Police Culture: Corruption or Oppression?

I propose to critique the institution of the police, particularly in their actions towards protecting vulnerable groups that as part of society. As part of this query, I will look towards specific examples of abuse of police powers with the intent to query whether those actions are indicative of a type of corruption, being examples of aberrant behaviour for the institution, or whether they are a type of oppression, being examples of behaviour normative of the institution itself.

In order to consider this question I will contrast a number of incidents in Australia and Russia. First, I will focus on a number of incidents during the 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival, where police were accused of abusing police powers, including police brutality. Then, I will focus on Russia, where there exists a broad, loosely connected series of incidents that pertain to the treatment of LGBTI subjects in this jurisdiction following the legislation on a ban of ‘gay propaganda towards minors’.

I reference to the terms ‘corruption’ and ‘oppression’, with particularity. Though they are both contestable terms, as shown by Leys showing how the reality of corruption can be informed by context, and difficult to isolate with definitive rules or heuristics. For the purposes of this essay, it is sufficient to understand an idea of corruption as an abuse of police powers (this is elaborated on in the second section). On the other hand, I would contend that in the context of abuse directed towards a marginalised group in society, corruption and oppression may appear very similar in how they manifest. However, I consider a theory of oppression like that of Cudd, describing institutionally structured harm, perpetrated on social groups through a variety of direct and indirect forces (material, economic, and psychological). What I infer from models like Cudd’s is that oppression describes more of a systematic and pervasive expression of coercion and abuse, which has internalised and institutionalised the instrumentation of harm; contrasted to corruption which would signify and aberration of the norm.

By comparing these ideas, I propose a simple heuristic for assessing whether a type of abuse is more symptomatic of corruption (a perversion of a normative order) or of oppression (an expression of an institutionalised system of harm), with the former being characterised as acute and irregular, and the latter being chronic and pervasive. Using this heuristic, I will endeavour to demonstrate that the violence of Mardi Gras 2013 is acute and irregular while Russia is evidence of chronic and pervasive, thereby demonstrating a distinction between them.

Background of Incidents

It is not necessary to fully detail the incidents compared, only to provide an overview of police actions. However, I outline the violence experienced by LGBTI groups in both jurisdictions, and make inferences from their comparison.

During the Mardi Gras festival 2013, a number of incidents alleged police brutality and hostility several key events. The most visible was alleged police assault on Jamie Reed on the night of the parade, which was accompanied by a second alleged police assault against Bryn Hutchinson on the same night.

These incidents occurred within a broader range of alleged abuses of police power, particularly towards attendees of large dance parties. A sample of observed police conduct from the Inner City Legal Centre includes:

  • “police not giving warnings or following legal process before asking people about drugs in their possession”;
  • “police singling out stereotypical gay people and gender diverse people to search with dogs”;
  • “police placing hand on dog’s hind to encourage them to sit”; and
  • “dogs not giving any indication for a search but the police perusing the person regardless”.

Compare this to Russia, which gained international attention in passing legislation that banned the “propaganda of nontraditional [sic] sexual relations to minors“, followed by the rise of vigilantism towards LGBTI groups. Russian vigilante groups used social media to lure gay men into fake sexual encounters where they are promptly kidnapped and filmed being beaten, tortured, and humiliated; some reports indicated fatal casualties from these incidents. In recent months, there has been an arrest of a Dutch activist for discussing LGBTI rights in Russia, and violent encounters with LGBTI activists and their counter-protesters at LGBTI protests. Moreover, in many of these incidents, the police have seemingly failed to intervene adequately to prevent that violence.


The biggest difference between these jurisdictions is the source of the violence. In Australia, the source was from the police force: in Russia, the violence was the product of vigilantism, which the police failed to prevent. This describes two distinct caricatures of violence, as comprehended by the broader public. In the Australian context, these describe examples of an excess of power that has directly caused harm. In the Russian context, such incidents describe complicity by the police to allow pervasive harm to be applied. On this consideration alone, it would seem that the Australian incident describes an acute example while the Russian incidents describe a chronic example.

In Australia, the public response to the allegations of violence included protests and two separate investigations. Admittedly, some of this protest attribute the incidents of police violence to broader systematic form of violence, signified by the notorious “All Cops are Bastards” banner, but their voice is not necessarily indicative of the community.

The Russian depiction is starkly different, with a number of descriptions that speak to a growing hostility in Russia towards LGBTI persons, including statements by Russian citizens stating that it has “becom[e] dangerous on the streets” and that “[o]rdinary people consider [homosexuals] criminals”, as well as other comments that create a picture by sound-bites of a traditional population compounding a persecution of LGBTI people with a fear of the West (see here for those quotes).

