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Dr Julia Downes

Profile summary

  • Central Academic Staff
  • Lecturer in Criminology
  • Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
  • School of Social Sciences & Global Studies
  • Social Policy & Criminology
  • julia.downes

Professional biography

I joined the Open University as a Lecturer in Criminology and Social Policy in May 2015. Prior to this I have worked as a Research Associate with a number of high-profile feminist academics in the field of violence against women including Professor Liz Kelly (Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University), Professor Nicole Westmarland (Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse, Durham University) and Professor Clare McGlynn (Durham Law School). Research projects have included Project Mirabal, an ESRC and Northern Rock funded project on the impact of UK community-based domestic violence programmes on women and children's safety and freedom. I have also worked on a variety of topics in gender-based violence including restorative justice, what justice means to sexual violence survivors, anonymity for rape complainants, and the impact of recent law and policy reforms in relation to technology-facilitated sexual violence including revenge porn and upskirting.

I completed my ESRC-funded PhD at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies at the University of Leeds. This research critically examined contemporary queer feminist activist music cultures in the UK including riot grrrl, Ladyfest and grassroots collectives. I have published this research in book chapters, journal articles, edited books and popular writing. During and after my PhD I worked at Independent Domestic Abuse Services in York and North Yorkshire.

Research interests

My principal research area consists of critical investigations of criminal legal system and community-based approaches to contest gendered violence, abuse and harms. My work aims to document and honour the lived complexities, struggles of, and impacts on, individuals and groups marginalised by the criminal legal system and systemic oppression including: anti-authoritarian social movements, queer, trans and intersex people of colour, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender communities, Black and Minority Ethnic women and sex workers.

I completed the research project 'Salvage: Challenging Gendered Harms in Activist Communities’ as part of the salvage collective. This project used participatory action research approaches and semi-structured interviews with women and non-binary survivors to document impacts of gendered violence and harms and processes of denial and silencing at work in British Left grassroots social justice movements. Our zine-report 'Gendered Violence in Activist Communities' and Toolkit were launched at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies in September 2016. I co-facilitated a series of free one-day workshops during November and December 2016: 'Identifying, challenging and preventing gendered violence in your activist group, organisation and community' supported by the Feminist Review Trust. This was followed by a series of capacity-building workshops with and for activists involved in safer spaces, community accountability and transformative justice activism across the UK to share skills and learn together. This workshop series was supported by The Open University and involved workshops on challenging white supremacy, non-oppressive practice, workshop facilitation, sustainable activism and a strategy day. The salvage collective is currently on pause. I currently coordinate the Sheffield Transformative Justice Learning Group.

My current research projects:

1. Contesting Justice in British Feminist Social Movements: Archive-based research to uncover diverse tactics in anti-carceral, intersectional feminist and coalition work on gendered violence in British feminist social movements.

2. The Experiences of Transgender Prisoners in England & Wales: Qualitative research into the experiences of imprisonment with transgender prisoners held in men's prisons.

Teaching interests

My teaching interests span feminist theory, queer studies, violence and abuse, social justice, genders and sexualities. I have taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses at various institutions including the University of York (Gender, Violence & Justice), Durham University (Culture & Society; Sociology of Gender & Sexuality), Birmingham University (Popular Music in its Social Context; Media, Culture & Society), University of Leeds (Sexualities & Society). 

I am currently the Module Team Chair for DD305 Personal Lives and Social Policy (final presentation in October 2019) and a Module Team Member for DD105 Introducing Criminology (expected to begin in October 2019).

Research Activity

Externally funded projects

Salvage: Gendered Harms in Activist Communities

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Feb/201631/Jan/2017Feminist Review Trust
The Salvage research project aims to create knowledge about the lived experiences of harm, violence and abuse in radical activist communities in the United Kingdom. The project used participatory action research approaches and qualitative methods to critically explore sexual violence and abuse experienced by women, gender-queer and transgender individuals within radical activist communities, organisations and groups. The goal here was to co-construct knowledge and develop a network of survivors to work towards creating effective challenges to heterosexism within social justice movements and activist communities. The current project follows on from the Salvage research project as a distinct phase to put research findings into practice and enhance the social impact of research. This involves the development and delivery of 5 workshops with activists based across the UK provisionally titled ‘How to Best Respond to Sexual Violence within your Organisation/Group’. Specifically these workshops aim to help activists identify and challenge sexism and abuse within their groups. More broadly the workshops aim to transform social justice movements into safer, inclusive and more effective movements in which women, non-binary and transgender individuals can transform their lives and provoke social change. The tools developed, case studies and feedback will also be made available online for use by activist groups, organisations and communities in other locations. The workshop phase of this project has been funded by the Feminist Review Trust.


