Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘rape’

Ched Evans – it’s not about SUFC and it’s not about football

Trigger warning: rape

In case you haven’t heard of Mr Chedwyn Evans, let me give you a bit of background. A Welsh footballer who played for his national side as well as various league clubs, he was charged in 2011 with rape after a friend took an intoxicated 19 year old woman back to his hotel room and later invited Evans to join him. Evans gained entry to the hotel room by lying to the night porter, later leaving by an emergency exit in an attempt to keep his presence a secret. The jury acquitted Evans’ friend MacDonald, who had taken the victim back to the hotel. However they found Evans guilty of rape after the prosecution successfully argued that the victim, who suffered memory loss due to her level of intoxication, would have been unable to consent to sex with him.

Evans applied for leave to appeal twice in 2012 and was refused both times, with one judge quoted as saying “We can see no possible basis which would justify us interfering with the verdict of the jury”. In 2014 Evans appealed to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, an independent body whose responsibility is to examine whether miscarriages of justice have taken place. Fewer than 1% of cases investigated by the CCRC result in the Court of Appeal upholding an appeal.

In October 2014 Ched Evans was released from prison after serving half of his 5 year sentence. Soon afterwards the Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) asked Sheffield United football club (SUFC) to allow Evans to train at their ground as they were the last club that employed him. SUFC agreed to this, sparking public outrage. Several club patrons resigned in protest and 2 sponsors made their displeasure known, with one threatening to remove their sponsorship if Evans was re-signed to the club. In addition the Olympic gold medallist, Jessica Ennis-Hill, demanded that the club remove her name from their stands if they decided to employ Evans once again.

On the 20th November 2014 SUFC announced that they had withdrawn permission for Evans to train at their ground. In part of their statement they said “As noted in previous statements from the Club, the legal system of this country provides for both the punishment and the rehabilitation of every person who has been found guilty of a crime. Sheffield United will not be used to promote the view that professional footballers should be treated differently, as has been the want of certain sections of the media and various commentators….The Club is aware that Ched Evans is pursuing legal recourse via the Criminal Cases Review Commission in the determination he has to clear his name. We trust that he will be afforded a fair hearing”.

The PFA have since released their own statement, part of which stated “We maintain our general position that the courts determine punishments and a return to society and a contribution to the community through employment is a key element of rehabilitation. We do not agree that society should impose different rules for footballers which go beyond the position of the law. In that regard, it is hoped that Ched will be given an opportunity at another club to return to the job he is trained to do”.

Both SUFC and the PFA seem to have completely missed the point of the recent protests. It has nothing to do with treating footballers differently, nothing to do with Sheffield United and in fact has nothing to do with football at all. It has to do with a convicted and unrepentant rapist being allowed to return to the career where thousands of people, including children, look up to him. If Evans had admitted his crime and shown genuine remorse then this probably wouldn’t be an issue. But you cannot rehabilitate a criminal who refuses to acknowledge that they have done wrong. It just doesn’t work like that.

SUFC’s hope that Evans “will be afforded a fair hearing” seems particularly disingenuous when you consider that he has attempted to deny wrongdoing 3 times already through the British legal system and has failed each time. Most people would consider that he has already had a fair hearing. In addition, Evans has so far failed to even attempt to rein in his supporters, many of whom abuse and threaten women who speak against Evans. This hardly helps his case. Neither does the fact that so few rapists are ever convicted of their crimes – approximately 1%. What are the chances that the police, CPS, jury and multiple appeal judges all managed to convict an innocent man of rape? Infinitesimally small.

I have no problem with Evans seeking employment. What I, and many others, do have a problem with is an unrepentant rapist continuing in a role where he is idolised. If he had been in many other careers he would have been barred from continuing his employment, and rightly so; however he would be free to seek other employment just as he is now. He hasn’t taken that option though, instead attempting to continue his life as it was before. Of course this isn’t a choice offered to his victim, who after being abused, hounded, named and hunted by Evans’ fans has had to change her name and move away from her family for her own safety.

By even considering allowing Evans to resume his career, the PFA and FA are making a rapist’s job more important than the experience of not only his victim but all victims of sexual violence. They seem to be saying that Evans’ ability to kick a ball is more important than a woman’s right to go about her life unmolested. And that’s what all the furore has been about. Not SUFC, not football, but a woman’s right not to be raped and the inappropriateness of a rapist as a role model.

Not all men!

Recently there seems to have been a lot more discussion of feminism, sexism and misogyny online than usual. This is partly due to stories in the press; these include the trial of Oscar Pistorius for killing his girlfriend, the rapist Ched Evans reportedly being offered a £3m contract with Sheffield United Football Club before he’s even released from prison and the murder of numerous individuals by Elliot Rodgers after posting hate-filled and misogynistic videos online.

