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Delve into our criminology podcasts

Let's talk about chemsex

We explore Chemsex and what can be done to keep people safe.

Hello and thanks for watching this Life Solved short.

I'm Robyn Montague, and in these videos we get to meet University of Portsmouth researchers who are sharing their work in the latest series of the Life Solved podcast.

And this is work that's changing our world for the better in all sorts of ways.

If you're outside of specific communities, you might not have heard of Chemsex, but the modern day use of drugs to enhance a sexual experience has its more complex side.

And there are those who are either trying to leave the world or are in, for want of a better word, recovery.

Joining me today is Roni Carruthers, who's lecturer in victimology and criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth,

and Ignacio Labayen de Inza, the CEO of the charity Controlling Chemsex.

And we'll be exploring what Chemsex is, the harms it potentially causes to individuals and what can be done to keep people safe.

So thank you both very much for joining me today.

So let's start with a question that I imagine most people who are watching this have in their mind.

What is Chemsex then and how would you define it?

So the term Chemsex has been a relatively it's not it's not necessarily a new term that has come to light.

It's been around for a long time within the community.

But since 2010, it was coined officially for research purposes.

And essentially the best way to describe it is that particular individuals, most commonly gay men or men who have sex with men

who use specific substances such as crystal methamphetamine, mephedrone, GHB, GBL, in order to enhance their sexual experiences.

And you said it's been around for quite some time.

Was there a particular time in history where it really sort of kicked off and there were more people getting involved in Chemsex?

So I think if you look at it from a historical perspective, the time of sex, drugs and rock and roll, you know, within all communities was quite prominent.

And since then, sex and drugs have had a big influence within all communities and within the male gay community

there's always been substances that have circulated.

So I don't necessarily think it's something new.

But the the substances that have been used definitely change and adjust based on availability, popularity and time.

And what would you say is the main attraction towards, you know, engaging in Chemsex?

Because I suppose a lot of people would say, oh, it must be just, you know, the high, the quick hits.

But actually a lot of it's down to the experience, I suppose, the bigger picture.


So it's quite complex.

And I think once again, it's important to understand the historical development of the LGBTQ community.

Historically, we have been oppressed and people have had to go underground, so to speak,

and participate and be tried to be themselves in a community which is trying to accept them.

Once people are sort of driven underground, there's also an element of shame and stigma that comes with cam sex.

And within the male gay community in particular. If you look at the HIV epidemic, you know, gay sex was stigmatised even further.

And I think a lot of people within the community did have that self shame and internal homophobia regarding themselves.

And often the use of these substances can really help overcome that.

A lot of these substances increase confidence, they increase your libido, they make you feel care free.

And it's an escape mechanism for a lot of these people and an environment where they feel accepted and they can be themselves.

So I think a lot of it stems from that, from a historical perspective.

And I think recently what we're seeing more today is it's just more and more accessible

with social media coming to play, Grindr having a massive impact on availability and accessibility of not just drugs but also sexual partners.

It has become more, more popular and more common within the community.

So I think there are various different aspects.

Some people may choose to participate in Chemsex with appropriate knowledge and voluntarily,

and some people may perhaps do it in order to cover up certain internal feelings of shame and stigma.

Ignacio, Why do you think people tend to engage in Chemsex then, or certain communities.

Well there are many reasons why people are engaging in Chemsex.

Here in the UK, which is not necessarily what is happening in other areas in the world,

but here in the UK

the drugs that people use are drugs that are making people very confident and sexy and attractive.

You don't feel scared that someone is going to touch you here and he's going to think, oh, he's a little bit fat,

or you don't feel scared thinking I'm going to be rejected.

So there are many elements, there are elements related to self esteem, lots of problems with loneliness, a need of connection,

problems with intimacy, problems, psychosexual issues, people who are using Chems because they are struggling,

for example, with premature ejaculation their whole life.

My sex life has been very embarrassing,

but if I take something, I'm not going to ejaculate after two minutes that makes me feel more, more relaxed because

for once I find a solution and it can be about painful sex, and it can be about lack of ego.

So there are many, many, many reasons why people are doing Chems.

Obviously now there seems to be while it appears to be looking at news articles and stuff, St John's Ambulance, I think put something out fairly recently

saying there's been a spike in the use of Chemsex in the in London, so in the capital city and it makes people think why now.

But when you mentioned human connection is that just,

maybe because I don't know if there's a relationship there between what we've gone through over the past few years

and not having that human connection and coming out of it now, people finding a lot of what you were saying sounds that it's about,

you know, insecurities about ourselves.

And it's fair to say they have been fairly heightened post-pandemic or after the last couple of years.


So why do you think we're starting to see these stories circulate in the media saying there's been a spike, for instance, in Chemsex?

Well, having supported people struggling with ten six since 2008, working in different services in London but on average have been meeting around

14, 15 people a week for years.

We've met thousands of people.

But so I am, I'm going to say a survivor because yeah, I don't know why in my life

But I was struggling with Chemsex for three years myself.

I was doing G every day, day and night for a period of time.

I was smoking meth practically every day.

I was injecting at least twice or three times a week and things have been changing a lot.

Since I started

I remember I started working in a charity called Antidote, here in London.

When I started everything was about people coming with similar problems with alcohol, cocaine, sometimes ecstasy.

A few of them was about heroin.

I'm talking about the only LGBT charity that at that point was operating in the UK with drugs and alcohol issues.

And suddenly we started to see a difference.

And lots of people were coming and presenting different issues.

People who were overdosing.

The community, the gay community wasn't actually using heroin.

The gay community was actually using drugs that help people to connect.

I'm talking about ecstasy.

I'm talking about cocaine.

And in the beginning of the 20th century, 2000, 2005, 2010

that is when new drugs came out.

And these drugs were these drugs that maybe for be very confident.

GHB has two main problems.

One of them is physical dependency.

So you get used to take that you cannot stop otherwise, you have symptoms.

The gay community had, wasn't experiencing done before that it was like the perfect storm.

And Roni, just adding to what Ignacio was just saying about the types of drugs that we're seeing circulating around certain types of communities.

They have changed quite significantly over the last couple of years compared to what maybe people remember in like the eighties or the nineties.

Do you agree?

Is that a big part to play and why things maybe now, people don't really know what they're taking?

Yeah, absolutely.

You know, I think it's similar, similarly to the history that I was saying, you know, the development of the app, the apps and the new substances that come to the market.

So most of the substances or new substances that come to the market are classified as NPS.

So new psychoactive substances.

And once these are in, so to speak, abused in a certain way, then they do eventually make the legal system for illegality.

And because there are so many new substances hitting the market daily, it is difficult for people to actually keep track of what they are using and what they are taking.

A lot of these substances are much stronger than substances that we would have seen perhaps 30, 40 years ago.

Ecstasy and cocaine can quite easily be checked now with drug testing kits,

but the new substances often aren't detected and it's very difficult to understand what it is that you're taking,

especially when every single new drug coming onto the market either looks like a crystal or a new powder, they all look the same.

You know, you could look at five different powders.

One of them could be flour, the other one could be cocaine, the other one could be mephedrone.

And without understanding the drugs fairly, you might not know what what it is that you are taking.

GHB up until very recently wasn't actually illegal and it can still be purchased online nowadays.

If you know how to use it correctly, then it can be taken.

And I think GHB in particular is probably one of the most high risk substances, shall we say,

this mostly due to, like Ignazio said, the high dependency rate, but also the overdose risk,

the amount that somebody should actually use in order to have a safe experience is anywhere from 0.5 to 1.5 millilitres.

