Rebecca Hayes, lecturer of the Central Michigan University has arrived in January at the Faculty of Law Enforcement of the National University of Public Service where she spent a semester as an International Chair. Her main research areas are gender and racial inequalities in the justice system. We talked with her about the scientific results, plans and the courses of NUPS.
You are an International Chair at our University. How long is this appointment going to be?
Rebecca Hayes: I arrived in January and I will stay until the end of July. Initially, the programme was to cover a full year, but my home university couldn’t release me for a whole year, since I spent a significant time abroad already two years ago for research purposes. I nevertheless still hope that this shorter period will bring mutual benefits for both institutions.
Could you please shortly describe your professional background?
RH: I’ve been a professor at the Central Michigan University for 10 years now. I received my PhD at the University of Florida where I got specialised in criminology and I also studied sociology and law. In my dissertation, I analysed how crime scene investigation (CSI) impacts people’s perception on the justice system and juries, with special attention to the role of the media. This is one of my main areas of interest. My other research field is victimology, which is also the reason why I’m here. In most of my scientific articles and presentations, I studied sexual violence, focusing particularly on rape myth, acceptance and victim blaming. I find it important to understand how these cases can affect reporting and how the victims of sexual assults heal. Apart from this, I am also very interested in creating sustainable programmes for people that will facilitate education, and dispel the rape myths in order to decrease the secondary victimisation by the justice system.
You already visited the National University of Public Service two years ago. What helped you to come back?
RH: Two years ago, as a visiting scholar, I gave a presentation with my colleague on the myths of sexual violence. During my visit, NUPS was introduced to me therefore I learned about the curriculum and the available courses. However, I noticed that in the field of victimology, the offer was limited. At the university, they train future law enforcement officers nevertheless interviewing victims and understanding how victims’ trauma may impact their responses are areas where we should also put focus on. On the other hand, in the American justice system the offenders get too much focus while the impact of a crime on the victim gets less. This is the reason why I came to NUPS. If the university would like to cooperate with me in a project then I would gladly teach classes in this topic that hopefully will help future officers.
Would you say a few more things about your field of research? What were your aims that you had set up at the beginning of the semester?
RH: We wanted to assess victim blaming before and after the course. Together with a colleague, we prepared a survey that she translated into Hungarian. After that we held the course together both in Hungarian and in English so that the students could learn the English terminology as well as they received detailed explanation in Hungarian. Then we conducted another survey after the course. I am currently analysing the results of the first survey in which one of the focus areas was sexual assault. This crime is heavily present in the public conscience, for example with the #metoo movement, so this is a good time to teach a course in this topic and have a live discussion about it. On the other hand, victim blaming is also an important research area in order to understand our biases during the interviews conducted with the victims.
Could you elaborate the terms victim blaming and rape myths?
RH: Victim blaming is where society, individuals, institutions, etc. have a generalised belief that the victim is the reason why the crime has occurred to them. There are certain crimes where this happens more often than others. For example, in case of a robbery the victim will not be blamed for leaving the door open which eventually led to the crime. But on the other hand, when women are sexually assaulted, you often hear that they are blamed because they were out late at night or drank alcohol, therefore they provoked the crime. From sociological point of view, we understand the psychological reason behind victim blaming, but at the same time it is a problem because it will be less likely that victims report the crime. So, if we could understand more about this phenomenon - rape myths and victim blaming, which the society practices - then we can educate the population and hopefully more victims will feel comfortable to report crimes.
Rape myths and victim blaming are strongly related to each other. During my research I found that there are myths that people hold globally. One of this myth is that women lie about rape. This is a myth because we know from research that, the percentage of false reports is significantly less when a sexual assault is reported, compared to other crimes.
How do you see the approach of Hungary and the United States to rape myth and victim blaming? Is there any difference between the two countries’ perception? If yes, what could cause this difference?
RH: I think there are some differences mainly due to the different cultural background and I am still assessing what that is in particular. However, what I have noticed here during my short stay is that in Hungary some gender norms are stronger than in the US. Usually, we can say that in countries where the gender norms are strong, victim blaming is also a bit more impacted. At the same time, I can also say that education is getting better thanks to, for instance, the #metoo movement.
