Monday, January 16, 2017

Til it happens to you - Sexual violence on campus

Bystander intervention videos help provide prevention guidelines 

by Tarah Hodgkinson

There were six educated, relatively privileged, Canadian women sitting at that table. And yet not one of us was free from the experience, or the fear, of victimization, especially on university campuses.

Last year I attended a Take Back the Night event with several women in downtown Vancouver. We took over the streets protesting women’s inequality and violence against women. A few of us gathered for dinner beforehand and began to discuss the issue of victimization and sexual assault. Soon the stories about each individual’s experience, the experience of her friends, her sisters, her cousins, her colleagues and other women came to light.

I realized how many of my female counterparts had been sexually victimized in one way or another and how much of this seemed to happen in and around our undergraduate degrees.


Recently Mateja blogged here about safety and prevention in elementary schools. We also need to discuss sexual assaults occurring across North American college and university campuses every day. Until recently little attention has been paid to this issue.

CBC News has tried to gather data on campus sexual assaults across Canada. They found that over 700 women had reported in the last few years, but this fails to acknowledge that more than 65% of women do not report sexual assault to officials. This is not surprising considering less than one percent of reported cases result in formal action.

Several schools in Canada also reported no sexual assaults in spite of the fact that research indicates almost 40% of women over the age of 16 have experienced sexual assault.

Comedic videos offer another way to humanize sex assault statistics 

Unlike the U.S., who has passed a federal law that all universities must report ALL crimes on campus, Canadian colleges and universities are not required to publish reported crimes like the number of sexual assaults.

Several universities across Canada have surveyed students and drafted new sexual assault policies in the wake of recent high-profile cases. But far too little is being done on the prevention side. While some universities have developed poster campaigns or coffee cups messages to draw awareness to the issue, few seem to have any active prevention policies.

Universities may claim that it is not their responsibility to address prevention and that the police or other agencies have that responsibility. However, the U.S. Department of Justice found that college-aged women (18-24 years of age) have the highest risk of sexual victimization of any group of women.


Prevention can involve many things. Many argue that first we need to change rape culture and they are correct. However, these strategies will take time and in that time women are being victimized.

Some steps are already occurring. At Western University in London, Ontario, there is a dedicated CPTED expert who reviews buildings and grounds for potential crime opportunities. In Quebec, Bishop's University requires sexual violence prevention training for all incoming first-year students. The University of Toronto also offers something similar.

Several other universities across the country offer blue-light posts/poles in public areas that allow potential victims to hit a button and speak with security or notify them of their whereabouts. Others offer walk-home services, in which a male and female volunteer will walk a student home late at night.

Campus student patrols - a fixture at many universities

Some action has been taken, but these strategies are merely band-aid solutions. If universities are extensions of our neighborhoods, perhaps we need to create places where this conversation can be expanded further? For example, on university campuses many women’s centers exist, yet there are no centers for men.

Many criticize men’s centers by claiming that all places are men’s places but these centers could be headed by trained feminist men, in partnership with women’s centers, who can encourage nonjudgmental and open conversations about proper consent, among other things.

A non-university example of this kind of culture jamming center called the Dude's Club, already exists in Vancouver. This may be a better way to change the cultural narrative by creating a safe space to learn to act differently in public spaces.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Japanese solution to gun crime

Tokyo from the top of the SkyTree - World's largest city - photo by Yokalica (C) 
                                                         Creative Commons license

by Greg Saville

There is a remarkable story in today’s Guardian newspaper titled “How Japan has almost eradicated gun crime”. It says in 2014 Japan had “just six gun deaths compared to 33,599 in the US.”

Six gun deaths? In the entire country of 130 million people? The US averages 10 gun deaths per 100,000 persons (both felonious and accidental). Canada is less than 2. The UK and Australia under 1. Japan's number is so low it doesn’t register!

Ah, say the naysayers, that may be six gun deaths but you cannot compare the two countries! Raw population size alone accounts for the difference! Right?