Now, this all depends on your height, on your build, on your experience,

and also the dosing should be quite,

there should be large periods of time between dosing and people often don't know these very basic steps and will use a lot at all at once.

And the overdose risk is very high.

Now, once you're in a situation where there are a lot of people using drugs at the same time,

not only are you already feeling ashamed of your situation, but the drugs are illegal.

The chances of people wanting to call ambulances for help is very, very low,

which is a real shame because if I could, you know, say anything to people is is really would be to ask for help.

Help will be given to you.

You won't necessarily be in trouble for using the substance or for taking that substance in that moment with the hospital

and encourage others to call for help if if they're in a situation

where somebody is experiencing an overdose or what we would call is as going under.

You know, the signs are very similar to a heroin overdose in terms of, you know, blue fingertips and or blue lips and generally being unconscious.

And if that information can be given to paramedics at the scene, it's really, really key because unfortunately,

in the UK, as of right now, if you are admitted to hospital with an overdose, toxicology is usually undertaken

and that toxicology can consist of over 300 different substances.

But GHB or GBL often isn't included in that.

And so it's a real key issue or real key element to be able to inform paramedics that GHB has been consumed,

because then appropriate support can be given.

Without that, it can be very, very, very risky, and especially in regards to fatal overdoses.

GHB is most prominent within the Chemsex community, so that one is definitely the riskiest, shall we say.

So it's about informing these individuals how to operates within the community, how to keep themselves safe?

Not necessarily.

You know, I'm not going to sit here and tell people to stop using what they are using.

But in order to

if you are going to use them to make sure that you use safely and that you know how to provide appropriate support should it need to be given.

And all of that just demonstrates the importance of knowledge and understanding what you're taking.

You know, what were the risks that could come alongside what you're taking, but access to help, it's not

I suppose there's a lot of services out there that support people for, you know, drug addiction, alcohol addiction and so on.

But this is not necessarily niche.

But I think it involves a certain level of understanding of the cam sex community to be able to give that information and that support that's needed.

Controlling Chemsex obviously is a charity that does that.

How unique is controlling Chemsex

Ignacio, in terms of being a charity that supports people struggling with Chemsex or involved in Chemsex generally, you're quite unique.

I, I created in 2018 2019 a document with David Stuart who was the manager at Dean Street.

And we were very close friends. He was the number one Chemsex activist until he passed in 2021.

And we created a document about first aid, how to react when things go wrong in a Chemsex scenario.

And what I did was I saw him as an activist.

I created a profile on Grindr just to deliver these, the link to this document.

And it was huge.

I mean, in one year I think I received maybe 13,000 messages from people.

And going there asking for many, many things, not just from the people who were asking for support because

I don't know how to support my partner and I would like to get some help or people were looking for information that they couldn't find because they said,

you know, every time you go for information about sChemsex, everything is about the drugs that people use, why people do it, and I know it does.

But what I don't know is how can I manage my cravings?

How can we reconnect with sober sex again?

And this is on.

I contacted the five biggest organisations in Londonto professionalise

to professionalise that, but noone really care.

I spoke with CEOs, I went with evidence I went with.

They really didn't want to do anything, and the reason why Controlling Chemsex was started was because the need was there.

We are the only people in the world who are offering support on Grindr the most popular gay apps, so we can support people from anywhere.

We are supporting, it's incredible.

Years ago it wad Chemsex was in London and now you get messages from people who live in a very tiny place in Northumberland

Yeah, if I can just add to that.

So you know, I just want to sort of echo everything that that Ignacio has been saying.

And I think at the start you mentioned that certain organisations are starting to post about Chemsex and that is more prevalent.

Unfortunately, that's not the case.

It's been prevalent for a long, long time now and it's actually only now that agencies and services are actually catching up with the idea

that Chemsex is a phenomena within our society and that we need to have appropriate support services for these individuals.

I was actually informed about Controlling Chemsex through one of my research participants, and that's how Ignacio and I got talking together.

And the fact that Controlling Chemsex is online and that anybody can access it is so, so important because

a lot of what my research focuses on is, is trying to shed light on the fact that a lot of services within our country

are postcode specific.

And unless you live in a community or in a big city where there is a large LGBTQ community and drug counselling services and sexual health clinics

have that awareness and that acceptance of individuals who might be participating in Chemsex, the support is extremely limited.

You know, a lot of the times if you live in London, if you live in Brighton, those in Manchester or Newcastle, larger cities like that have the capacity to provide support.

But people who come from small communities, small towns, small villages, sometimes they even know the people that they are accessing support from, or there are connections there.

There is that fear of is that person truly going to understand where I am coming from?

Do they truly understand the world that I live in and do they truly,

are they truly a wear on how to appropriately provide that support?

Like Ignacio was saying, there is more to it than simply providing harm reduction in the sense of clean needles,

you know, needle exchange programs, having 1 to 1 sessions there, it needs to go beyond that.

That element of drug use and sexual experiences need to be combined

because currently we have drug counselling services that exist and they can address an element of the issue.

And we have sexual health clinics that exist and that they can address and elements of the issue.

But Controlling Chemsex is one of the only sort of online services that provides that.

So, you know, I really want to congratulate them for all their work.

And a lot of the participants that I spoke to are aware of the charity, no matter where they live within the UK and have found it extremely helpful.

But I think what we need to focus on now is appreciating that there are other services that do incorporate the elements of Chemsex support,

but how can we expand that and provide that training?

And that's something that I worked on as well.

When I worked with the NHS as a recovery worker, I did start to provide that training and people did find it extremely helpful

because often it is a world that they have never visited before.

So I think it's it's important that we start talking about it.

But I think it's also key not to call this a new phenomena because it's not that new.

It's been around for a long time.

We've been talking about it for a long time within the community.

And the more we can normalise it and it become a topic of conversation,

become something that we can perhaps talk about in schools as well, parts of sexual education.

I think that will be really, really important and people will just be more, more aware of it and how to handle it should they find themselves within that situation.


Well, thank you both so much for talking with me.

Clearly, the work that both you are doing, you can see it making an impact and hopefully it continues to do that.

On the face of it, Chemsex can look simply like a drug problem or a choice of sexual activity.

But the wider culture that surrounds it and the history of the LGBTQ plus communities make it much more complicated as we've heard today.

And the result is more people end up at risk than should be the case.

So hopefully better access to help and support is on the horizon.

And if you have been affected by anything that we've been discussing today, you can find resources and help at

And if you'd like to listen to the full version of this episode of Life Solved, head to the University of Portsmouth website

or download it on your favourite podcast app.

Podcast, podcast app now.

Just click the link in the comments box below or head to to find out more.

Next time we look at the reality of CSI

When it comes to solving crimes, how realistic are the investigations that we're seeing on the screen compared to real life crime scene investigation?

Join us then.

How incels use TikTok

Discover how social media is increasingly a breeding ground for so-called ‘Incel’ content, perpetuating misinformation, misogyny, sexism and even violence.

Hello and thanks for watching This Life Solved video. I'm Robyn Montague And in these videos, we get to meet the University of Portsmouth researchers who are sharing their work in the latest series of the Life Solved podcast.

Now, this is work that's changing our world for the better in all sorts of ways. In this episode, we take a look at how social media is increasingly a breeding ground for Incel content, Incel being a shortened term for involuntary celibate.

I'm joined by Anda Solea, Ph.D. researcher and teaching fellow alongside Lisa Sugiura, Associate Professor in Cybercrime and Gender in the School of Criminology and Justice here at the University of Portsmouth.

