Online/offline: sexual violence, activism and justice – public lecture and panel discussion

By Rachel Loney-Howes

On the 25th of November 2016 – on the International Day to End Violence against Women, no less, which is the first of 16 days of activism to end violence against women ending on December 10th, International Human Rights day – I had the privilege of bringing Dr. Alissa Ackerman-Acklin to La Trobe’s Franklin Street campus. The purpose of her visit was to connect her research and experience with current projects examining the impact information communication technologies (ICTs) on enabling victim-survivors of sexual violence to speak out, as well as perpetrate violence against women.

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Dr. Alissa Ackerman-Acklin during her lecture

Dr. Alissa Ackerman-Acklin is an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington, Tecoma, who has spent over a decade researching sex crimes policy. In her lecture at the Judith Lumley Centre on Friday, November 25th 2016, she spoke about her journey as a scholar, an activist, and as a survivor of sexual violence. Dr. Ackerman-Acklin spoke very bravely and frankly about how her experience has shaped her research, as well as her involvement in activist projects in the United States – which is how I came to know her.

My PhD. research examines the nature, use, and scope of online spaces for anti-rape activism. One of my research participants was associated with Dr. Ackerman-Acklin through her activism work with Report it, Girl (an online community of sexual violence survivors who connect through telling stories) and the Powerful Voices Project (a website which features stories of survivors to help educate, enhance, and empower discussions about sexual violence), and thought it would be a good if we also connected. When she reached out to me to discuss the possibility of her coming to Melbourne to talk about her work I jumped at the opportunity to finally be able to meet with her, but to also put together a panel of leading experts in the field of violence against women. As such, the lecture and panel discussion was an opportunity to not only showcase some of the amazing work being done, but to demonstrate some of the international connections scholars at La Trobe University have.

One of the great things about studying Criminology and Legal Studies at La Trobe is the dynamic and critical approach we take to understanding crime, violence, and justice both locally and globally. This lecture and panel discussion was a fantastic opportunity to bring together a group of activist-scholars who brought a challenging perspective to their work, highlighting the complexities as well as positive elements of this emerging scholarly field.

To this end, Dr. Ackerman-Acklin’s lecture was followed by a panel facilitated by Dr. Anastasia Powell (RMIT) featuring Dr. Bianca Fileborn (La Trobe University), Dr. Nicola Henry (La Trobe University), Dr. Georgina Heydon (RMIT), and myself. The panel reflected upon their own research, its relationship to Dr. Ackerman’s work, and took questions from the audience. Dr. Fileborn talked about the potential online spaces harbour for victims of street harassment to pursue alternative means of obtaining justice; Dr. Henry spoke about her acclaimed research with Dr. Powell on technology facilitated sexual violence; Dr. Heydon reflected upon the development of a new Sexual Assault Report Anonymously app (SARA for short) where victims of sexual violence can anonymously report sexual violence to the police; and I discussed more broadly some of the uses online spaces can contribute to anti-rape activism.

One of the most gratifying aspects of doing research is not only finding other scholars who are interested in your work, but being able to present it in such a way that is meaningful to a wider audience outside the academy. This was reflected in the widespread interest in the lecture, with the event booked out within a week of being advertised and the turn out on the day. We hope that those who came to the lecture were stimulated by the discussion, and for those who were unable to attend we hope that the recording will be an appropriate substitute – as well as a useful resource for others interested in this kind of work.

Organising and participating in the panel was certainly a career highlight, and I would like to thank my colleague and friend, Bianca Fileborn who took on much of the organising of the event, as well as the Department of Social Inquiry and Law School for supporting the event. I hope that there will be many opportunities for collaboration with Dr. Ackerman-Acklin in the future.

rachel-loney-howesRachel Loney-Howes is a fourth year PhD candidate in Crime, Justice and Legal Studies. Her PhD offers an analysis of the nature, use and scope of online spaces for anti-rape activism, with a critical focus on the politics of recognition. She has presented on this research at conferences and has been published in peer-reviewed journals. Rachel was the winner of the People’s Choice award at the La Trobe University 3MT final. In her spare time, Rachel likes watching the latest Netflix saga, talking social theory, baking, and going for bike rides in the sunshine. She also loves cats. Rachel is on Twitter at @rloneyhowes.

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