There are many other factors that could have an effect on this, but I am not researching those at the moment. These factors include - among others - economic, religious or other social norms as well. In any case, these are areas which should be considered and analysed in future researches.
What do you think about the impact of the #metoo movement on Hungary?
RH: What I observed during my classes is that my students were talking about it and its impact on the justice system. I believe that there is a movement where we pay more attention to sexual assault and its reporting which is certainly a positive impact on the future.
And what is the effect of the movement in the US? We hear and read about more and more cases in the news, and many new cases have gotten public recently. Did this situation bring any positive impact?
RH: Nothing is entirely positive or negative. I think that in general this movement has opened the eyes of the society. There are areas where the movement did have positive impact, such as institutions where employees got fired because of sexually assaulting other employees. On the other hand, the #metoo movement has raised several questions, for example the exact definition of sexual assault. I think one of the negative side effects is that the definition of sexual assault and sexual harassment are merged into one by the public. Both are terrible, but it is important to differentiate between them because the impact of an assault is bigger on the victim than it is of the harassment. As far as I can see, our culture is going through a shift now and we started to take these cases more seriously in many areas. So I am hoping that this transition will continue in the future and reach a wider American audience, which would eventually bring more positive results.
Do you think the Hungarian higher education system is suitable for such open discussions?
RH: I cannot generalise, but based on my experiences from the classes that we have taught, it seemed that the students were very open to have discussions. We were working in smaller workgroups where everyone had equal opportunity to express his or her opinion in this topic and gain new knowledge at the same time. It was interesting to see that occasionally MA students have opened up a little harder during the classes - maybe because they find the methodology boring (laughs) - and the reason might be that they have past experiences about one-way communication only. But now, I am here to push the students out of their comfort zone.
After we have talked about your research, let us talk about your classes a bit. What kind of classes do you teach?
RH: I teach victimology, rape culture, introduction to criminal justice and inequalities in the justice system with special attention to the US. Basically, the majority of my classes are about depressing topics (laughs). Additionally, I also have classes about media and the role it plays in the justice system.
As a researcher, how difficult do you think it is to conduct researches in such questions? Violence is a delicate topic that many people want to forget. Is it difficult to talk about this with the interviewees?
RH: I get this question a lot. What I have noticed and what the researches continue to show is that, since people don’t get to report sexual assault because of the blaming of the society, they feel better after talking to me. I am not there to judge them; I am just listening. I record their stories and tell it the way they really want it to be told. Overall, I think this can be a very good experience for them because there is someone who listens to them without any judgement and believes them. From me, however this is very tough to listen to these stories so I have to take a lot of breaks.
To what extent can scientific literature help the work of the researchers? Are there sufficient academic sources that you can rely on?
RH: In the United States, Australia and the UK, there is a lot of research on sexual violence in the family and sexual assault. Since the ‘70s in the US, the number of research is increasing which is helpful for researchers like me to extend our knowledge and continue to work.
Your assignment ends in July. What are your plans regarding the publication of your research results? Are you going to write a book about victim blaming in Hungary?
RH: I plan to prepare a comparative study analysing the results that I have got here. My book, that will be published soon, focuses more on global aspects where I analyse the situation in several countries, including Belgium, and the Netherlands where I have previously conducted research as well. I mainly would like to write articles about my experiences in Budapest in university magazines, and scientific journals.
How do you feel at the Faculty of Law Enforcement as a foreign exchange lecturer?
RH: This is my fifth time being abroad, but this is the first time when not so many people speak English. I feel there is a communication barrier because of the lack of common language, since I don’t speak Hungarian. They are trying to interact, but I also spend lot of time in the office which also makes the communication difficult. Despite all these difficulties, everybody is very welcoming and open.
Beside all your work, do you have time to travel in the country?
RH: I spend all my time with teaching and researching so I could only discover Budapest for now. I really like the thermal bathes, those buildings are beautiful. My partner will join me soon so we plan to look around the countryside because I heard about many places worth to visit.
Have you already tried the Hungarian cuisine? Do you have favourite Hungaran dish?
RH: Unfortunately, I couldn’t try all the traditional dishes yet. What I really liked was chicken with paprika. I received some authentic recipes that I will try when I go back home.