These comparisons conform my own earlier research (from my own Masters thesis), where I contended that legal regimes in the West have come to frame their LGBTI subjects as minorities entitled with civic rights, contrasted with jurisdictions that reject/oppose Western political hegemony. Under these regimes, LGBTI subjects are characterised as politically dissident and sick, such that:

“attempt[s] to create rights for queer subjects must reconcile itself with the structures of power and agency that produce identity… [and that] … systems of power can alienate and marginalise ‘dissonant’ identities”.

These relationships become immensely important when considering the state’s disposition to a vulnerable group. My earlier research compared the characterisation of LGBTI citizens in different types of statehood. I synthesised the position of a number of international commentators, which observed that a large number of nations were increasingly challenged to reformulate their models of statehood with the fall of the Soviet Union (and the end of bipolarity). Emerging nations needed to emulate Western paradigms for political legitimacy, whilst simultaneously attempting to distinguish a national identity that was distinctive enough from the West. This dichotomy produced a number of states that sought to impose strong statist models, and a consequence of those changes included regulations of sexual and gendered behaviour, emphasising family model that repressed any sexual dissidence. Citizenship emphasised allegiance nationalist symbolism, military-patriarchal power hierarchies that encouraged homosocial bonding but homosexual repression.

Police Culture

Having compared the set of incidents, I now enquire directly into police culture. To do so, I will outline some of the theories of the function of police forces and standard models of police culture, while recognising those critiques. In doing so, I hope to provide a framework of understanding the institutionalism of the police, and from this position consider whether the incidents can be considered irregular or pervasive.

I first ground my argument within a theoretical understanding of the role of the police. I refer to a Weberian model of the state, and its proposed monopoly on the legitimate use of force. In doing so, I argue that the police force serves as an ancillary body of the State, being both legitimised and authorised to use force for the purposes of enforcing the law and maintaining of civil order. In this manner, police corruption can be seen as irregular if it constitutes a breakdown of the normal preservation of law and order. They become oppressive when they are part of an institutionalised breakdown of the same.

Standard Model of Police Culture

In Australia public order is frequently mediated by discretionary police powers: police are vested with discretion on “whether (and how) to investigate a reported crime, which method of initiating proceeding to adopt, whether to detain after arrest, whether or not to grant bail (in most cases), whether or not to charge, what to charge with, and so on” (see pp. 746-747 of this book). I would contend that the use of discretionary powers become a means by which we can understand the norms of police culture. So if the alleged acts of violence by the police are extraordinary use of police power rather than normative misuse they would indicate corruption rather than oppression (and vice versa).

To that end, consider the standard model of police culture, which originated with the works of Wesley where:
“[h]e gave a detailed, vivid description of an organization that operated in a context that was often experienced as hostile. This contributed to isolation, self-protection, secrecy and internal solidarity – all seen as central values among the police officers. This is why they often closed ranks against the outside world” (p. 60 from here).

Academic inquiry has refined this departure point through subsequent studies and synthesised a new standard model of police culture. This updated model characterised police culture being possessed of a sense of mission leading to direct action, which is juxtaposed by a sense of cynicism and suspicion of outsiders, such as the citizenry. This characterisation elaborates on Wesley’s observations, depicting a siege mentality buffeted by strong internal solidarity, even over breaches of rules and regulations.

Russian Police Enforcement

In Russia, the base presumption of police culture seems to have shifted someone. Gerber and Mendelson consider Russian police culture and its intersection with corruption. Rather than a siege mentality as outlined above, they provide a concept of ‘predatory policing’, which “occurs where police officers mainly use their authority to advance their own material interests rather than to fight crime or protect the interests of elites”. They conclude that “[p]ublic encounters with police corruption are at least as common as experiences with police violence, and both are widespread”.

Semukhina and Reynolds provide a comprehensive book titled Understanding the Modern Russian Police. A significant part of their work reviews the pervasiveness of police corruption, and the way they frame the issue describes it in very ubiquitous manner to the point where it is necessary to produce theoretical positions to explain it. Of these positions, they outline four dominant explanations, which include:

  • a persistence of historical Soviet practices of bribery into the modern Russian police institution, where personal favours were exchanged for consumer goods during a period of commodity scarcity;
  • a consequent of deteriorating social and economic disruptions experienced caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and maturing interconnections between former Soviet government officials and organised crime syndicates;
  • a ‘business of corruption’, where corrupt conduct is normalised, and rationalised with arguments that the costs of proper anti-corruption are higher and more riskier; all exacerbated by widespread poverty; and
  • a larger cultural phenomenon within Russia, of pervasive disrespect for the law and broad public tolerance for corruption.