“It’s a work in progress”: Men’s Accounts of Gender and Change in their Use of Coercive Control (2019)
Downes, Julia; Kelly, Liz and Westmarland, Nicole
Journal of Gender-Based Violence
“It’s Not the Abuse That Kills You, It’s the Silence”: The silencing of sexual violence activism in social justice movements in the UK Left (2017-12-31)
Downes, Julia
Justice, Power and Resistance, 1(2) (pp. 35-58)
Ethics in violence and abuse research - a positive empowerment approach (2014-02-28)
Downes, Julia; Kelly, Liz and Westmarland, Nicole
Sociological Research Online, 19, Article 2(1)
Researching DIY cultures: towards a situated ethical practice for activist-academia (2013-09)
Downes, Julia; Breeze, Maddie and Griffin, Naomi
Graduate Journal of Social Science, 10(3) (pp. 100-124)
The expansion of punk rock: riot grrrl challenges to gender power relations in British indie music subcultures (2012-01-11)
Downes, Julia
Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 41(2) (pp. 204-237)
Re-imagining an End to Gendered Violence: Prefiguring the worlds we want (2019-11-20)
Downes, Julia
In: Hart, Emily; Greener, Joe and Moth, Rich eds. Resist the Punitive State: Grassroots struggles across welfare, housing, education and prisons ((In Press))
ISBN : 9780745339511 | Publisher : Pluto | Published : London
Section 4 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976 (2018-12-27)
McGlynn, Clare and Downes, Julia
In: Rackley, Erika and Auchmuty, Rosemary eds. Women's Legal Landmarks: Celebrating the history of women and law in the UK and Ireland (pp. 327-332)
ISBN : 9781782259770 | Publisher : Hart Publishing
Seeking justice for survivors of sexual violence: Recognition, voice and consequences (2017-02-09)
McGlynn, Clare; Downes, Julia and Westmarland, Nicole
In: Zinsstag, Estelle and Keenan, Marie eds. Restorative Responses to Sexual Violence: Legal, Social and Therapeutic Dimensions. Routledge Frontiers of Criminal Justice (pp. 179-191)
ISBN : Restorative Responses to Sexual Violence Legal, Social and Therapeutic Dimensions | Publisher : Routledge
‘We are turning cursive letters into knives’: the synthesis of the written word, sound and action in riot grrrl cultural resistance (2014-12)
Downes, Julia
In: Carroll, Rachel and Hansen, Adam eds. Litpop: Writing and Popular Music. Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series (pp. 89-105)
ISBN : 978-1-4724-1097-9 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Farnham
‘Let Me Hear You Depoliticise My Rhyme’: Queer Feminist Cultural Activisms and Disruptions of Conventional Protest (2008)
Downes, Julia
In: Davy, Zowie; Downes, Julia; Eckert, Lena; Gerodetti, Natalia; Llinares, Dario and Santos, Ana Cristina eds. Bound and Unbound: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Genders and Sexualities (pp. 181-200)
ISBN : 978-1-8471-8539-6 | Publisher : Cambridge Scholars Publishing | Published : Newcastle
Riot Grrrl: The legacy and contemporary landscape of DIY feminist cultural activism (2007)
Downes, Julia
In: Monem, Nadine ed. Riot Grrrl: Revolution Girl Style Now!
ISBN : 1906155011 | Publisher : Black Dog Publishing | Published : London
Women Make Noise: Girl bands from Motown to modern (2012-09)
Downes, Julia ed.
ISBN : 978-0-9566329-1-3 | Publisher : Supernova Books | Published : London
Salvage: Gendered Violence in Activist Communities (2016-09-21)
Downes, Julia; Hanson, Karis and Hudson, Rebecca
Footprinters Workers Co-op, Leeds.
Salvage: Gendered Harms in Activist Communities ()
Downes, Julia; Hanson, Karis and Seglow Hudson, Rebecca