It’s also due to more and more women speaking out about their experiences. The Everyday Sexism Project has shocked a lot of people, featuring as it does the uncomfortable, unpleasant and often harrowing experiences of millions of women and girls across the world. In addition to this, several recent hashtags on Twitter have also been eye-opening for many – I suggest you have a look at #Grabbed and #WhyIDidntReport in particular.

According to the World Health Organisation over a third of women (35% to be exact) worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. A third. In some countries girls are more likely to be raped than they are to attend school; whatever country you live in I can pretty much guarantee that you know at least one woman, probably more, who has suffered rape, sexual assault or physical violence.

When I started university I shared a flat with 4 other women. Of the 5 of us, aged just 18, 2 of us had been raped and 1 had been sexually abused by a family member. And we’re not unusual. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in England and Wales an average of 85,000 women are raped every year while over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted. Of course, these figures are only for those cases where the victim reported the attack; it is widely understood that there are many more cases that go unreported, as this well-known graphic shows:

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In addition to this, 2 women per week in the UK are murdered by their male partner; in the first 4 months of 2014 over 50 women in the UK had been killed by men. That’s one every 2.5 days, roughly. In addition to this there’s the harassment – being groped, having comments made about our appearance, verbal abuse when a man’s advances are declined. It’s not just adult women who experience this either; a survey for Girl Guiding UK found that 70% of girls aged 13 and over report sexual harassment at school or college.

So why am I writing about all of this again? It’s because I’m increasingly seeing the phrase “Not all men!” cropping up in discussions about male violence against women. It seems that many are insulted by the perceived implication that all men are violent, evil, rapists and murderers. It’s those people that I really want to read this post. Because you see, when we’re talking about issues like male violence and I refer to “men” (and obviously I can only speak for myself) I’m not saying that all men are the same. That would be ridiculous. What I’m doing is referring to men as a sociological group, in the same way that I might refer to the middle-class or the white population. And men, as a class, are a threat to women, as a class. What I’m not saying is that any individual man is a threat. With me so far? Good.

When women talk about instances of misogyny, their experiences of rape, sexual assault and harassment, the “not all men” should be implicit. Obviously not all men rape, assault, grope or harrass women – do we really have to say it every single time? Seriously? Because the fact is, although the men who abuse women are the minority, they are the ones under discussion. Not the good guys. And if we have to qualify every single discussion of misogyny and abuse with “Not all men” for fear of offending someone, then the discussion may well stall and be stifled. And it’s a discussion that needs to be had by everyone, whatever their gender.

Some men find it hard not to feel personally insulted when “men as a class” are being discussed. I get that, I really do. I sometimes feel the same when I see discussions among the trans* community about how they’re treated by cis people, or discussions by people of colour about their experiences at the hands of white people. But do you know what? It’s a group of people relating their experiences at the hands of the dominant group as a class. It’s not an attack on me personally. Similarly when we’re discussing misogyny, abuse and male violence against women, it’s not an attack on any of the good guys either. So please stop yelling “Not all men!'” and join in the conversation instead.

Move the misery magazines

Taking my 4 year old daughter shopping has become a bit of a minefield lately. Not because she doesn’t behave; she’s always good and enjoys helping to choose what we’re going to eat that week. It’s not because she pesters for things either (although sometimes she does, of course – she’s 4!). No, it’s because of magazines like this:

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And this:

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Although she’s not yet 5, my daughter is an exceptionally fluent reader and these magazines are almost always placed at child height in supermarkets. Not just in the magazine section either but also at tills. Is this appropriate? No. I don’t think any reasonable person would consider that this kind of trash magazine should be placed where children can see them, yet in some shops not only are they at child height but they’re right next to the comics. Soft porn magazines like Nuts, Zoo, FHM and their ilk have been covered in shops for a while now, so why not magazines that gleefully publish misery porn?

Here are some more examples from the last couple of days:

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Are these really the messages that our children should be exposed to?

“My toddler, killed as she watched Peppa Pig”
“Drowned in the bath by his killer gran”
“My brother raped me but I still love him”
“Paedo uncle abused me: little girls always lie”
“Burnt at the stake by jealous mum-in-law”
“I threw my baby out the window”
“Forced to kill my dad”
“Rapist lover snatched my sick baby”

Don’t these headlines just sicken you? It’s a constant barrage of misery and pain. Personally I find these magazines extremely distasteful and repulsive. But to a child they’re just utterly bewildering, with concepts that they’ve never heard of (“Mummy, what does rape mean?”) or shouldn’t have to consider (“Mummy, was the toddler killed because she was naughty?”). I don’t want my children to know about these things until they’re considerably older. To be completely honest, I really don’t understand why anyone would want to read these magazines. But there seem to be more and more of them these days, so presumably a large swathe of the population finds them simply delightful. Each to their own, I suppose. Whatever your opinion on these publications though, I doubt that there are many who would disagree that it’s wrong for children to be exposed to these horrific headlines.