Regardless of which view is taken, they all collectively describe a picture of police corruption that is widespread and affected by deeply problematic socio-economic issues. In fact, an emphasis of structural problems more strongly highlights the views expressed in the second point, which argues that there has been an increased hierarchical organisation, centralisation, and extreme militarisation of the police force; all having led to a lack of independent oversight of police powers and activity. Specifically, the main institution charged with supervising the legality of conduct, the Procuracy, is an adjunct of the criminal police: international reviews of the Procuracy have revealed low levels of confidence in their ability to fight corruption.


What these comparisons show is that despite the Russian and Australian police forces exhibiting a similar societal role, they can manifest significantly different institutional norms. It is to this that it is necessary to consider a number of criticisms of this standard model, citing the standard model’s claims of homogeneity or emphases on problematic police behaviours.

A particularly relevant critical position is Chan, who argues that police culture is the result of “the interaction between the socio-political context of police work and various dimensions of police organizational [sic] knowledge”. She contends that any model of police culture should:

  • account for multiple internal institutional perspectives;
  • recognise the active role that police officers have in being interpreting and producing that culture;
  • be able to consider the culture within broader socio-political contexts; and
  • include formulations for the acceptance and resistance to cultural changes.

This conforms to my earlier claim that the nature and stability of the state has a deep influence on the integrity of a police culture, and whether an act of corruption is institutional or aberrant. Moreover, Terpstra and Schaap earlier critques includes Chan’s critiques and eventually conclude that many of the descriptive characteristics of the police culture model, as well as the individualistic police behaviours, shift significantly in the broader socio-political context of the state norms that their force serves.

Given these positions and a comparison of Australian and Russian police cultures, it follows that there is a strong argument for the incidents of Mardi Gras 2013 to be acute incidents that are not part of a normative police culture in Australia; it follows that the conduct and actions of the Russian police are located within a comparison, it would follow a point of evidence that conforms to my original premise that particular incidents of police conduct can be understood as acute or chronic in reflection to systemic and pervasive views that inform police conduct.


I have compared a set of incidents in both Australia and in Russia. I have sought to determine whether, given the context of the police culture and statehood, if these incidents could be understood as either acute and irregular or chronic and pervasion.

In the instance of Mardi Gras 2013, the incidents, while not the first of their kind in Australia, do not seem to be rooted within a broader framework of police violence and hostility. While they could indicate the beginnings of a pervasive approach, they currently seem isolated, making them acute incidents. Moreover, the standard model of police culture, which is normative for Anglo-American institutes, would indicate that despite a siege mentality such conduct is irregular. In this sense, I would characterise the allegations of Mardi Gras as an example of corruption, in the sense they are a perversion of the norm.

In the instance of Russian, the incidents of violence are partly attributable to the complicity of the police, which are continuing and repeated; the police only seeming to respond to prosecute vigilantism after international attention. Moreover, these incidents exist within a broader context of state-persecution of LGBTI subjects, and a broad culture of Russian police corruption that is itself regarded as widespread and pervasion. In this sense, I would characterise the issues reported in Russia as an example of oppression, in the sense that they are systematically entrenched and internalised into police culture.



Hare-Clarke Oz 2013

I previously conducted a thought experiment based one what Australia might look like under a particular configuration of the Hare-Clarke system. While it makes a lot of assumptions, it shows how the landscape would change under a system that is more proportionally representative in the upper and lower houses. To review the original post on what Hare-Clarke 2010 would look like, refer to this link: On the Campaign Trail.

The Results

Hare-Clark Oz 2013

The parenthetical number provides a comparison to the previously modelled results.

ALP: Australian Labor Party – 55 Seats (lose 10 seats )
CDP: Christian Democrat Party (Fred Nile’s Group) – 4 Seats (gain 2 seats)
FFP: Family First Party – 4 Seats (no change)
GRN: The Australian Greens – 17 Seats (lose 3 seats)
KAP: Katter’s Australia Party – 4 Seat (new party)
LP: Liberal Party* – 44 Seats (lose 6 seats) – including Country Liberal Party
LNP: Liberal National Party* – 13 Seat (amalgamated party)
NP: National Party* – 5 Seats (lose 1 seat) – note the WA Nationals are not formally part of the Coalition.
PUP: Palmer United Party* – 4 Seats (new party)

IND: Independent – 1 Seats (Wilke)
* Formally part of the Coalition, producing a total of 61 Seats.

What this model shows is that even with a huge swing towards the Coalition, the surge of the minor parties, particularly KAP and PUP, would prevent any party from holding government in their own right. This begs the question of what kind of Coalition is likely to arise, and what would be the pathways to forming government.

