Procedural Justice: The vital role of trust and accountability for racially minoritised young women and girls

by | Jun 28, 2024 | 0 comments

Trish Chinzara discusses the SHaRE IT Project and the new workshop designed to improve the police reporting experiences of racially minoritised women and girls.

The SHaRE IT Project  – Sexual Harassment and Reporting Equity, Inclusion and Trust –  is a research project that examines the how racially minoritised young women and girls’ perceptions of a lack of procedural justice links to barriers to reporting public sexual harassment to the police. The project is led by Dr Nadia Jessop, Lecturer in Psychology in Education at the University of York.

Trish Chinzara, a PhD Researcher at the University of York Department of Psychology, discusses her motivations for joining the project, her view of the findings, and the police training workshop that has been developed as a result of the research. 

Procedural Justice: Why does it matter?

I joined the SHaRE IT project in October 2023 because I have a personal connection to this issue, both from my own encounters and those of my friends. Experiencing barriers to reporting first hand motivated me to work on a project that aims to create change that will mean others won’t experience the same barriers and lack of support. 

Addressing these barriers is now a matter of legal obligation for the police, following the royal assent granted to the Protection from Sex-Based Harassment in Public Law.

Procedural justice principles (trust, voice, neutrality and respect) have not been typically applied to sexual harassment, sexual assault, and gender-based violence police cases. However, for racially minoritised young women and girls the quality of treatment they experience from the police when they report sexual harassment is at least as important as the quality of decisions made about their case. 

Trust and Accountability

Positive and procedurally just encounters are those where racially minoritised young women feel listened to and treated with equality and dignity. This experience can engender trust, and may even override prior negative perceptions of the police, thus reducing barriers to reporting sexual harassment.

Trust seems to be the most important pillar of procedural justice in sexual harassment cases. Trust hinges on voice (feeling heard) and neutrality (fair and impartial treatment).

Our research brought to light the crucial role of Outcome Accountability (following up on reports) in delivering procedural justice. This insight was developed by our youth advisory panel who felt that the issue of “accountability” resonated with them more than the procedural justice pillar of respect. For racially minoritised young women, the decision to report incidents of public sexual harassment entails significant emotional risks. This creates a considerable need for transparency from the police to ensure that every report is met with a victim-centred approach that prioritises communicating with those who come forward.

Reflections and Steps Forward 

On Wednesday 24th April, we hosted an online Procedural Justice Research and Knowledge Exchange webinar which aimed to present the key findings from the SHaRE IT! Project. Attendees included police officers and supervisors, gender-based violence and sexual harassment organisations, and academics from across the UK.

My biggest take-away and reflection from the webinar was a sense of the scale of the problem we are trying to tackle. While our research efforts and the work done by others represent a crucial step forward, there is still a lot of ground to cover in addressing this issue. There is a considerable level of distrust in the policing system as a whole among racially minoritised women, elevated by the fact that the media portrays female victims of sexual violence differently on the basis of race. Whilst the scope of these issues extend far beyond our study, sharing our progress and insights was not only rewarding but also offered an opportunity to engage with others who, like myself, share a commitment to protecting racially minoritised young women.

The findings from both the evidence review and youth interviews have been collated and used to develop a workshop for police officers and supervisors. Our workshop will be a half-day session which aims to inform attendees about the hesitations and preferences racially minoritised young women and girls face and the importance of following procedurally just approaches.

The workshop will include sharing the stories from our participants, with the aim of highlighting the negative impacts of procedurally unjust approaches to policing; learning more about procedural justice and strategies for implementing them in daily police work; and role-playing activities to demonstrate how procedural justice can be applied in a range of contexts. We hope to increase reflection and understanding of the importance of procedural justice within police when responding to sexual harassment experienced by racially minoritised young women and girls. 

Further Information

The SHaRE IT Project is funded by the Vulnerability and Policing Futures Research Centre Early Career Researcher Development grant. The project is led by Dr Nadia Jessop, Lecturer in Psychology in Education at the University of York. The interdisciplinary research team also includes Dr Beth Bell, Dr Nathalie Noret (who leads the project partner organisation the All About Respect in the Community Network) and Prof Vanita Sundaram (lead author of the recent report on Black and minoritised young women and girls’ experiences of public sexual harassment in the UK).