When the UK group Child Eyes started out they were campaigning against sexualised images being displayed where children can see them (magazine covers, newspapers, billboards etc). Now however they’ve also begun to campaign for this type of magazine to be stocked out of a child’s line of sight. One British supermarket, Morrisons, has already agreed to take steps towards this; I really hope that other retailers soon follow.

Is International Women’s Day really necessary?

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. This is an annual event and every year there are people who ask, is it really necessary? Isn’t it sexist to have a day dedicated solely to women? Women have equality, what more do they want? So this year I want to explain why I believe that International Women’s Day is not just necessary but essential.

We live in a world where women perform 66% of the world’s work and produce 50% of its food, but earn only 10% of its income and own 1% of its property. This is easy to dismiss as being a problem that’s only relevant to developing countries where manual labour is far more common, but the fact is that even in the UK women are paid significantly less than their male counterparts. Women are also a rare sight in boardrooms and on the benches of Parliament. We live in a world where the vast majority of lawmakers are male and frequently pass laws restricting the rights a woman has over her own body.

In recent years global awareness of female genital mutilation (FGM – also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting) has increased. This is not a procedure akin to male circumcision, which involves the removal of the foreskin only. FGM involves the removal of part or all of female external genitalia, often without anaesthesia and without any medical need. Indeed, it’s difficult to conceive of a medical condition that would require a young girl to have her clitoris or labia cut away, or her vagina stitched closed, without anaesthesia or pain relief but this is often the reality. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 140 million women and girls worldwide have suffered FGM. Again, this is easy to dismiss as an issue that only exists elsewhere but it’s estimated that even in the UK 20,000 girls are at risk of FGM every year.

Everywhere we turn, women are objectified and treated as men’s property and sexual playthings. WHO figures show that over a third (35.6%) of women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. In some places girls are more likely to be raped than they are to attend school. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that in England and Wales an average of 85,000 women are raped every year while over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted. This is merely the tip of the iceberg as it is believed that there are many cases which are never reported. The Everyday Sexism project has exposed the frighteningly commonplace harassment that women and girls in the UK (there are now Everyday Sexism projects in other countries too) suffer on a daily basis. It makes sobering reading, as does the survey carried out in 2013 by Girl Guiding UK. Shocking statistics from this survey include the fact that 60% of females aged 11-21 have had comments about their appearance shouted at them in school and 62% have been shouted at or whistled at in the street. Even worse, “70 per cent of girls aged 13 and over report more intrusive forms of sexual harassment at school or college, including: sexual jokes or taunts (51 per cent), seeing images of girls or women that made them uncomfortable (39 per cent), unwanted sexual attention (28 per cent) and unwanted touching (28 per cent)”.

It’s not just sexual harassment, assault and rape that women face. Research carried out by the charity Women’s Aid concluded that in the UK an average of 2 women per week are killed by their current or former male partner. According to data gathered by @CountDeadWomen (a valuable and eye-opening project on Twitter) 22 UK women were killed through suspected male violence in the first two months of 2014 (that’s roughly one woman killed every 2.5 days).

I’m not denying that men suffer sexual assault, rape, domestic abuse and harassment. Of course they do and these incidents are just as unacceptable as those where women are the victims, but these cases are a very small proportion of the overall figures. Personally I have suffered rape, sexual assault, abuse at the hands of a boyfriend and harassment as I go about my daily life. I don’t want this to be my daughter’s experience; I don’t want her or my son to grow up in a society where the oppression, abuse, harassment and violence that women suffer is so pervasive that to some people it is not only the norm but it is becoming invisible.

(In anticipation of the inevitable comments, yes there is an International Men’s Day; it’s on November 19th. Now read this post again and ask yourself why that was the first thing you thought worthy of a comment).

The Ian Watkins case – is rape ever ok?

Trigger warning: child abuse, rape, sexual assault.

Today the former rock star Ian Watkins was sentenced to 29 years in prison for sexual offences against children, including the attempted rape of a 10 month old baby (news article here). He must serve a minimum of two thirds of his sentence before being considered for parole. His two co-defendants, mothers of children that Watkins abused, were sentenced to 14 years and 17 years. They cannot be named for legal reasons; to do so would be to identify their children who, as victims if sexual crimes, have their identities protected by law.

The public has understandably been filled with horror and anger towards Watkins. This is particularly evident on social media sites and discussion forums. But some take that anger a step further, a step too far. They exult that Watkins is likely to be attacked in prison, and gleefully hope that he will be raped. This is not ok. In fact this is very far from ok.

Rape is never acceptable, no matter the circumstances.