The smallest coalition available, presuming that the Liberal-National alliance is treated as a single party, is to form a Grand Coalition with either the ALP (as a Grand Coalition) or the Greens. Of these two, the former is most likely for a range of reasons, but would probably have long-term political fall out; particularly as it would make the Greens the Opposition. It would be some rather amazing set of negotiations that would enable the Liberal-National Parties to form government with the Greens, and likely be a toxic relationship for all involved.

Far more likely, the Coalition would seek to bring the Christian Democrats and Family First into their fold, which might almost be a given as they only get up preferences from the Liberal Party. However, this still places them at 69 seats only. In order to form government, they would have to acquire support from both KAP and PUP, which would give them 76 seats exactly. This would be an incredibly fraught and politically contentious alliance, which would necessitate negotiations between no less than 7 distinct parties, and at least 4.5 roughly distinct political ideologies. Indeed, while an alliance with the Greens would be more toxic this deal is likely to be even more toxic from instabilities, and require making increasing concessions to the religious right and other factions that don’t agree with the neoliberal economics of the Coalition.

For Labor, the pathway to government is even easier, presuming they were willing to take a jump to the left. By forming an alliance with the Greens, they would be sitting on 72 seats, and would be able to form government simply by bring either PUP or Katter and Wilke on board. Given both Katter and Palmer’s party splintered off from the Liberal-National alliance, they might consider this plausible. Admittedly Katter would likely refuse to participate in any government that involved the Greens, but based on Palmer’s semi-friendly preferences with the Greens, a Labor-Green-Palmer Coalition would be feasible.

New South Wales

Hare-Clark NSW 2013

NSW Inner M: ALP 5 (-2); CDP 1 (+1); GRN 2 (0); LP 7 (+1)
NSW Outer M: ALP 4 (-1); CDP 1 (+1); GRN 1 (0); LP 5 (0)
NSW Province: ALP 3 (0); CDP 1 (+1); GRN 1 (-1); LP 3 (0)
NSW Rural: ALP 4 (-1); CDP 1 (0); GRN 2 (+1); IND 0 (-1); LP 2 (-1); NP 4 (+1); PUP 1 (+1)

NSW Total: ALP 16 (-4); CDP 4 (+3); GRN 6 (0); IND 0 (-1); LP 17 (0); NP 3 (+1); PUP 1 (+1)


Hare-Clark Vic

Vic Inner M: ALP 4 (0); GRN 2 (+1); LP 3 (-1)
Vic Outer M: ALP 7 (-1); FFP 1 (+1); GRN 2 (0); LP 6 (0)
Vic Province: ALP 2 (0); GRN 1 (0); LP 1 (0)
Vic Rural: ALP 3 (0); FFP 1 (+1); GRN 1 (0); LP 3 (0); NP 0 (-1)

Vic Rural: ALP 16 (-1); FFP 2 (+2); GRN 6 (+1); LP 13 (-1); NP 0 (-1)


Hare-Clark Qld 2013

QLD Inner M: ALP 2 (+1); GRN 0 (-1); LP 1 (0)
QLD Outer M: ALP 4; FFP 0 (-1); GRN 0 (-1); LNP 4 (+1); PUP 1 (+1)
QLD Province: ALP 2 (-1); FFP 0 (-1); GRN 0 (-1); KAP 1 (+1); LNP 3 (+1)
QLD Rural: ALP 3 (-1); FFP 0 (-1); GRN 0 (-1); KAP 2 (+2); LNP 5 (0); PUP 1 (+1)

QLD Total: ALP 11 (-1); FFP 0 (-3); GRN 0 (-4); LP 14 (+3); PUP 2 (+2)

Western Australia

Hare-Clark WA 2013

WA Inner M: ALP 2 (0); CDP 0 (-1); GRN 1 (0); LP 3 (+1)
WA Outer M: ALP 1 (-1); GRN 1 (0); LP 2 (0); NP 1 (+1)
WA Province: ALP 1 (0)
WA Rural: ALP 1 (-1); GRN 1 (+1); LP 1 (0)

WA Total: ALP 5 (0); CDP 0 (-1); GRN 3 (+1); LP 6 (+1)

South Australia

Hare-Clark SA 2013

SA Inner M: ALP 1 (-1); FFP 1 (+1); GRN 1; LP 1
SA Outer M: ALP 1 (0); GRN 1 (0); LP 1 (0)
SA Rural: ALP 1 (0); FFP 1 (0); GRN 0 (-1); LP 2 (+1)

SA Total: ALP 3 (-1); FFP 2 (+1); GRN 2 (+1); LP 4 (+1)


Hare-Clark Tas 2013

Tas IM: IND (Wilke)
Tas OM: ALP 1 (0)
Tas P: ALP 0 (-1); LP 1 (+1)
TAS R: ALP 1 (0); LP 1 (0)

Tas Total: ALP 2 (-1); LP 2 (+1); IND (Wilke) (0)

The Territories

Hare-Clark Ter 2013

ACT: ALP 1 (0); LP 1 (0)

NT IM: CLP 1 (0)
NT R: ALP 1 (0)

The Lover that Dare Not Sheath His Mien

This article is a polemic. It speaks about unprotected sex practices relevant to the gay community and for men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM). The point of this article is not to serve as an apologetic, nor to serve as a health warning, but to unpack the motivations that shape people’s sexual behavior. This article does not advocate for unsafe sex practices, but rather to address the silence on on a highly taboo subject. The longer this conversation remains unspoken, the greater the numbers who take uninformed risks.