Anda was the lead author of a recent study that discovered how incels aren't simply hiding in the shadows of the Internet.

And are surprisingly prominent on the likes of the social media video app TikTok. And Lisa is the author of The Incel Rebellion.

So thank you very much for joining me today. And before we get started, I just want to pay attention to where we are. Now, this isn't a styling choice or something where we've decided to just paint the whole room black. We're actually in a dark room here at the University of Portsmouth.

And this is where students come to study criminology and upstairs we've got some really fantastic crime scene simulation spaces.

So if you are interested, anything to do with crime scenes, it's definitely worth checking out. And while some crimes, a lot of crimes are obviously in the physical realm, we're talking about virtual crime today.

So perfect space. Let's start right from the basics then. The area of criminology, it's quite broad.

But what drew you to this area of research? If we start with yourself. So I started being interested in studying the Internet and Internet communities because as a young person, I was using, you know, social media in particular, YouTube quite a lot.

So I come from quite a neglectful and violent background. So having access to Internet and to be able to interact with it and sort of exchange experiences, similar experiences, has been very useful for my development.

And I found, you know, belonging and community there. But then as the years progressed, I realised that this is not the experience that everybody has had.

So a lot of groups, particularly minorities, whether their gender, minorities or the LGBTQ plus, or, you know, ethnicities, different ethnicities, they experience a lot of hate and abuse online.

And when, you know, you would have young people trying to find community online and sort of escape their home environment, they want to go online.

But then rather than having my experience, they experience a lot of an additional harms and abuse.

So that would be, you know, something that made me interested in this, particularly looking at what type of abuse we have online and what can we done to sort of stop or limit this to enable other young people to use social media in a positive way.

So similarly, I was brought up in kind of the Internet generation where you had things like Myspace and stuff.

If anyone remembers that. Myspace, which was great for building on those communities, but they were also kind of bullying spaces as well.

They were incidents of people saying some pretty horrible things to friends at school and stuff online. So yeah, I suppose it's you can either have a really good experience or really bad or mix it.

Both, Yeah. And what about yourself, Lisa? So I've been working in the field of cybercrime for nearly 13 years, focusing more on the human dimensions of cybercrime and cyber security. So looking at areas like online deviance, how are people using technology to abuse and misuse?

And initially my PhD wasn't anything to do with what I do now in regards to sort of looking at how sexual violence is facilitated online and gendered issues.

It was actually about online pharmaceutical purchasing. Still online deviants. But whilst I was studying that particular topic, I think it was around about 2015, 2014, there were so many different events that made me question my values, my worldview, and to really develop my passions in looking at this sort of more gendered perspectives online.

So there was the incident Gamergate where you had female journalists in the gaming industry that were being abused and they were receiving death threats.

You had the iCloud hack of various celebrities, and the intimate images were released without the consent and the trauma that followed that.

And then you also had the Isla Vista attack, which was one of the first mass killings associated with the Intel community.

So I started developing that interest looking more acts of misogynistic activity online and hate speech and inequalities and how certain persons some marginalised communities are more targeted online and started working then on a particular project looking at the language of cyber sexism in 2017.

And it was from there that I really sort of started delving more into online misogyny and in particular the involuntary celibate community, in particular misogynistic incels.

So it was more series of events that really caught your attention and you thought, Oh, there's clearly a pattern in emerging with the developing technology.

And obviously that's where we come onto incels, and the community of incels. So why should we be concerned about this particular group of people?

Right. So first, it would be useful to define incels. So answers are an online subculture of men that describe themselves as unable to have sexual or romantic relationships.

And so they have a very deterministic outlook in life. They believe that your looks and particularly your attractiveness, determines where you are going to find a partner or not.

And incels define themselves as very unattractive and very much at the bottom of this hierarchy.

And they blame women for their lack of sexual and romantic interactions. As Lisa has mentioned earlier, so the incel subculture, and particularly members that identify, as incels, have engaged in several mass shooting and mass casualty events.

So we have the Isla Vista killings in 2014, but also the Plymouth shootings in 2020 on here in England.

But then it is important to recognise way these events are, you know, extremist and terrible, he says.

Incels also engage in day to day cyber violence. For example, they go online and harass women.

They engage in a lot of trolling and they've been associated with other things such as hate speech directed towards women, sexual and physical traits.

And then particularly when we talk about mainstream social media and video sharing platforms such as TikTok, it becomes more dangerous.

When you, when we was previously taught and particularly we get previous research was looking at the Incel community on 4chan, incelease and some subreddits it was so that they are just you know in some of these niche platforms where it's you need to to know what an incel is and you need to want to engage with a community to see their content.

But now to our study on TikTok, which is the first study that has examined the Internet community on TikTok, we sort of demonstrated an analysis of accounts in videos, the videos promoting the Incel ideology as well as their memes and linguistic drops are existing to TikTok and they are being spread to, you know, wider audiences.

So this is particularly concerning because of the content that they share. So often in these videos they promote misogyny, sexism, and they portray women in very derogatory ways.

So they just go forward with these, you know, gender stereotypes that are already within, you know, present within society with their photo reinforced.

But then we need to think about, you know, the role mainstream sort of media platforms play in this. Right? Because it's on TikTok where you have a wider audience, also heterogenous audience.

So it would be members of the public who might not know what an incel is. They might not know this ideology, but they might agree with it when they see it.

And then also, obviously, TikTok is very much popular with younger audiences, young men and women.

And it's very you know, it goes viral, easy to share anything with, you know, other communities as well.

So we'll get to TikTok in a minute. But I just again, want to focus on Incels as a community or a community or group of people.

This isn't something that's just begun on the Internet. Incels and the attitudes of, you know, misogyny and stuff there's a history to that. Lisa But where does this sort of play into it? Yeah, it's I think that's a really important point to make, is that Incels don't exist in a vacuum.

I think it's problematic to kind of treat them as something spectacular or unique because that distracts from wider societal misogyny and the everyday experiences that women have, often at the hands of men and talking about male violence, misogyny, we're talking about discrimination and sexism.

And of course, that predates the Intel community. It predates the technology. But what happens is this being reinforced and exacerbated by digital technologies.

And if we look at incels in particular, that kind of ideology where men present themselves as the victims, that they need to kind of fight back for the very survival.

Again, that is not anything particularly novel or contemporary. If we look back to the 1970s with the men's rights movement that developed alongside second wave feminism and in fact were actually allies, a second wave feminism completely recognised the harmful effects of patriarchal systems to everybody, irrespective of gender.

But what happened there was a splintering where some men that were dissatisfied within the original men's rights movement sort of came away and became very much about anti feminism and taken away from women's gains and women's rights and those sort of attitudes never gone away.

They've continued to exist. And what's happened is where we see or where society seems to be progressive on the surface is that underground, this resentment is continuing to simmer away.

And where you then have technology and the Internet and all the affordances that come with being online like the the reach and the engagement and being able to interact with people who ordinarily couldn't.

And you got the audience and you get to disseminate your ideas in new and what seems like novel ways.

That is the perfect storm where it's been able to then breed these new or what seems like these these new communities but said in fact, actually it's the same ideology underpinning it all.

And what you said about, Anda about TikTok in particular being a bit of a cause of concern is that people may not go out seeking these attitudes or these ideas like you would do on other platforms like Reddit, or if you were to physically go along to a meeting of people that believed in the same things as you.

You're getting them fed to you by usually AI or something like that.

It filters out content to anything you might be interested in. As soon as you click on that and you watch it, you're probably likely to get more of it just because of how these platforms work.