Nope. Both countries have large populations: Japan is the 10th most populous country and America the 3rd. At 130 million, Japan is just under half the US population of 325 million.

Ah, say the naysayers, there are lots of other reasons why you can't compare.

Let's consider them...


Does the US have more poverty?  Nope! The US reports its relative poverty rate at 13.5%. Japan posts its relative poverty rate at 16%.


America is far more diverse and Japan is far more culturally homogenous. True, that probably leads to shared social attitudes about non-violence in Japan. But it is a fact that most American urban violence is not between different racial groups but rather within them (a truism ignored by fact-free politicians).


Perhaps American history, with a civil war and multiple overseas wars, fuels a culture of violence? Nope, Japan isn't that different! Consider Japanese militarism following the Meiji Restoration, the Sino-Japanese wars, the Russian-Japanese War, and of course WW2.


Perhaps there are more frustrated people who live in dense American cities and that drives them to crime (the US is 81% urban)?  Nope! Japan is 78% urban and the world’s largest city - Tokyo - is one of the densest and most urban in the world. It is also among the safest.


The latest in criminology is to explain global crime declines via increases in security technology, DNA fingerprints, predictive policing, CCTV computer algorithms, etc.

Nope, that doesn't work either. DNA fingerprinting works after a crime, not before. It might get a chronic offender off the streets. But given DNAs investigative scarcity around the world, claiming it accounts for crime declines stretches the logic gap to Grand Canyon proportion. Predictive policing has not been around long enough to register on statistical radar screens.

And CCTV? Every time I turn on the nightly news I watch an "exclusive report" of a robbery "caught on tape"? If CCTV is so great cutting crime, why do gun robberies keep showing up on the nightly news? Obviously, research on CCTV effectiveness is spotty.

Security tech isn’t the answer.


John Hancock Observatory Night View
Chicago had over 700 homicides in 2016
- photo by allen McGregor (C),  Creative Commons license 

Stats are hard to come by, but rough estimates suggest there are 1.4 million gang members in the US and 100,000 Yakuza in Japan. That’s a whopping difference of .4 to .07 percent of each country’s population respectively (almost 6 times as many criminal gang members per capita in the US).

The gang theory makes some sense since Yakuza are not only fewer in number but far more disciplined than their US counterparts. But the obvious explanatory elephant in this room is simple. Guns!


After years of blogging about mass murder, guns and gangs in places like Orlando, Connecticut, Los Angeles, and too many others, I’m not going to harp on gun control or the long-proven crime causation theory behind it. For clear thinkers, it is study-laden and it is obvious. It is also a theory well understood in places like Canada, Australia and especially Japan.

So the American carnage continues. Yesterday there was yet another mass shooting on US soil by a madman triggered by “voices” (said the FBI). This latest mass murder was a lone gunman at the Fort Lauderdale airport and in 80 seconds he shot and killed 5 and injured 11. That is more than all those killed by guns in Japan for an entire year.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Force for change

Dawn or dusk in 2017? 
We’re told it’s been a terrible year.

Proof: The Force left Princess Leia! The death of the Princess, or rather Carrie Fisher’s passing four days ago, was one of many sad events in 2016 that might easily get lost in the cacophony of civil wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, political unrest, and environmental decline. 

With that backdrop our fictional Leia was a symbol of hope against evil and bedlam - just the kind of dystopian pap we’re fed by the popular media and the pundits who feed on it. The truth (uncomfortable as it is with simplistic drivel) is more nuanced, at least from a crime perspective. In fact, in much of the developed world, this year was unexceptional for crime. 

Except for an explosion of gang violence in Chicago, crime continued its decades-long decline. There was a slight uptick in a few cities this year (Boston had 46 murders this year compared to 40 last year), possibly a symptom of cartel-fuelled opiates and heroin on city streets. Still, most cities reported stable or lower crime rates.


