#OpenAccessWeek2020: A conversation with Professor Clare McGlynn QC (Hon)

International Open Access week is not only an opportunity to share the amazing open access research from Durham University and engaging with the wider open access community; it is also about getting to know our academics and the research process, helping us to understand a little bit more about the work that goes into the final article we download from the publisher’s site or repository. This year, we are so grateful to Professor Clare McGlynn QC (Hon) for taking the time to answer questions about her research.

Clare has become well known for her expertise in “the legal regulation of pornography, sexual violence and image-based sexual abuse (including ‘revenge pornography’, ‘upskirting’ and ‘fakeporn’)”. In January 2020, Clare was made an honorary Queen’s Counsel, recognising her outstanding contribution to the field.

Clare is clearly greatly admired both within the university and further afield and it was a great honour to speak to her about one of her other academic passions – open access!


Q: How has your research evolved since your career began?

Clare: I have always been interested in how we can use the law to advance equality for women and men, and remove the discriminations and barriers that so many face. This has led me to research many different areas of law. Some of my first work focussed on EU law, particularly the judgments which first declared pregnancy discrimination unlawful and so which are now part of UK law. My first book* was about women lawyers and how, across the profession, they are under-represented. More recently, I’ve worked with colleagues to reform laws on sexual offences and image-based sexual abuse.

*(Ed.) Durham University Library has several copies of ‘The Woman Lawyer: making the difference’.

Q: What have you found the benefits of open access to be? 

Clare: Open access to my research is vital. It enables as wide an audience as possible for my work outside of academia and universities, including victims, voluntary sector workers, politicians, policy-makers and all of the general public. Having this access to research is fundamental to the role of universities in generating and sharing new knowledge. It is how I can work with others to reform the law for all of our benefit.

But it is also vital to have open access for those working in universities. Not all institutions have access to research, especially those in the global south. So, open access enables everyone to share in the development of ideas, regardless of where they work.

It enables as wide an audience as possible for my work outside of academia and universities, including victims, voluntary sector workers, politicians, policy-makers and all of the general public.

Q: In regard to future research, Open Access is in a transitional state with Plan S set to shake things up – how would you like to see the open access landscape change in future and what steps would you like us to take in the university to ensure that open access is possible?

Clare: I think Open Access should be the default option for all publishing. While individual institutions like Durham University could commit more funds to supporting open access, what really needs to happen is a profound change in the publishing process in academia. That means all universities and governments working together for a better way to share our research.

Q: What barriers to change have you been met with when advocating for law change (relating to the image based sexual abuse article)? Do you have any advice for overcoming them?

Clare: Changes to laws around online abuse often come about as a result of terrible stories widely discussed in the media, for example, if someone has killed themselves as a result of such harassment and abuse. It is really important that such stories are shared and it often means that politicians are very keen to act quickly. While this is positive, it does mean that there is often less time for debate and this rush to legislate can leave us with laws that are not so comprehensive and useful.

In the area of image-based sexual abuse, for example, a law criminalising the sharing of sexual images without consent was passed in 2015 but it is limited. It only covers some types of abuse, so many victims are left without a remedy. The article I wrote with my colleagues Erika Rackley and Ruth Houghton (‘Beyond ‘Revenge Porn’: The Continuum of Image-Based Sexual Abuse’ doi.org/10.1007/s10691-017-9343-2)– which is open access – recommends that a comprehensive law should be adopted which covers all situations where sexual images are taken or shared without consent, including what is known as ‘revenge porn’, as well as upskirting, sextortion and other abuses. That way, we would ensure that all victims are covered and that it is clear that non-consensual taking or sharing of images is just plain wrong.  

Since speaking to Clare, ‘fake naked photos’ have been in the news. This demonstrates the need for Clare’s determination to change the law to cover all situations.

Other barriers to change include politicians not recognising the seriousness of the harms of these abuses and the need to act urgently. We have been talking about change in England for many years, and this is a similar pattern in other countries. To overcome this, we continue to work with many survivors who are determined to support change by sharing their stories and experiences. 

Q: Your research empowers people who may feel powerless and provides a voice to those who have been victims of image based sexual abuse & upskirting.  Have you received any feedback from charities or victims about how your publications have supported them?

Clare: My research has involved speaking to survivors about their experiences and so many of them are willing to share their experiences because they want to be part of a movement for change; they want their experience to make a difference. We’ve also had lots of positive feedback from survivors and those who support them when they’ve read our research. Just last week, I got an email from a woman whose sexual images had been shared without her consent. She said that when she came across my research, ‘it was a light bulb moment, for the first time in nearly a year I finally found a resource with content in which has resonated with me. I took the liberty of reading your report titled Shattering Lives and Myths* and as explained in the section of the report titled “Shattering Lives” all definitions surrounding the social ruptures I felt was exactly what happened with me.’

This is the real impact of doing this research and having it open access. Survivors are able to access it and understand that they are not alone; that what they are experiencing is shared with others; and that there are people who are trying to change things for the better.

*(Ed.) ‘Shattering Lives and Myths is report which is open access through Durham Research Online – it often features in our top 10 downloads list, which we retrieve weekly from Google Analytics.

Q: Last year, during open access week we asked researchers from several departments to showcase their research in an accessible way to non-academics?  How would you summarise your research to non-academics?

Clare: In my research, I hope to bring the experiences of women to debates on law reform; to make our laws work better for everyone. My work involves speaking with victims of sexual offences and image-based sexual abuse, to understand their experiences and perspectives, and to then use this knowledge to shape and influence law reform. 

Q: What has been the highlight of your career?

Clare: This is a very difficult question! Earlier this year, I was made an honorary Queen’s Counsel which is a prestigious award granted by the Queen to lawyers. It was awarded to me in recognition of my work on improving equality in the legal profession and reforming criminal laws. I was very heartened that this work, to further equality and raise the voices of victims, was recognised and championed. 

Q: What’s next for your research?

Clare: I’m currently working with Durham colleague Kelly Johnson on cyberflashing* – where men are sending images of their penis to others, mostly women, without their consent and agreement. This is an increasingly common practice and many women experience this as very threatening and invasive. There is currently no clear criminal law covering this conduct, so we are working on options for law reform and to raise awareness of the harms of this form of abuse.

*(Ed.) We’ve had confirmation from Clare this week that the article related to this research, ‘Criminalising Cyberflashing: Options for Law Reform‘ has been accepted to the Journal of Criminal Law, so watch out for it coming soon.

For further information about Clare’s work we recommend you take a look at her open access research:

‘Beyond ‘Revenge Porn’: The Continuum of Image-Based Sexual Abuse’ (doi.org/10.1007/s10691-017-9343-2) has been accessed over 32 000 times and a piece for The Conversation based on this research has been re-used in several media outlets, such as Yahoo.

Rape Trials and Sexual History Evidence: Reforming the Law on Third-Party Evidence’ (doi.org/10.1177/0022018317728824) in The Journal of Criminal Law is currently highlighted on the journal’s homepage as one of the most read articles in the journal – as is ‘Possessing Extreme Pornography: Policing, Prosecutions and the Need for Reform’ co-authored with Hannah Bows.

All of these articles are open access; it is clear to see that Clare’s research has had a profound impact on the law concerning sexual violence – we hope that their accessibility has played a part in this success.

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