And that's worrying in itself, isn't it? Yes, it is. And we see on TikTok that, you know, you might have a person that goes on there and tries to look at advice on dating, which might not necessarily be misogynistic.

Like there are different types of people that do give like genuine advice about dating. But then slowly and surely, you get to see, you know, pick up artists who are a lot more misogynistic in their style.

And then you could get, you know, videos related to the Incel ideology, which is wanting to particularly focus a lot on on looks and also anti social hierarchy and demonstrating that women are not attracted to like short men or particular types of men that don't have a well-defined jaw.

And also within TikTok, you have these built in connections. So, for example, content creators can create content together.

So it's called like stitching, so you take the content of a person and then you really do it in your own way. Then you also have hashtags that are used and disseminated to many people.

For example, in some of my TikTok sample I have these content creators that put hashtag 'for you page', men, hashtag men, hashtag women.

So very, you say unconspicuous right, there are not related to the ideologies, but they are put there to draw, you know, wider audiences to the particular video and to gain views in an audience.

And social media platforms Tthey always argue that they're against hate speech and they have huge efforts in order to reduce the amount of hate speech that people can find on the platforms.

But I suppose there are ways around that. And did you find that in your study that, you know, in some communities have worked out ways of of getting around the system?

Yes. So that's very much so. So for example, in the case of TikTok, if you look for the term incel, this term is banned and TikTok that tell you that it is associated with the hateful community. However, if you know a little bit more about Incel community, you don't need to know much.

You just know that they subscribe to the Blackpill ideology. You could search for the term Blackpill, and you can spell it differently, so it doesn't need to be spelled correctly.

And then you get a lot of hashtags that are related to the Blackpill. But I spelled in such ways that they escape content moderation to this.

So I search for this hashtag and I find a lot of accounts and a lot of videos posted on the day.

So you could say that, you know, the platform is trying to ban incels because you can search for Incel, but you can search for the Blackpill ideology.

It's so interesting because, you know, you assume that you're protected when you you know, you give a certain level of trust to the social media companies when you go to these platforms.

But it is a huge undertaking, especially because the amount of people that use platforms like TikTok, the range of ages, how is it even possible to be able to filter through all that content and really offer that level of protection that you expect?

I mean, your work, Lisa, do you do you find that these people who partake in, you know, incel behaviour, do they really understand how severe that is?

I mean, that's what it's about. Well, what we mean by incel behaviour as well as is that I think, you know, we need to be kind of careful about treating it as something, you know, particularly novel.

You know, what we're talking about is misogyny or male's supremisism. And, you know, that belief that men, you know, should be in a dominant position over women.

Women should be subservient, and they want to change society to get back to that sort of romanticised ideal for them.

But yeah, in terms of that sort of responsibility and what we can do about it, obviously what we're up against is the fact that this is a whole societal problem.

This isn't just content online. What we're seeing is that those ideologies, which may seem more extreme, more overt online, but the been reinforced and validated in offline and often by people with a platform in the mainstream media as well.

You know, the former president of the United States who infamously said something about cats, which I'm not going to repeat here.

There was there was obviously no you know, there was no punishment for that. That was you know, he was still able to take his presidency even after that came out.

So what does that do? That just validates the fact that women are able to be objectified and spoken about in this way.

So that's the problem we're up against, is that the the the approach could not just be about technology, it has to involve education has to involve policy, has to involve involve a cultural shift as well, which of course isn't something can just happen overnight.

I suppose it's an argument as well that seems to always crop up, including in Donald Trump's case is free speech and a right to have an opinion.

Where do you draw the line and why is free speech getting mucked up into the whole argument?

Okay, so whilst I am certainly not in favour of a completely controlled internet or anything like that, and certainly, you know, just handing over all our civil rights to, you know, to governments, you know, we really have to unpack what we mean by freedom of speech here as well.

Freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to abuse. It is not a licence to say absolutely anything you like without thinking about the harm it's going to have on people

and also thinking about if we just allow anybody to say anything they like, well, whose privileges are being prioritised as well because.

What you find is that the people who are most marginalised in our communities, they continue to be silenced.

And that's what's happening online. Technology is reproducing those inequalities. So it's about recognising the fact that, yes, we have certain protections and they should be our civil rights.

But it also isn't a complete, you know, freedom to do whatever you like and certainly not to abuse.

I think it's really interesting what you said about not trivialising incels and misogyny,

because I imagine there they're probably people on TikTok or other platforms who maybe engage in misogyny and incel,

you know, content and they think, oh, it doesn't count because it's not in person.

Did you did you find that some of the content maybe, or some of the attitudes towards it aren't as strong as maybe if it was an in-person,

you know, in-person behaviour or a meeting?

Yes. So I think that relates also allowed to trolling online. So where you know, you are anonymous and you also are not you know, you don't know the victim and you can see their suffering, right?

So then you'll feel more more free to say whatever you want to say and behave in ways that you would not count is,

you know, acceptable within day to day, every day spaces in when somebody is in front of you.

So definitely see a lot of that. And then I think particularly because of the way, you know, the incel content on TikTok is distributed and created,

it makes you sound more like implicit, so it doesn't sound as harmful.

So within our paper, we analysed these TikTok accounts and videos and we realised that again, because of the platform moderation, they cannot be so explicit.

So they cannot say, you know, kill this person or you know, worse things, but they can express their content through more covert language.

So for example, we found that on TikTok instead use pseudoscientific evidence to further the claims.

So they would, for example, present a graph that is about the height of men in the graph has like a normal distribution, Right?

And the narrator is very confident and he says that this is, you know, a real study and that, you know, for example, if you are 5'10, 15% of women will reject you.

So it's all about men and their heights. And then he argues that if you're 5'4, then 90% of women will reject you and you will have no chance to ever find a partner.

Right. So he's very confident in what he's saying. And he's using this graph, which he doesn't have any sources who don't know, you know, what research has been done.

Where does it come from? Is it even real easy, just a graph purely drawn in Excel and has like no scientific background.

But then a lot of people within the comment section, they agree with this graph. They're like, see, he provides evidence and it just shows that women are, you know, just thinking about looks.

They don't care about personalities. They are just very shallow. And you just, you know, it perpetrates gender beliefs that women just care about looks.

So it's basically just selling fiction or misinformation as facts and being clever in the way that you package it.

It's fraud isn't it at the end of the day, and as a consumer of media or consumer of social media, I suppose it's it's noticing these irregularities in what they're seeing.

Like you said, that there's no research has been cited whatsoever. So how can you be better, you know, how can you better prepare yourself and people that you know, children, etc., against this harmful information online?

Well I mean, I think if so, if you're a parent and you were worried about your children sort of accessing this content, which unfortunately the odds are they will it's it's readily available.

It's about having open conversations in a non-judgmental way. The inclination might be to try to shut it down and say, you know, this is this is discriminatory, it's abusive or whatever.

But, you know, that's probably not the best way to engage. It's about hearing why people are watching it, what they think about it, and then unpacking some of that pseudoscientific nature that's involved in it.

You know, ask for what's the evidence for that was the fact. It's about developing critical thinking, being able to kind of question, you know, miss and disinformation online and also about values, about your world values.

You know, just kind of, you know, do you really think women are evil or do you really think women and persons who do not fit the the hegemonic ideal norm, you know, white able bodied, cis and all of that?

Do you think that, you know, they they've got right to be to be better, more privileged than other people. So you might say having those healthy, proactive discussions as well.

I think so We've covered, you know, TikTok and social media platforms like Instagram and things like that.

But YouTube seems to be a platform that we need to keep our eye on as well. Why is that?