New York City had 4% fewer homicides, putting the lie to the idea that crime is rising due to the Ferguson Effect. In fact, New York's 330 murders this year are pale compared to 2,260 in 1990.

NYPD anti-terror officers - the new reality of police departments in 2017
Murders in Montreal declined to 19 this year while (as in the US) a few Canadian cities did have slight crime blips. Yet on whole the 2016 crime story is uneventful. 

So what of the headline bedlam? Maybe it’s the global story that bleeds?


It is true that narco-crime continues to torture too many places, especially Central America. But consider the UN Millenium Development Project. Over the past decade project success is staggering: 
  • People with access to better drinking water - up from 76% to 91%  
  • New HIV infections - down 40%   
  • Mortality rate from malaria - down 58% 
  • People in poverty living on $1.25 a day - down from 50% to 14% 
  • Undernourished people - down from 23% to 13%
Ill-informed politicians tout the mantra of gloom and social doom but they are not the brightest lightsabers in the galaxy. Others conceal their own agenda but don’t be fooled! 2016 has seen tragedy, yet there are great things underway. With condolences to our beloved Princess, the Force of positive change is with us if we choose it. 

Here’s to 2017. Happy New Year! 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

School sexual abuse - Who guards the guardians?

Removing external threats does not remove internal threats
by Mateja Mihinjac

In The Republic, Plato asserted it is absurd “a guardian should need a guardian”. Five Centuries later the Roman poet Juvenal rejected this and claimed guardians do not always behave ethically and should not be trusted. Incidents of child sexual abuse by school personnel, estimated in some studies between 3.7% to 4.1% (almost 1 in 20), suggest that Juvenal may be right.

While increased focus has been placed on external threats such as school shootings, children remain largely defenseless from internal threats of sexual abuse by staff.

I was recently tasked with investigating whether child-safe schools can be designed to prevent child abuse by school staff. This led me to dig deep into the literature, while remaining skeptical the solution to this social problem was physical modification.

Too often internal threats are hidden and remain a secret
The first step required understanding the contextual factors leading to abuse. Some of the findings revealed:

  • Incidents occur in settings that provide isolation, such as during one-on-one interactions often in boarding houses, camps, cars, during after-school and extracurricular activities, or at the perpetrator’s home
  • Abuse is characterised by gradual desensitisation where “grooming” behaviours commence with increased attention until escalating to obscene gestures and inappropriate behaviours.

Exacerbating the problem is inadequate legislation, unsatisfactory institutional policies and procedures, inadequate awareness, institutional blindness, and inability to centre strategies on child welfare. All that leaves children vulnerable to abuse by those who should be protecting them.


The second step was research into preventive strategies, revealing the problem needs a holistic multi-level approach. These include:

  • Child safety policies and training for everyone (including children, parents, and teachers) that clarify acceptable behaviours
  • An institutional culture with zero tolerance policy for all forms of child abuse
  • Management practices that minimise opportunities for inappropriate encounters
  • Community strategies (media campaigns, bystander interventions)
  • Institutional transparency.

Schools must offer safe environments for study and play

Design Out Crime strategies proved ineffective for addressing the intricate problem of institutional child sexual abuse. Instead, responses should embed child safety at individual, organizational and systemic levels while also giving children a voice in the matters affecting them.

As Juvenal might suggest, trusting guardians is not simple and responsibility for preventing child abuse falls to wider society at all levels including neighborhoods, parents, and schools.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Snow cities – More than just pretty pictures and eggnog lattes

Winter cities pose special challenges for safety and accessibility

by Tarah Hodgkinson

This past week, in cities all over Canada, thousands of pictures have been posted to social media about snow. Canadians are used to snow of course, except for Vancouverites, who see snow about three times a year and never see it last. This year it has snowed several times already in Vancouver and residents and city crews are struggling to keep the roads clean and drivers safe.