What is being discussed here refers not just to individuals who occasionally conduct unsafe sex, but also individuals that live it as part of their lifestyle (even integrating it into their identity), whether they are HIV+ or not, and even people who actively seek HIV infection (bug-chasing). It’s a complicated subject, and the only way to speak to it is to consider the convergence of cultural, sexual, medical, and even historical influences, rather than the individuals themselves.

… there is a limited ability for the criminal system to offset risky sexual behaviours. A stronger and more effective approach would be to address the matter principally as a public health issue and one probably best supported by community development.

The Criminalisation of HIV Transmission: Global Comparisons

Across the world, there are a range of laws relevant to the transmission of HIV, which all turn around the ability to provide informed consent. For the purposes of this article, I am going to limit the exploration of this issue to Anglo-American contexts as it makes for an easier point of comparison. Generally speaking though, most jurisdictions regard an act that either deliberately or recklessly transmits HIV, and so the issue hinged on whether an individual knowingly (whether intentionally or not) contributed to transmission. There are three main contexts that I would like to compare to give a sense around how we ascribe criminality to these matters: Australia, Canada, and the UK. I choose these three nations as a comparison, because they all share a very similar judicial systems, but also because they have inherited the British colonial legacy.

Australia generally regards HIV transmission under both criminal law and public health law, but specifically in New South Wales, the intentional transmission of HIV a criminal act considered grievous bodily harm (GBH), and there are additional requirements to disclose HIV status to potential sex partners.

Canada has some similarities, though lacking any specific HIV statues. However, there are several cases that have set precedents for how these issues are ascribed. R. v. Mabior, (2012) SCC 47 attributes criminal liability to individuals for failing to disclose their serostatus, and despite being subject to significant antiretroviral therapy and despite intermittent condom use, had not transmitted HIV in that period. The ruling found that these actions constituted sexual assault, due to the lack of informed consent on the part of his partners. This, combined with earlier rulings, has established a precedent that means a combination of failing to disclose serostatus and failing to use safer sex measures constitute a sufficiently fraudulent act to vitiate the consent given, transforming the act into sexual assault.

In similar vein, the UK has seven convictions on record for HIV transmission, which pertain to the reckless infliction of grievous bodily harm. What is interesting in the UK situation is that the numerous cases provide a series of comparisons, making determinations around different thresholds of consent. The UK courts have variously found defendants guilty for reckless behaviour in situations where they knowingly were diagnoses as being HIV+ but failed to inform or take protective measures (much like in Canada and Austalia). In one of the two cases where the issue went to appeal, the judgement opined that there may be different standards of consent for those within a committed relationship, compared to those engaging in casual sex. In the other case, there was a specific distinction made between assuming some general risk with casual unprotected sex, and the informed risk relevant to the disclosure of HIV-status.

The Culpability of Desire

Since the birth of clinical medicine, medical thought has sought to produce a philosophy of the human subject and how one should live, but this internal humanism mutates through the new medical technology. This medicalisation was a rendering of natural phenomena into a medical and authoritative framework. It increases the scope of human phenomena encompassed by medicine through a paradigm of disease and treatment. Thus, medicine is discursive and empowers medical professionals as authorities and patients as dependants with little valued medical input. The consequence being the ontology of the human became increasingly produced through medical imperatives. This discourse turns upon a dichotomy of rendering issues into being either normal or pathological, which subsequently frames the issue of public health as risk management, using statistical analyses of probabilities to construct a notion of morality and health. This framework consequently is co-opted by legal thinking, which merely reinforces the issue of legal personhood as being an embodied phenomenon, which simply embeds legal responsibility onto bodily acts.

What we can see on the comparison of these issues is the significance of informed consent to risk, however the tendency to categorise the act as GBH means that consent may not qualify as a sufficient defense, even informed consent. The comparison can be made to R v Brown (Anthony), where consensual sadomasochism resulting in significant injury still constituted a criminal act that was not vitiated by the consent of the participants, nor the lack of complaints filed by the same.

Considering these are criminal matters, particularly considering that in some instances the State intervenes directly with the private conduct between individuals, it is making a determination around the management of HIV transmission as having a public interest.