So for my PhD research, I look at cross platforms, so cross platforms.

So I look at TikTok and also YouTube shorts. So kind of similar to TikTok. I look at these YouTube shorts because they are like short videos.

They're easy to disseminate and they attract large audiences. And you have also this cross-platform posting.

So in my sample I have a lot of videos from TikTok that are posted on YouTube and the other way around.

And then from my preliminary findings, we are still writing a paper on YouTube. So we have analysed, we have five accounts, 400 videos of these accounts as well as, you know, pretty large comment sections.

We see that the content moderation is actually even worse on YouTube. So for example, in YouTube you can search for the term incel like it's not banned.

And you can see the content creators on YouTube are a lot more prolific. So some of the accounts that I have in my sample, they have been on YouTube posting their content for the last 3 to 4 years,

and they have hundreds and hundreds of videos and they have not been taken down. And just to provide a comparison, the accounts I have on TikTok, they are around one year and a half old and they usually don't have that many videos.

So oftentimes you would see new accounts are created, they have five videos and they get taken down on TikTok, while some are more longstanding.

But on YouTube, it's been going for years and they're not really regulating it in any way. And then another interesting aspect of YouTube, it seems that the followers of these particular accounts are a lot more engaged with the accounts creators than the ones on TikTok.

So they you know, they follow the content on these on these YouTube channels. They engage with them. They ask for more content and they discuss very, and say like theoretical incel debates, rights,

sort of quite similar debates that you would see on for 4Chan or on incel.ease. They really question the theories and they you know, they use specific terms to describe women and these goes again with that implicity or, you know, covert language.

For example, some on YouTube, some commenters refer to women as a 304.

And this is a derogatory term to refer to promiscuous women as well as sex workers.

So they just say these 304 does this and that. And obviously, if you look at content moderation, then, you know,

if you have like AI looking at it, they are not going to recognise this number is being something derogatory towards women.

But this is what's being used to sort of escape this moderation on YouTube. It's very dehumanising texts and phrases and stuff.

I, yeah, for, for you'd have to sit through, sift through that I give you major props.

But you said about prolific accounts. It would be difficult for us to talk about misogyny and incels without mentioning Andrew Tate.

So if you haven't heard about Andrew Tate, how about we just start with a bit of a background on him? Keep it brief because he doesn't need more attention than he already has.

He really doesn't. But yes. So he's a former champion kickboxer. He was a big Brother UK contestant who got moved early from the house because video surfaced of him beating a former female partner of hers.

Since then, he has managed to commodify his misogynistic and violent behaviour to the extent that he became one of the most Googled people in the in the world a few years ago.

He has many shady businesses which are, in effect, either sex trafficking or pyramid schemes.

I mean, I should say alleged sex trafficking, although no, he was prosecuted, was prosecuted in Romania. So we can say that actually.

But but yet what he's essentially done is made a business out of conning vulnerable men into believing that they need to somehow follow this alpha model of what it is to be a man.

But again. This is not a new thing. There are examples throughout history of people following an alpha man or what's considered an alpha man,

and it kind of plays in a little bit to what you said Anda at the start about you found a community on YouTube and social media that really supported you through some quite dark times.

And I suppose with incels on someone like Andrew Tate the reason why people gravitate because it's he's giving them an out or potentially a group of people that they can feel like a family with.

Yeah. And that's what, that's what he's done in creating these communities and he's had you know he's had Husslers University and now real world.

So to draw attention to those things as well you know which he's trying to present it in that sort of valid light and he really does present that appeal that, you know, well, you know, we love you.

I love you. No one else loves you. Society's left you behind. And in effect, that's what he has done.

He has capitalised on this perfect storm of three things. One is the fact that, yes, young men in particular do have real anxieties and vulnerabilities today.

Today it's really hard. It's, you know, the socioeconomic pressures. There's lots of issues.

But that doesn't mean that it's okay to blame women and to completely take the victim label

and forget about sort of things like privilege and things and also just to sort of espouse hatred. And that's the second thing, the fact that misogyny continues to be so prolific in our societies that is selling for some reason.

So you've got vulnerabilities, you've got misogyny, and then unless you've got the misinformation and you've got the ability to sort of sort of

capitalise on this rhetoric online, but it's presented in this way that seems valid, as Anda has been saying, about that pseudoscientific appeal as well.

So what he's done is he's taken all of that and created this brand. You know, that's often his sort of excuse as well, that, you know, well, I'm not, you know, I'm just a character.

So, you know, so, you know, I can't be held responsible if there is any sort of hatred, which he often denies anyway.

He says that he's not misogynist and that in the end, you know, that people do interpret that, you know, completely, you know, fabricating it and misunderstanding him as well.

So, you know, he's trying to use that kind of excuse, but this is what he's done. He's essentially it's all about profit, is all about exploitation of, you know, predominantly men, but obviously at women's expense.

You know, I have often heard him talk about how he loves women and just feel like he needs to re-evaluate that phrase because he's wrong.

I might add. So these issues are also like self-reinforcing. So he can think, as you say, like a vulnerable young man,

right. That looks online for advice. He finds the advice of, you know, pick up artist or for people such as Andrew Tate.

They sort of tried that advice whether it's getting to be more confident or working out and having muscles,

or you know, doing some shady business to have money. But they still don't get to be successful with women.

So then they start being frustrated and angry that these measures have not worked. But rather than being, you know, Andrew Tate and people like him are the problem from reinforcing these masculine, you know, tropes,

they are angry at women for not falling for these tactics. And is that the risk of where it would go from trolling or posting something online that's misogynistic to maybe real life, you know,

issues or using that putting people at risk outside of just the Internet space?

Well, I don't think we should overlook the fact that 1 in 4 women in the UK is a victim of domestic abuse.

So all of these tropes, all of these narratives that are being espoused about controlling your woman, you know that you should be coercive

to be a real man, you have to subjugate women. I mean, that message is obviously going out to people that are already perpetrators as well.

So it's just reinforcing and validating their everyday activity. And we know that these attitudes about inequality and that women is somehow seen as lesser to men.

That is a key driver of gender based violence. So we know we can't kind of forget that impact.

I suppose it's also important to remember that it's not just young men or men generally that absorbing this content is also women too.

So devaluing themselves and their attitudes about what it what it is to be a woman are also changing.

Yeah, I mean, it seems really uncomfortable, but there are female followers of Andrew Tate.

Now cynical me does sort of question some of the ones that are more in the public eye if they are seeing an opportunity to capitalise on as well as a jumping on the bandwagon.

You do get women. There's a link with these extremist ideologies, you know, in all sorts of areas as well.

So it's not you know, it's not uncommon. But certainly, you know, the fact that all of us grow up in the same society, in a patriarchal society where we're told that there's gender inequality.

So, of course, why would women therefore be inescapable to that go into internalise it as well?

And we spoke about consumers being more critical when it comes to social medi,

YouTube or just generally. It's always good to be a critical consumer, even of news.

But what else could be done in order to better regulate this sort of behaviour online?

Well, we just got the Online Safety Act. It has just been made into legislation.

So I was part of a consortium that was campaigning to get violence against women and girls explicitly mentioned in that legislation because it was completely overlooked.

It's actually recognising that many online harms are gendered. Is is the fact that women and persons from marginalised communities are targeted by virtue of being just who they are, their identities.

And so for the four years that that legislation was going in and out of parliament and committees and things, it was just saying, you know, we just need this written.

So the platforms will have an accountability, a responsibility to to women, girls and marginalised persons.