However, while we may like to take pretty pictures of the recent snowfall, or complain about how drivers can’t seem to figure out how to drive in these conditions, the snow also creates serious issues for aging or (dis)Abled populations. For over a decade I have been an ambassador and advocate for those living with Multiple Sclerosis. Thus, every winter, I witness the struggle that winter weather creates for both aging and (dis)Abled Canadians.

Snow limits access for (dis)Abled and aging people  

SafeGrowth blogs in the past point to CPTED in winter cities. In this case, the major issue is that cities have not been built with (dis)Abled or aging people in mind. Planners, developers and engineers have excluded many people who do not fit the “normal” shape and created infrastructure for the “standard” body size and abilities. Furthermore, (dis)Abled people are rarely included in decisions about city design or policy.

Even when there is city policy that considers the needs of the (dis)Abled, in practice these needs are ignored. For example, a recent study in Prince George, BC found that although city bylaws required sidewalk snow removal, in practice removal rarely happened. Residents often had to complain and when it was finally removed, it was done so hastily that it created further barriers for the (dis)Abled.


The issue here is two-fold, not only are (dis)Abled individuals unable to use these spaces easily or effectively, but they also experience a great deal of emotional and physical stress in going about their daily activities resulting in both mental health issues and feeling permanently excluded or out of place.

How can we expect to engage everybody in a community, when some are unable to leave their homes for weeks at a time because of poor city design? Cities have been able to overlook many of the concerns of people with disability, as they are often poorly funded and inaccessibility prevents participation.  However, with an aging population there is now a tipping point of public pressure that cities can not ignore. Design must change with the changing times.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

CCTV marries A.I.

Who will keep watch in isolated places?

I have been pondering security technology encroachments into public life, particularly regarding CCTV monitoring. There was a time, it seems now very long ago, that the UK began installing CCTV. Hundreds of millions of dollars, and over four million (and counting) CCTV cameras later, the UK is the most surveilled society on earth.

We were assured that would never happen in the US, or other developed countries. Violate our civil rights? No way cried the libertarian and democratic pundits in unison. 

Still, if you have nothing to hide…

Today, London and Beijing have over 400,000 CCTV each (proving politics is no guarantee either way). In the US there are over 30 million CCTV cameras, mostly in private hands. But there are now CCTV on streets in every major US city (Houston and Chicago lead the way with over 14,000 in Chicago alone) and public support is growing.

Will the brain behind the camera soon be an intelligent computer?


On one hand, we applaud when police apprehend the Boston terrorists due in large measure to public CCTV. We also later watched those same terrorists as they planted and exploded the devices - prevention was not a result of those cameras. 

I always applaud traffic intersection CCTV to cut car crashes, especially in my city where drivers spend more time in narcissistic self-obsession trying to beat the red light rather than watching where they are going. 

CCTV in public spaces is not new


Recently I’ve been reviewing the latest in CCTV analytics, intelligent tracking and real-time scene analysis. In other words, CCTV on steroids. The latest is no longer motion detection or auto tracking (so old school). The latest is intelligent video analytics, a major evolution from facial recognition software of yesteryear. Video analytics is made possible by exponential increases in processing power and so-called ‘intelligent’ algorithms. 

And now it is part of security and public safety, watching for suspicious movements, packages, behaviors. Watching you! How does the computer know what to look for? It uses algorithms based on past behavior. In future, it may use artificial intelligence to learn on its own. And that is where things get interesting.

Wired magazine puts it this way:
“voice, image, and motion recognition will transform human-computer interfaces into a seamless interaction between the user and all the computing devices in that person’s life.”
A few years ago I blogged about economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin, his forecasts, the Internet of Things and his predictions for disruptive technologies. It seems he was right. Should we be worried?

