Vote: Publish pending minor changes
[For votes to count, referees must reasonably explain why they voted as they did. Thus, please explain your vote. If you voted to publish pending minor changes, specify each change, why it is needed, and, possibly, how it should/could be done.]
Firstly, I would like to thank and acknowledge the author for having the courage to share her experience of sexual violence during her doctoral fieldwork. I recognize that this is, in many respects, a deeply personal piece, and it touches on an issue that many women have experienced in the process of undertaking research. I agree that this is a vastly under-recognised and under-discussed issue within qualitative research generally, and criminology specifically, and something that warrants urgent attention in the field. The paper clearly makes an original and important contribution, and will be of interest to readers of the journal (and qualitative researchers broadly). There are a few areas for revision before the piece could be published.
As a general comment, I did sometime find the discussion quite difficult to follow, particularly in the earlier sections of the paper. In relation to the criteria of whether the paper is ‘written is a simple, clear fashion’, I would say no, or certainly not consistently. I’d encourage the author to revise the manuscript throughout and especially the introduction and literature review sections to simply the prose and enhance read-ability. This will also be assisted by more clearly defining/explaining some of the key concepts draw on in the paper. For example, the concept of sexual subjectivities is never really defined, despite it being central to the paper. I also felt that there was a tendency to conflate the concepts of sexual violence and sexuality/sexual/erotic subjectivity throughout the paper – or, at least, the relationship between these was not made clear, particularly in the earlier sections of the paper. E.g., when discussing Elizabeth Stanko’s work, which is described as focusing on ‘sexuality’, you go on to mention that her respondents had experienced sexual violence. I take ‘sexuality’ to refer to an individual’s sexual identity and consensual sexual practices, whereas sexual violence is imposed on the individual through an abuse of power (though I also recognize that sexual violence cannot be readily disentangled from normative heterosex). I recognize later in the piece you mount the argument that by viewing yourself as a non-sexual being, you were not prepared for the possibility that others encountered in the research might view you in a sexual way. However, in the earlier sections of the paper there is a real risk of conflating sexual subjectivity and violence, and as such this aspect of the manuscript warrants some revision. I was also unclear as to how sexuality has been treated in an ‘essentialised’ way in existing work? Do you mean it has been treated reductively?
On page 5, you mention the concept of ‘scientific objectivity’, which seems at odds with the rest of the paper which emphasizes that research is situated, contextual and relational. What do you mean by ‘objectivity’ in this context? Does it make sense to uphold objectivity as a desired goal of research given the broader epistemological framework your writing is anchored in?
On page 6, I would encourage the author to engage more thoroughly with the literature on gatekeepers, there has been much written on this beyond Fitz-Gibbon’s recent contribution. I believe others have argued that ‘gatekeepers exercise a great degree of influence on the research process’, and this should be better acknowledged.
I was unclear on how the author’s research was criminological in nature (or is the criminological contribution that you focus on sexual violence during the research process?). It would be helpful to have some more context on the research, and how the work was situated within criminology. I was left with the impression that the project was a sexualities or gender studies one, and while interesting, would raise questions about the suitability of this piece for a specifically criminological journal.
Is Johel’s name a pseudonym? Please clarify this, and if the name is not a pseudonym I would encourage the author to assign one.
On page 17, I felt that you were engaging in self-blame and internalization of responsibility for the sexual violence perpetrated against you. This is, of course, a very common response for survivors. However, I would encourage you to resist this line of thinking. Perhaps there is room for some further reflexivity here regarding how your thinking or interpretation might be shaped by neo-liberal discourses which responsibilise women for their own victimization?
On page 18, I also wondered if there was a broader point to be made around how sexual violence (both experienced and potential) might limit women’s ability to fully engage in the research process. In other words, what are the implications of your experience in relation to gendered oppression, discrimination and exclusion from criminological research? How might this impact on women’s career trajectories in criminology/academia?
On page 19, you discuss sexuality as only being studied as a form of deviance in criminology, and that as such there is a ‘natural’ distance created between researcher and participant. I would disagree to some extent, particularly in relation to those of us who study sexual violence and the experiences of survivors. Many sexual violence researchers also have first-hand experiences – it is often a motivating factor for becoming involved in the field – so I don’t think it’s accurate to claim there is always a distance created, in many cases there is also shared experience. There were also some unfounded claims made in these sections, e.g., that researchers dress in a neutral and professional manner to avoid being sexualized. Perhaps? But what is this claim based on? This requires further explanation and support from scholarly sources.