It was a couple of months ago, actually. Women and girls are now in their I think it's about four times that mentioned in that it's not the code of if we want to do violence against women and girls code of conduct.

It's not quite there. But the fact that the law has specifically mentioned women and girls, it's obviously a step in the right direction.

Of course, Ofcom now need to develop guidance for social media companies to follow, so that is all great.

But as I as I mentioned earlier, this is an all society problem, needs an all societal response.

You know, we can't just legislate out misogyny. We can't we can't engineer out misogyny with attack either.

We can educate, but we can't just educate if obviously it's been allowed elsewhere.

So it is from from all areas in the set. We are talking about a cultural shift. So, you know, this could take a generation, which, you know, I'm quite optimistic for because I do think the fact we're having this discussion is a really positive thing.

You know, we are making inroads into into laws. But it's you know, I think it you know, it's a multi-stakeholder response.

Brilliant, well thank you again for talking with me today. It's been really interesting and hopefully informative.

The word incel might be a relatively new term to you, but the issues surrounding incels online are growing at speeds.

As we've heard, a combination of regulation and education is needed to keep our communities safe, and we should all have our eyes open when it comes to protect the vulnerable from falling down an internet rabbit hole that ultimately will put themselves and others around them at risk. If you'd like to listen to our full episode of Life Solved, where we explore how the likes of TikTok can be a breeding ground for Incel content then head to the University of Portsmouth website or download it on your favourite podcast app now.

You can click the link in the comments box below or head to to find out more about this School of Criminology and criminal justice as well.

Next time we ask what powers do protesters have and what it means for democracy as governments across the world tighten up free speech laws. See you then.

Who polices the police?

Background checks for new police recruits have some way to go.

Hello and thanks for watching this Life Solved short.

I'm Robyn Montague, and in these videos we get to meet the University of Portsmouth researchers

sharing their work in the latest series of the Life Solved podcast.

This is work that's changing our world for the better in all sorts of ways.

This time I'm with Dr John Fox to ask the question, who polices the police?

London's Metropolitan Police have regularly been in the headlines in recent years of accusations of institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia.

John served in the police himself before taking up an academic position with the University of Portsmouth

and we'll be hearing about the way that police recruitment has changed over the decades for good and for bad,

and what he thinks can be done to restore confidence in the force for employees and the wider public.

So John, thank you very much for joining me.

Great to be here.


So let's start then by looking at your own employment background.

Moving from the police to the university

So you worked for the police.

Can you tell us what was the decision that made you move from the force to the university?

Well, most police officers sort of have a limited lifespan, a career span if you like

and I did my full career there, but you still retire or finish in the police quite young.

And so I got the bug to actually go into academic work quite late about 2004 or five, I think.

And I had an opportunity to go and teach in New York City in a university there on an exchange

and was immersing myself with academics who worked there in that department and some of the,

some quite famous people who, you know, I've read their books and stuff and I think, well,

and anyway I got the bug to get into that world and had a chance to go to the University of Surrey through a sponsored master's degree.

And then that led into me doing a Ph.D.

And so I spent five years there, really, and then just fell on my feet.

And a job came up here in this department as it was then the ICJS and I took it lucky enough to get it shall I say.

But I am a researcher into various aspects of policing, especially around investigation, homicide investigation,

police culture and police oversight, which is partly what we're going to be talking about today.

I am a course leader for a course called BSC Honours in Policing and Investigation, which is a distance learning degree course here at Portsmouth.

And I've got a really interesting cohort of students, people who are actually in the police, people who want to join the police,

and people who just have an interest in this topic, policing, which we are all affected by every day.

So I really enjoy that.

And yeah, I've been here ten years now.

Time flies.

Working for the police force

And how was your own experience then working for the police force or what police force you actually worked for?

I worked in a large police force in the south of England, and for most of my time I was a detective and I finished

my career there as a detective superintendent.

Did you enjoy it on that?

Oh, yeah, it's great.

And, you know, I highly recommend it as a career.

It has a few problems, and we're sure we're going to talk about a few of those now.

But I wouldn't put anyone off joining the police at all.

And in the context of the world, you know, I don't know.

It sounds a bit of a cliche.

The British police are the best in the world.

I wouldn't say that.

But we're certainly up there somewhere.

And, you know, it's something to be nurtured and valued.

The reputation, the integrity of the police in this country is still way up there.

And we need to not be complacent.

The different police forces

And I've, we've only been talking for a few minutes, but I've used force and forces in varying sentences here

because it's interesting, when you think of the British police force, you think of it as a sort of one brain.

It's one organism that's working and functioning together.

That's not necessarily the case, is it?

I think that's a great point.

And a lot of the public probably do not realise that there are 43 main police forces.

They're called Home Office police forces because they are partly controlled by the government in Westminster.

But there's another police force called the British Transport Police, which covers the whole country.

Scotland has one single police force and that's completely separate to England and Wales.

Northern Ireland has a separate police force.

So when we're talking about all of the police in England and Wales, we normally would,

well I would sorry, being sort of in the game if you like, I would always call it the police service.

Which consists of a number of individual police forces.

It's ever so important, you know, particularly with the things we're probably going to be talking about, that the public do understand that

their local police force, you know, is unique to their probably their county or their their city if they're living in Manchester.

And it doesn't necessarily mean that whatever's happening elsewhere in the country would happen in their local area.

And that's, I think, something that's really important.

Combined system of governance

These individual forces, do they work efficiently together, though?

Are they able to share information?

Yeah, very much so.

Yeah, that's a it's a very strange I don't get too academic, but it's what we call a combined system of governance.

So half of the funding for the police comes from the Home Office and therefore the Home Office has quite a lot of control over all of the police forces

and how they operate.

But half of the other half of the funding comes from local taxation.

So we pay our council tax and pay.

And so it should mean that every chief constable, the head of each police force, is operationally independent.

They should not be interfered with by the Home Secretary.

And yet

on a sort of macro level.

There is this umbrella over the police forces all around the country where they have common discipline code,

they have common pay arrangements, so every police officer in the country gets paid the same wage wherever they are.

And also there's an organisation called the College of Policing, which again oversees all of policing in England and Wales

and sets standards and a training curriculum for for officers so that they all should be trained in the same way.

So this idea of interoperability and you sort of touched on it there.

Being able to share information, work in the same way is very much present in our, in our force.

And I think it's an example really because

if there was a huge series of murders where a single force couldn't because they needed many more detectives than they had available,

it's quite possible for other forces just to send in detectives and they would immediately be able to work together

knowing exactly what their common language is in terms of,

you know, the way they're going to operate, and also that their computer systems would be compatible.

So it's great.

I think it is important.

So while they are obviously governed by similar training and ethics, etc., they are still

they operate individually to some extent.

So when there's something going on, for instance in the Met, where you see constantly in the news headlines that

there's incidents happening with their own officers,

you have to remember that that doesn't mean that every force in the country is experiencing similar difficulties.


And you know, you've mentioned the Met, the Metropolitan Police in London.

It's the first police force that we had in this country from 1829.

It's by far the biggest.


a quarter of the whole strength of the police service.

About 35,000 officers, I think, work in London and the average police force outside London is about 1500, 2000 officers kind of number.

So, you know, the Met is ten times bigger than most police forces.

So it's a complete aberration in a way.

History of police forces

That's a lot of people to to keep across and work with.

And how has then,

and if we go back in time because we said that about this is how we're structured here in the UK.

Has it always been like that?

How has our police forces or our police service operated through time?

Yeah, it's a great question.