- Gregory Saville

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Ethics in criminology - avoiding Frankenstein

Frankenstein - a story about over-extended science 

by Mateja Mihinjac

The story of Frankenstein, when a scientist’s experiment runs amok, is a fictional account of science gone wrong. A few weeks ago I attended a criminology conference about crime prevention and communities. The conference targeted academics, police, local councils and groups like Neighbourhood Watch and Police-Citizens Youth Clubs.

The take-home message as it turned out, however, was not an appreciation for cooperative community-driven crime prevention. Instead, the delegates were fascinated by presentations on evidence-based criminal justice showcased through the technical whizz of some presenters and the call for a scientific response to crime.


The evidence-based mantra is the latest trend in criminal justice and policing, often called the evidence-based approach (EBA) in crime prevention and evidence-based policing.

These academics (they call themselves “scientists”) maintain that criminal justice policies should be driven by scientifically evaluated strategies that have been proven to work, a laudable goal to be sure. But to support these arguments, EBA proponents like to compare the evolution of criminal justice to medical science.

The biological and physical sciences use experiments in controlled labs
They maintain that by applying scientific techniques that allow for objective, comprehensive and rigorous assessments, they will be able to guide public safety professionals with approved solutions and thus eliminate guesswork that had guided their work in the past. It is a proposition long criticized as unrealistic by social research experts like National Academy of Science member Stanley Lieberson, former chair of the Sociological Research Association.


Crime is a social problem characterized by complicated causes and interconnected underlying factors. The science that the EBA crowd follows is based on quantitative number crunching and the kind of controlled experiments that are simple to control in the chemistry lab, but far less so on the street where crime occurs.

How likely is it that the same methods in physical science are ideal methods for truly understanding the complexities of crime? How realistic is it to think the multifaceted social factors of social disorder and crime can be extracted, reduced to small components and then tested in experimental designs?

Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow also warns that relying too much on evidence-based practice is a risky proposition; it risks dependence on a limited pool of validated solutions and dependence on quickly outdated solutions in today’s rapidly changing society. Further, Sparrow says that the excessive time needed to establish a knowledge-base to satisfy evidence-based policing proponents means that results may take too long to be operationally relevant.

Data-driven, computational experiments can take years to complete
One argument for establishing evidence-based practice is to eliminate the disconnect between academics and practitioners. But escalating the evidence-based rhetoric does not help narrow this gap; in fact, it only perpetuates the division between the two.

This is especially true when EBA academics consider themselves as governors of the research that judges policies rather than establishing a mutually beneficial collaborative relationship. There is no worse way to create top-down solutions that exclude those who are affected by these policy decisions — the public.


This does not mean, as the saying goes, that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. Evidence-based practice has an important role to play, particularly in crime prevention and policing. Evidence-based research provides directional patterns that might support the effectiveness of certain measures.

However, decision makers should not rely solely upon today’s trending EBA promises especially when solutions may infringe upon social equality. Ethics cannot be pushed aside from decisions made too quickly from a complete lack of evidence, or too slowly from a plodding EBA platform in which “scientists” take months or years to conclude little of value.

Sparrow partially attributes the overwhelming focus of the evidence-based policing movement on place-based interventions such as situational crime prevention, CPTED or hotspot policing. In these cases, ethical questions seem very distant when researchers use secondary data, such as crime statistics collected by police, and their computational calculations do not directly involve people.

It is ultimately still people who will experience the effects of place-based interventions.

"Big Data" does not solve our problems if we have weak connection to
those under study
One example of this vulnerability is evidence-based solutions such as target hardening in situational prevention or CPTED that minimize criminal opportunities (when crimes may not have actually occurred) but may also reduce opportunities for liveability, walkability or socializing. This is why we need to engage communities each step of the way during evidence-based research and practice. Other professions do it — why can’t we?

Schram neatly summarizes the evidence-based versus ethics-based debate:
“we need less top-down research which focuses on a ‘what works’ agenda that serves the management of subordinate populations and more research that provides bottom-up understandings of a ‘what’s right’ agenda tailored to empowering people in particular settings”.