What we see here is an attempt by three comparative legal systems in relation to determining culpability, or legal responsibility. On these matters, Kane Race seeks to frame how and why these judiciaries and legislatures apportion responsibility for HIV transmission. In particular he notes that despite advances in biomedical research on HIV transmission, there is an increasing tendency for these bodies to confer culpability on discrete individuals, often signified through bodily acts. Specifically, the more the virus becomes framed in the context of medical research, the more that such bodies attribute responsibility to bodies (and thus the person embodied within). That there is insufficient distinction in these matters between the legal person and the body they inhabit is a direct result of the medicalisation of this matter, and one that erodes the complex socio-cultural impetus underlying seual relations, as the primary vector for transmission.

Considering these are criminal matters, particularly considering that in some instances the State intervenes directly with the private conduct between individuals, it is making a determination around the management of HIV transmission as having a public interest. This is where it gets really complicated, because while it is easy to conceive of HIV as a public health concern, it is so intertwined with the individuals who are HIV+ and their sexual practices that the socio-cultural dimension cannot be set aside.

Of interest, Buris points to this, stating that the experience of being HIV+ is viscerally experienced, and that the criminalisation and stigmatisation of HIV are so closely aligned. Not only can being HIV+ dislocate people from their existing social networks, but that the criminalising of HIV transmission creates a strong disincentives to neither test nor disclose. In his work, he show how HIV exposure is not deterred by criminalisation: one third of high-risk sexual subjects never test, preferring not to know their status and thereby making them feel absolved of social and legal responsibilities. Many HIV+ persons fail to disclose their status to primary partners, with only one-half disclosing to casual partners.

Subcultures of Risk and Dissent

Shernoff once wrote a seminal text on the subject called Without Condoms, and in it he explored the psychology surrounding this issue. As a sexual behaviour, barebacking is contextual, to the point that it mostly describes a specific experience of unprotected sex. It is heavily taboo and mostly refers to male-to-male sex that is casual and/or anonymous.

He noted that the emergence of barebacking emerged out of a tension between gay civil rights movements embracing sexual hedonism as statement of sexual liberation, and a slow and resentful reaction to accept the reality of the health risk epidemic created by HIV. Specifically, he highlighted a number of factors that inform the desires and choices regarding barebacking. These can include aversions to condom use or other safe sex, the ‘sanctity’ of a committed relationship, alienation from mainstream gay identities that produce a desire for deviant experiences, internalised homophobia, fatalism of eventual infection, and substance use.

In building on this another scholar named Joffe, in her work ‘Intimacy and Love in Late Modern Conditions: Implications for Unsafe Sex Practices‘, identified a strong correlation between unprotected sex practices within the formulation of committed relationships between same-sex male partners. Primarily, this signified the emotional ties experienced in this transition: she cited studies that suggested that condom use signified a given act of sex act as public and impersonal, while the lack of condom use construed the act as personal and intimate. In this way, she argued that the condom has come to signify a barrier against intimacy.

Specifically, she stated that these interconnections do not describe an aversion to condom use because of a sense of boundedness or limitation, but rather a desire for the emotional tie viscerally experienced in seminal transmission, which heralds the achievement of emotional intimacy.

Specifically, she stated that these interconnections do not describe an aversion to condom use because of a sense of boundedness or limitation, but rather a desire for the emotional tie viscerally experienced in seminal transmission, which heralds the achievement of emotional intimacy. That this experience can be so highly desired, is one of the factors Joffe attributes to overriding our instinctive drive for the preservation of our own health. Moreover, she notes that attitudes towards sex inform condom use overall. Where sex signifies an expression of love and intimacy, than the discontinuing condom use signifies the establishment of trust, which transforms the relationship from the casual to the stable, while continued use undermines the sense of exclusivity and commitment.

Joffe attempts to place this issue in the context of modern society, where there are increasing levels of anonymity and environmental variations: the continuous flux of stimuli intensifies emotional states, which subsequently sanctifies our private and intimate spaces. That is, the private arena becomes authentic, and the public arena creates alienation, meaning that the establishment of authentic relationships through intimate bonds becomes a means for us of establishing mental and emotional integrity in the face of this onslaught.

The Stigmata of Faceless Men

Drawing from both Shernoff and Joffe, and moving beyond the context of relationship building, there is still a large arena where risk-taking occurs, and while some of these practices are attempts to confer intimacy on anonymous encounters, there is a much more complicated range of motivations at play. Effectively, we are talking about a large range of social and personal issues that feed into sexual appetites, which consequently over-ride preservation instincts. Some are inherently self-destructive and nihilistic, while others merely result in self-harm. Ironically, one of the greatest social pressures that intersect with these issues is the stigmatisation barebacking because of its direct association to HIV transmission.