I just said a moment ago, in 1829, Sir Robert Peel decided, he was the Home Secretary at the time, decided we needed a professional police force.

That's why they called bobbies, by the way, after Robert Peel.

And in Ireland, I think they still call them peelers, which is a little bit antiquated.

But anyway, so he decided that they needed a police force in London, and that was created.

Within about ten or 15 years because that was deemed a success

every borough and county at that time was told to form a police force.

So you ended up by about, I don't know, the mid 1920s with I think something like 150 different police forces around the country.

And that's how it went on really till after the Second World War.

And then in 1964 there was a review because it was thought that there were just too many and they were all working, you know, independently.

A review of policing, which pretty well gave us what we've got now, which is is 43 police forces, then they're normally based on a county.

So we're sitting here in Portsmouth and our police force is part of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary.

And the same officers who work in Portsmouth are in the force at work in Southampton, Basingstoke and the Isle of Wight.


And you said about how they, police officers all receive similar training or the exact training.

Are they vetted in the same way then as well?

Is that, does the vetting process happen similar?

Well, no, this is a problem.

Vetting is a bit patchy and the College of Policing has set guidance on vetting.

So you've got three basic levels of vetting that every recruit that comes into the police will have pretty basic vetting, to be honest.

They would check that they haven't got a criminal record,

check that they're not known, you know, to that sort of security services as potential terrorists, that sort of thing.

They will also check whether you're in debt so they're able to get into your financial information.

If you've been made bankrupt, they'll be able to find that sort of stuff out.

But a lot of it is down to the self-declaration of the applicant.

Now, as you move up through the police service, if you become more senior and you have to have access to confidential or secret information,

then there's a higher level of vetting.

And the most senior police officers, the people and the people who are in counter-terrorism roles, for example,

will be vetted to the same standard as a government minister,

and that's called developed vetting, where they do actually really dig into your background quite a lot.

But very few officers actually have that level of vetting, and most of them have a pretty basic vetting, which arguably in view of what's been happening recently,

as you said earlier in London, is not good enough.

Digital vetting

And it sounds like it's more of a digital footprint rather than, to get to know the individual on a personal level.

Is that is that how

before the digital age, how were police officers vetted?


I think that's a really, really important point.

You know, I kind of look at it like this.

They pretty well know what an officer does in terms of their financial affairs, whether they're a registered criminal,

but they don't know how an applicant officer thinks.


And that's the big difference.

So that to me is where things need to change now in the dim, distant past

police sergeants would go to the home of an applicant of an officer or a person that wanted to join the police.

They would actually go visit their home and they sit down and they talk to family members.

And undoubtedly, they have a bit of a snoop around.

You know, check that the dog was looked after.

It just gave them a fit.

It sounds a bit haphazard and maybe a bit antiquated and not that sort of

businesslike, if you like.


But they got a feel for how the person lived in their private life and probably a bit more about how they thought,

as well as just what they could find on computer systems.


There were no computers in those days, but you know what I mean.

That's gone now.

For whatever reason, there is no sort of visit to meet family and friends of the applicant and then asking searching questions about how that person is at work.

What are they like in their snooker club?

Because then you get a much better idea perhaps, of how they think as well as what they are.

And that's not there anymore.

And in fact, during COVID, I believe there wasn't even a face to face interview in most forces because they simply couldn't.

So they were doing police interviews over Zoom.

When you get an officer comes into the force, they might have good ethics, for instance, or have a certain view of the world.

Mandatory vetting

But after a certain length of time in the force, their attitudes or their,

you know, opinions on situations might change depending on what force they're in and who they're surrounded by.

So is it important to maybe continue vetting even when they've joined?


And again, this is this is patchy.

I know that some forces, the force next door to us, maybe Hampshire.

I don't know what Hampshire does now, but I know Sussex police they, they I think revamped people after ten years.

But again, this is not a national standard.

And arguably, you know, vetting is so important, especially in view of some of the things that have been uncovered in London recently,

that they need to have a mandatory standard of vetting, which not only includes re-vetting, I mean, okay,

so you join the police and then ten years later, you have to fill in another set of forms which are the same as the first forms.

They're still not getting into the head of the person or finding out what they really think.

So I think that.

There needs to be much more than vetting.

It's about.

Unfortunately to say it, you know, an intrusion into the workplace, the kind of private areas, if you like, of the workplace.


Um, and it's not that controversial.

If you look at other industries, you know, they'd probably do an Amazon.

I know for sure they do, because I've worked on a case where we're in a big Amazon warehouse

um, they had employees who were undercover officers working for the security, you know, mingling with the actual warehouse staff to see who steals the fridges.

So that's not unusual in any industry to have that going on.

And, and the police really ought to be doing that if they're not already as a matter of course,

in order to have constant covert monitoring of the workplace, if that makes sense.

And it would be uncomfortable maybe for the workforce.

But what what really shocked me about the most recent report that came out from Baroness Casey a few weeks ago

was one quote in there from a female officer.

And she was quoted in the report saying, I may not get the words exactly right, but she said, I'm frightened to go to work.

I'm scared of the police.

Imagine that.

You know, she is a police officer and she goes to work every day for 8 hours.

And she's scared to be there because of the attitudes of the people that she's working with.

So any criticism of the police in this level is not about criticising the police.

It's about trying to get the police to protect their own workforce

and make it a safe place for the vast majority of good people who actually want to go there and do a good job for us, the public.

We have to actually make the bad people feel that they are in a hostile environment and not that they are in that,

that they're in the safe environment that I think many of them have felt up to now.


Well, thank you so much for talking with me, John.

It's been really interesting.

And whilst the behaviour of some Met police officers can't necessarily be attached to all officers or all UK forces

recent incidents have highlighted some shared cultural issues which we've obviously covered and some of the wider failings of the police service generally.

If you'd like to find out more about the road to better policing, listen to the full episode of Life Solved on the University of Portsmouth website

or just search Life Solved on your favourite podcast app now.

You can click the link in the comments box below or head to

and you can find out more about John's work there as well.

Next time we bring you the first of a two part special exploring plastics and how they play a part in the future of fashion and textiles.

See you again next time.

Ice Ivory - the mammoth crime

In this episode of Life Solved, we explore the little-known ‘Ice Ivory’ market.

Hello and thanks for watching this Life Solved short.

I'm Robyn Montague

and in these videos we get to meet the University of Portsmouth researchers sharing their work in the latest series of the Life Solved podcast.

This is work that's changing our world for the better in all sorts of ways.

This time I'm with Dr. Caroline Cox and Dr Luke Hauser to hear about Ice Ivory

A mammoth crime in more ways than one.

Dr. Cox has been influential in the fight against the ivory trade, and Luke Hauser is a researcher at the University of Portsmouth,

combining palaeontology and criminology to be possibly the first and only geo-criminologist.

We will be finding out about how Caroline's work of elephants led to the UK Ivory Act in 2018

and hear Luke's research into woolly mammoths who, despite being dead for thousands of years, are being exhumed today for their tusks

with all the moral, legal and environmental repercussions that come with that.

So Luke and Caroline, thank you very much for joining me.

University of Portsmouth Ivory Project

Tell me about the University of Portsmouth Ivory Project first then Caroline.

Let's go straight back to the beginning, because this has been something that's been ongoing for quite some time now.

We started the Ivory Project in 2016 with a colleague of Luke's actually from SCCJ, Nick Pamment

and it's something that I became interested in how ivory was sold in the UK.

I didn't really have any idea before I started doing the research how much ivory was sold in the UK and the strange regulations around the sale of ivory.

