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