking action in relation to current and ongoing abuse as well as abuse in the future?
– How can settings such as schools and nurseries; young people’s organisations, and sports facilities be made ‘safe’ from sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers, leaders and sports coaches.
– Could successful civil actions against celebrities in the media and entertainment industries lead to bogus accusations of sexual abuse by those with an eye on financial gain?
– What strategies should be put in place and actions taken to uncover and bring to justice members of paedophile rings; makers and users of child pornography; those who prostitute and traffic children and women for sex, and other sexual criminals, given that the incidence of offences is so high?
– How can schools, churches and health and social care agencies take adequate measures to protect children and young people from sexual abuse?
– What could lead a person to refrain from acting in relation to possible sexual abuse, because they are afraid, where the suspects are from a particular racial group, of being thought racist, or where the suspects are homosexuals, of being thought homophobic,? There are many well documented cases of such inaction, featuring individuals in positions of authority and influence.
– What can be done in relation to phenomena such as female genital mutilation (FGM) that draw on traditional practices within some cultures, but which may be viewed as forms of sexual abuse? For example, if FGM amounts to sexual abuse, does this necessarily mean that all practitioners of FGM are sexual abusers, even if they believe that what they are doing is in the girl’s best interests?
- Could a person with learning disabilities engage in sexual activity that abused another person and yet not be guilty of sexual abuse, if, say, he or she was, for some reason, unaware of the nature of his or her act?
– Is the controlling and coercive sexual behaviour that seems to be more and more common within relationships, especially among young people, really such a new thing?
– Some kinds of sexual abuse only happen because of the ways in which people conduct their lives and relationships – both by making their private lives public through social media and as a result of the tsunami of pornography that crowds the internet, by making and sharing explicit sexual images and film as part of personal relationships.
The Steering Group welcomes the submission of proposals for short workshops, practitioner-based activities, performances, and pre-formed panels. We particularly welcome short film screenings; photographic essays; installations; interactive talks and alternative presentation styles that encourage engagement.
What to Send
300 word proposals should be submitted by Friday 23rd January 2015. All submissions are at least double blind peer reviewed. Proposals should be submitted simultaneously to the Organising Chairs; abstracts may be in Word or RTF formats with the following information and in this order:
a) author(s), b) affiliation, c) email address, d) title of proposal, e) body of abstract f) up to 10 key words
E-mails should be entitled: BULLY 5 Proposal Submission.
Please use plain text (Times Roman 12) and abstain from using footnotes and any special formatting, characters or emphasis (such as bold, italics or underline). We acknowledge receipt and answer all paper proposals submitted. If you do not receive a reply from us in a week you should assume we did not receive your proposal; it might be lost in cyberspace! We suggest, then, you look for an alternative electronic route or resend.
The conference is part of the Ethos Hub series of ongoing research and publications projects conferences, run within the Critical Issues domain which aims to bring together people from different areas and interests to share ideas and explore innovative and challenging routes of intellectual and academic exploration. All papers accepted for and presented at the conference will be eligible for publication in an ISBN eBook. Selected papers may be developed for publication in a themed hard copy volume.
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