A positive HIV status symbolical carries a loss of sexual liberty, and HIV+ people have frequently reported experiences of becoming dislocated from the mainstream community groups, and thereby find support and solidarity in other similarly stigmatised people. Consequently, this act of separation merely helps to reinforce risk-taking sexual behaviours into a sense of identity because it becomes the means of participation in groups that do accept them. However, group participation doesn’t account for individuals who have casual attitudes towards barebacking. As Shernoff notes, they include a various range of issues, including ambivalence towards the health implications, and fatalism experienced regarding STI infection.

Shernoff conducted a study of those who engaged in barebacking behaviours, and saw that even though a fairly large number of the men sampled were willing to risk infection, the actual number of those who intentionally sought to transmit the virus was infinitesimally small. Of those who deliberately sought to become positive their motivations were a complex tangle of conscious and unconscious motivations. In some circumstances, the anxiety experienced over infection was so intense as to be debilitating. To then proactively control the situation in which they become positive and to finally have concrete knowledge of their status gave them a sense of empowerment they lacked from the state of limbo created by uncertainty of status.

Of Biopolitics and Laws

A lot of ground has been covered in this article, ranging from the legal reasoning behind criminalisation of acts relating to HIV transmission. However, the legislation of a criminal act is a very binary one, either something is criminal or it is not. If the matter is unclear, the court system is required to produce a finding one way or the other and cannot leave the matter ambiguous. However, it does show that there are some complex social phenomena and interactions that the law has difficulty accommodating these nuances and thus defers to the reductive medical models. This means that currently, the law is framing the matter almost purely in terms of its interactions with bodies, rather than with people; while there is some tendency to recognise the agency available to people in their sex acts, it still frames the criminality of the act through the way it is embodied.

However, it is clear when the sociological and psychological dimensions are taken into account, that there exists a much broader ambit of motivations and interactions that are affecting the diversity of choices and encounters around sexual behaviour. More, that there is a limited ability for the criminal system to offset risky sexual behaviours. A stronger and more effective approach would be to address the matter principally as a public health issue and one probably best supported by community development.

On the Campaign Trail – Part 2

As we go into the final week of the Australian federal election, I will attempt to write several shorter pieces, each relating to an aspect of ethics (and corruption) within an election. The intention is to provide a single piece each week day, they will necessarily be a little bit shorter.

A Hare-Clarke Australia

Today’s post is something of a thought experiment. I have long wondered what an Australian House of Representatives would look like using an electoral system like the Hare-Clarke system, which is what is used in the state elections for both Tasmania and the ACT. Since it’s incredibly late for me, and I’ve spend most of my blog time crunching the numbers on this, this will be a much shorter article than normal.

My reasoning goes that the Federal system is supposed to be a large centralised polity, but one which responds to significant national issues. The fact that lower house seats are tethered to discrete geographies is something of a relic of 19th Century democracy, where the sort of direct representation was necessary in the context of poor telecommunications. However, in the 21st Century, communities are being decreasingly bound along the discrete geographic lines that the electoral divisions produce. Moreover, they are dependent on the first past the post system, which is one of the features that reinforces the dominance of the two party system.

Increasingly, we are seeing political communities wrapped around partisan lines, which transcend partly over divisional boundaries. As a population we are also increasingly mobile and better connected than we have been in our entire history. Certainly, the rise of the internet is impacting the way we configure our communities. Without being able to go into greater depth than that tonight, these reasons all allude to why I feel something similar to the Hare-Clarke system is more reflective of the types of democracies relevant to a digital and information age.


The biggest challenge I encountered in trying to decide on how to create a Hare-Clarke Australia was by what system should I amalgamate the existing divisions. The current determination of zones is a complex demographic and geographic exercise beyond my skills. To that end I chose a rather artificial, but I feel elegant, solution. Namely, all divisions in Australia are categories into on of four demographics: Inner Metropolitan, Outer Metropolitan, Provincial, and Rural. According to the Australian Electoral Commission:

  • Inner metropolitan, means located in a capital city and comprising well-established, built-up suburbs.
  • Outer metropolitan, means located in capital cities and containing areas of more recent urban expansion.
  • Provincial are divisions with a majority of enrolment in major provincial cities.
  • Rural are divisions without a majority of enrolment in major provincial cities.

I believe this choice to be a sensible one, because these demarcations still represent something of the distinctive lifestyles and communities found across Australia. Though it would be erroneous to say that the concerns in Newcastle and Wollongong are identical merely because they are both provincial, they have far more in common with each other that is relevant to Federal polity, than other demographics. I felt that this demarcation would help reflect a diversity of community needs and voices.

