The Academy-funded academic researching men who speak out against the abuse of women

by British Academy

5 Jan 2018

The British Academy has just announced the awardees of the 2017/18 British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grants programme. The Academy’s most popular scheme in terms of applications, these grants support research in the humanities and social sciences through awards of up to £10,000.

In this series, we find out more about the difference this funding makes to researchers and their work…

‘We talk a lot about “scandals” in sexual violence cases,’ says Professor Nicole Westmarland, Director at the Durham University Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse, ‘as if they’re something unusual or rare or unpredictable. But how many scandals does it take before we realise that this is everywhere?’

From the allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein to the latest reports of harassment in Westminster, hardly a day goes by anymore without a fresh story of abuse surfacing in the news.

But, as Nicole suggests, such stories are so frequent that perhaps it’s time we recognise their regularity and take a more proactive approach to tackling the problem.

‘I think we just need to realise that it is there, and try and work out how men and women can speak out when they’re worried about their family, friends or colleagues because too often abusers are just brushed off as, “Well, that’s just so-and-so. That’s what he’s like.”’

Nicole and her colleagues have spent the last year working with academics and activists across the UK, Spain and Sweden on a British Academy-funded project that seeks to better understand the factors that enable men to actively and publicly take a stance against men’s violence against women.

‘We know that there are some men who do take a public stance and are quite outspoken about men’s violence against women,’ says Nicole. ‘We want to find out what’s different about these men – if there’s something in their history, or their work, or the way their family’s organised or whether they’ve had significant women in their life who’ve experienced domestic or sexual violence or experienced it themselves.

‘We’re trying to look simultaneously at their background while also identifying what they think could change to enable more men to speak out.’

By doing so, the team hope to encourage more men to publicly oppose domestic and sexual violence against women and to reframe these issues as ones men should be talking about.

‘Violence against women is a men’s issue, as well as a women’s issue,’ Nicole says. ‘It is an issue that men and women should both feel ownership of and want to do something about. It shouldn’t just be left to survivors of abuse to end abuse.

‘If you look at when the Weinstein scandal broke, straight away it was mainly women who were speaking out, because they were talking about how they’d been victimised by Harvey Weinstein or by men in their organisation, and it took quite a long time before men even started joining in that conversation, and when they did join it, it was often to get an excuse in early about why they didn’t act or to offload it from their individual feelings of guilt for failing to speak out.

‘Whenever you go to conferences on the topic, even if it’s a conference about men and the role that men can play or about changing men’s behaviour, it is still generally women who attend. It is generally women who go to academic conferences, to multi-agency meetings, to protests, etc. That has to change.'

Nicole and her colleagues are using questionnaires and in-depth interviews to collect information on the personal backgrounds of the men taking part in their study.

So far, the team is still in the process of collecting data and conducting interviews but some interesting findings have already started to emerge.

‘One of the things that we’ve found especially interesting is that when we put a call out for men who’ve spoken out publicly against violence against women, we were really surprised in the UK how many police officers came forward.

‘These men had often encountered violence against women through their job – having to deal with call outs or being policy leads – and, as time had gone on, they’d come to really understand the topic and get involved in a way that went beyond the responsibilities of their job.

‘So, in a way, it’s a case of they didn’t choose the issue; the issue chose them. You can’t unknow this stuff once you know it and have seen it happening.’

One of the respondents, Nicole explains, has gone on to activism in this area, specifically around affecting change within the police. Another one went on to lead a domestic violence charity – a job that, traditionally, a woman would have done.

‘We’re definitely seeing a new generation of men in the UK data who are willing to speak out against domestic violence, who’ve come at it not necessarily from a socialist, leftist or academic background but who’ve encountered it in their career.’

Nicole received funding from the British Academy’s Small Research Grants scheme in 2016 and says the grant has been essential in getting the project up and running.

‘There’s no way we could have done this project without the British Academy’s funding,’ she says. ‘It’s a European project involving three countries – UK, Spain and Sweden – and we needed the money to travel and meet other teams. We also needed some money towards the coordinator because of the complexity of multi-country research.

‘Without the British Academy funding, we’d not have been able to do the multi-study comparison – we would have had to constrict it to one country.’

For information on the British Academy’s funding schemes, please visit:

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