So that's why we started the Ivory Project and we did a really big piece of work that resulted in a major report that went to British government.

And that report led on to questions in Parliament.

Questions in Parliament led on to the ivory bill, and that eventually became the Ivory Act 2018.

Ivory Act 2018

And it's something that obviously you said that the Ivory Act 2018 that covers elephants, isn't it?

Is it?

Yeah, completely right.

The Ivory Act only currently covers elephants.

And the reason Luke and I are doing a project together is because I really like elephants.

I really want to do everything I can to protect elephants.

But Luke's a palaeontologist by trade as it were.

His PhD is in palaeontology.

And he.

He stopped me one day and said, Look, do you realise that there's more mammoth ivory being sold the elephant ivory?

And do you realise just how much mammoth ivory is out there waiting to be discovered?

And so we started working together.

Now, Luke.


You know palaeontology.

Just give us for anyone who isn't aware of palaeontology, obviously it's a science podcast.

You'd hope they'd have some idea.

But if they don't, you just let us know what palaeontology is generally.

Yeah, so is palaeontology.

The simplest form is the study of ancient life.

And essentially, yes, it's essentially the discipline of

studying past life through the remains that exist in the geologic record.

What got you interested

And correct me if I'm wrong, but I know obviously, Caroline, you just covered that briefly, but elephants, they aren't past life.

They are still in existence and roaming the earth.

So what got you interested in the work that Caroline was doing?

In my current role with the university.

So as well as a visiting researcher, I'm a researcher admin over in SCCJ, the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

And one of the things I have to do, one of many exciting things I have to do is sort out the newsletter, and that includes publications.

One publication came by my desk, which was by our joint colleague Nick Pammett.

Was an article about the persecution of birds.

I think the paper's called If It Flies, It Dies.

And that got me thinking about

geology and palaeontology and the protections in place.

My wife hopes to be a geologist as well, and I remember going back to her and saying, Do you think I should speak to this guy?

It's like there's a lot of overlap, I think.

And she pushed me and said, yeah, you should.

I was a bit apprehensive do so.

But I spoke to him and within 20 minutes he came back into my office.

It's like, we've got to write something.

This is, this is fantastic.

And then he put me in contact with Caroline, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And that's where we are now.

What is Geo Criminology

And before we get on to the work that you and Caroline of obviously been doing, I just want to touch on your job title because geo-criminologist,

that's not a phrase I've come across very often, although it's really interesting.

So where did that come from?

Where did that title come from?

So geo-criminology kind of was born out of the.

So I guess the reality of what I do so, my background as Caroline's talked about, we've just talked about is paleontology.

That's what my training is in.

However, criminology, we're interested in the the who, the why, the when these sort of questions and actually applying them to geological problems,

which are a resource as any others, whether that be wildlife or economic.

This is sort of then bore the fact that actually I'm approaching

geology from a criminology standpoint.

So geo-criminology seemed to be a good fit.

It doesn't seem to be something that's been coined by anybody else, as you alluded to in the introduction.

So, yeah, geo-criminology seems to fit in the way we investigate these problems,

be them fossils, whether it's the fossil trade or large scale mining operations, the ethical implications, the criminality.

For example, we all have smartphones in our pockets that people listening right now will have smartphones in front of them.

They might even be listening to this on a smart device that contains gold, for example.

And Britain imports a third of its gold from Brazil

and Brazil and other places in South America have huge problems of illegal gold mining, which is damaging the rainforest.

But the thing with gold is once it's taken from the source, melted down into, say, a gold ingot and then sold on the wider market,

you can no longer chemically trace that gold to where its original source was.

So legal gold chemically looks the same as illegal gold, so it would be impossible for you to find.

So we're probably realistically all walking around with illegal gold in our pockets

and it's those sort of big geological criminological implications that geo-criminology hopes to solve.

And hopefully the University of Portsmouth's going to be the centre of that.

Why Ivory

So that's the mining aspect of it.

And we're actually going to be talking about the fossil side of things, specifically ivory and woolly mammoths.

So just to start, Caroline, with ivory

why is that such a desired thing?

Oh, such a good question.

It's a lot of different reasons.

Ivory has been used as a cultural artistic medium for millennia.

So ivory was used by the Greeks and Romans.

In fact, the Chinese actually hunted their native elephant to extinction.

For want of it's ivory.

So this has been around for a long, long time.

Used for a long, long time.

It's became really popular and important as a means to show your wealth and your power.

And in fact, in Southeast Asia, it's still given as a gift to bride and groom at their wedding to wish them luck, wealth, happiness.

So it has real cultural links to people.

Supply and Demand

And the reason obviously we're talking about woolly mammoth as well is because there's been tight restrictions on the sale of ivory from elephants.

So supply and demand, there's obviously still a demand for ivory.

So what are people doing then, look instead in order to fill this gap?

Well, the main way that they're basically pulling this gap is, as you've identified, mammoth ivory.

So you'll have

websites that will talk about, of all things, restoring antiques.

And they'll talk about we can't use elephant ivory anymore because of the restrictions.

But luckily there's a helpful alternative, and it's called Mammoth Ivory.

And this is mostly coming from Siberia in the part of Siberia called Yakutia, where there are large tracts of permafrost, where mammoths used to live.

And basically they are extracting this material using all manner of techniques.

So legally you're allowed to extract it using hammers, picks, that sort of thing, as long as it's on the surface.

So it's been exposed by the gentle melting permafrost over decades.

The reality is people are quite impatient and they want a payday.

So what they tend to do is use high pressure water hoses to blast away the permafrost, to extract the tusks rapidly,

which leads to various environmental damages, which we can talk about as well as loss,

again, lost the science of other material because these animals weren't dying in isolation around nothing else, as it were.

Other animals were also dying in the same area.

Their bones and remains are also washed out.

Forensic Crime Scene

So it's quite similar to a crime scene.

If you go to a crime scene, you start moving things around

then that evidence, it's not usable.


It's it's very much like a forensic crime scene, as you say, you know.

As a palaeontologist, as a forensics worker, I would approach this scenario in the same way nothing gets moved because it's important.

What position was the body in?

What does that tell us about how the animal in this case, the mammoth, died, what's around it, are there sediments associated with it

and when are we going to move what part of the specimen?

You know, all those sort of questions are important.

And of course, if you were to, you know, as you say, go to a crime scene and activate a high pressure water hose across it because you just wanted to get at

whatever the person might have underneath them, for example, you know, you're going to do tremendous damage to that that locality.

How do you grade Ivory

Just walk us through how do you grade ivory and what are the tell-tell signs of,

you know, can you identify where it is from or?

What an interesting question that is.

That's one of our next projects actually to to really tap into Luke's expertise, his his science expertise,

to use some of the incredible equipment that his palaeontological colleagues have and are willing to let us loose,

Well, not me, obviously, not me

but Luke loose on

to be able to find out where that particular mammoth came from.

And your question about ivory is

modern ivory we don't grade it.


we weigh it and it gets sold by the weight.

But mammoth ivory is, of course, different.

Luke's talked about mammoth ivory that's found in the Russian step, on the mammoth step where it's been deep frozen thousands of years.

So it is in perfect condition, and it is in such good condition

it's like the mammoths died last week.

It's in prime condition.

We call that grade A, grade Amammoth ivory.

It's very difficult to tell the difference between that and a piece of elephant ivory.


If you'd like to find out more about the University of Portsmouth's Ivory project or the findings of the Ice Ivory investigation,

listen to the full episode of Life Solved on our website or check it out on your favourite podcast app now.

You can also click the link in the comments box below or head to

See you again next time.