Of course, there are some States and Territories that either lack some of these categories, or contain only one example of these categories. Of note both the ACT’s divisions are Inner Metropolitan, so I treated them as one electorate. Tasmania has five electorates, but only one of Inner Metropolitan, Outer Metropolitan, and Provincial; Western Australia has only one Provincial division; and the Northern Territory has one Inner Metropolitan and one Rural division. In these instances I just used the result from the 2010 election, because that was simpler and those divisions would effectively be a first past the post system. Finally, South Australia has no Provincial Divisions.

In terms of determining preference slows, I did a big cheat. I basically allocated preferences according to the Single Transferable Vote method, as per the Senate, but allocated all of those flows according to the Group Ticket Vote preferences for each state of that year. Naturally, in order to make an accurate picture of the Hare-Clarke system, I could use the AEC’s data on preference flows for each polling booth, but that prospect is incredibly daunting and even this method took a fair amount of time.

The Results

Hare-Clark Oz

ALP: Australian Labor Party – 65 Seats
CDP: Christian Democrat Party (Fred Nile’s Group) – 2 Seats
CLP: Country Liberal Party* – 1 Seat
FFP: Family First Party – 4 Seats
GRN: The Australian Greens – 20 Seats
IND: Independent – 2 Seats
LP: Liberal Party* – 50 Seats
NP: National Party* – 6 Seats

* Formally part of the Coalition

New South Wales

Hare-Clark NSW

NSW Inner M: ALP 7; GRN 2; LP 6
NSW Outer M: ALP 5; GRN 1; LP 5
NSW Province: ALP 3; GRN 2; LP 3
NSW Rural: ALP 5; CDP 1; GRN 1; IND 1 (Oakeshott); LP 3; NP 3

NSW Total: ALP 20; CDP 1; GRN 6; IND 1; LP 17; NP 3

The Greens gain a seat on quota in Inner Metro, the remainder are from preference flows from Labor.
CDP gains a seats from Liberal Party and other minor party preferences.





Hare-Clark Vic

Vic Inner M: ALP 4; GRN 1; LP 4
Vic Outer M: ALP 8; GRN 2; LP 6
Vic Province: ALP 2; GRN 1; LP 1
Vic Rural: ALP 3; GRN 1; LP 3; NP 1

Vic Rural: ALP 17; GRN 5; LP 14; NP 1

Greens gain seats on quota in the Inner and Outer Metro areas, and the remaining on preference flows from Labor.






Hare-Clark Qld

QLD Inner M: ALP 1; GRN 1; LP 1
QLD Outer M: ALP 4; FFP 1; GRN 1; LP 2; NP 1
QLD Province: ALP 3; FFP 1; GRN 1; LP 2
QLD Rural: ALP 4; FFP 1; GRN 1; LP 4; NP 1

QLD Total: ALP 12; FFP 3; GRN 4; LP 2; NP 2

All Family First seat are gained through Liberal-National preference flows.
All Greens seats are gained through Labor preference flows.





Western Australia

Hare-Clark WA

WA Inner M: ALP 2; CDP 1; GRN 1; LP 2;
WA Outer M: ALP 2; GRN 1; LP 2;
WA Province: ALP 1
WA Rural: ALP 2; LP 1

WA Total: ALP 7; CDP 1; GRN 2; LP 5

The Christian Democrats gain a seat through a number of minor party preference flows.

The Greens gain seats through preference flows from the Labor Party respectively.


South Australia

Hare-Clark SA

SA Inner M: ALP 2; GRN 1; LP 1;
SA Outer M: ALP 1; GRN 1; LP 1;
SA Rural: ALP 1; FFP 1; GRN 1; LP 1;

SA Total: ALP 4; FFP 1; GRN 1; LP 3;

All seats gained by Family First and the Greens are dependent on preference flows from the Liberal Party and Labor respectively.




Hare-Clark Tas

Tas IM: IND (Wilke)
Tas OM: ALP 1
Tas P: ALP 1
TAS R: ALP 1; LP 1


The Territories

Hare-Clark Ter

ACT: ALP 1; LP 1

ALP elected on quota, LP depend on preferences.


Beyond Binaries

Today’s article is actually a policy brief on some recent changes in the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) in Australia. This brief has been prepared for business and other organisations, with a view to give them some grounding on the legislative changes so that they might be able to affect best practice and avoid causing both direct and indirect discrimination.

You can download the brief here:

Beyond Binaries

You are welcome to share this document, but I would prefer if you would link back to this site as the source.

Are MOOCs a Smart Investment?

Today’s article is actually a research paper on the comparative economic benefits of forms of eLearning and base funding within the higher education sector in Australia.

You can download the brief here:

eLearning Economics

You are welcome to share this document, provided that it is linked back to this source.