When I worked as a forensic scientist I spent a lot of my time working in the digital forensics section, extracting data from electronic devices seized from suspects and/or victims in criminal cases. This data included images and videos and it was part of my job to examine and watch every media file that was extracted. This meant that I often had to watch videos of rapes, sexual assaults and child abuse. It was, to say the least, deeply unpleasant. I understand the disgust and almost indescribable revulsion that seeing such abuse evokes and it makes me angry as hell.

But you cannot on one hand say that rape is abhorrent, vile, a despicable act, and on the other hand wish it on someone else. “Rape is never ok – oh, unless it’s someone I don’t like who’s being raped. Then it’s fine”. It just doesn’t make sense. And in the same way that no law-abiding man, woman or child deserves to be raped, no alleged or convicted criminal does either.

No-one ever deserves to be raped.

When I was a student I occasionally moved in the same circles as Watkins, going to the same parties and clubs. I was one of the early fans of his band, Lostprophets and he always seemed to be a decent man, a normal man. But he clearly isn’t and today I feel the same fury, horror and disgust towards him as anyone else. I understand the urge to hurt him as he has hurt others but I don’t feel it.

These pro-rape sentiments contribute to the normalisation of what is a revolting act, designed to degrade, humiliate and control. After all, if it’s ok to rape a child-abuser is it ok to rape a murderer? A burglar? Someone who’s annoyed you? No. Rape is never an excusable act and there is never a justifiable reason for it.

So if you’re one of those who think that Watkins and his ilk deserve to be raped, stop and think for a moment. You may be part of the problem, not the solution.

When is rape not rape?

If she is raped by a stranger, it’s rape.

If she’s raped by someone she knows, it’s still rape.

If she’s raped by her partner, it’s still rape.

If she screams for help, it’s rape.

If she doesn’t, it’s still rape.

If her attacker has a weapon, it’s rape.

If her attacker doesn’t have a weapon, it’s still rape.

If she struggles it’s rape.

If she doesn’t struggle it’s still rape.

If she says no, it’s rape.

If she’s wearing revealing clothing, it’s still rape.

If she’s naked, it’s still rape.

If she’s had sex with her attacker before, it’s still rape.

If she’s kissed her attacker, it’s still rape.

If she’s flirted with or ‘come on to’ her attacker, it’s still rape.

If she’s drunk or intoxicated, it’s still rape.

If she’s a virgin it’s rape.

If she’s not a virgin it’s still rape.

If she’s walking alone it’s still rape.

If she doesn’t report it to the police it’s still rape.

If she doesn’t want to have sex, or is unable to consent, it’s rape. Always. No matter the circumstances.

(Throughout this I’ve used “she” and “her” to refer to the victim, purely for ease of writing. Men are raped too and of course the same statements apply).

Why Barbara Hewson is wrong about sexual assault and the age of consent

Barbara Hewson is a prominent and usually well-respected barrister. However she has caused quite a furore with this article, where she advocates the reduction of the legal age of consent to 13, the removal of anonymity for rape complainants and the introduction of a statute of limitations. This article was written in light of the recent arrests and prosecutions following Operation Yewtree, a Metropolitan Police investigation into historic sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile and others in the media.

Whatever your opinion on Operation Yewtree Ms Hewson’s suggestions in her article are surprising and disturbing. The first time warning bells rang for me was reading her assertion that “Now even a deputy speaker of the House of Commons is accused of male rape”. ‘ Male rape’ does not exist in a legal sense; rape is rape, whether the victim is male or female, and Ms Hewson’s use of the term suggests a slightly sensationalist bent.

Another alarming assertion made by Ms Hewson is “But the low-level misdemeanours with which Stuart Hall was charged are nothing like serious crime”. (Mr Hall recently admitted 14 offences dating back to the late 1960s, including an assault on a nine-year-old girl). Since when has sexually assaulting a child not been a serious offence? For that matter, what kind of barrister views sexual assault as a low-level misdemeanour?

Ms Hewson also writes that “Touching a 17-year-old’s breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one’s hand up a 16-year-old’s skirt, are not remotely comparable to the horrors of the Ealing Vicarage assaults and gang rape, or the Fordingbridge gang rape and murders, both dating from 1986. Anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality.” I’m not entirely why she feels that the comparison to gang rape and murder is necessary but it has echoes of Ken Clarke’s 2011 claim that some rapes are less serious than others. This is ridiculous. Sexual assault and rape are both legally and morally wrong; it’s not a competition to see whether some rapes are worse than others, or whether groping a 17 year old is worse than groping a 13 year old.

Ms Hewson’s sole reason for wanting the age of consent reduced to 13 seems to be that in the 1880s, when it was increased from this to the current age of 16, “…puberty for girls was at age 15 (now it is 10)”. This is an idiotic argument – a 10 year old may have the physical maturity to engage in sexual activity and conceive a child but there are few who would claim that they have the emotional or intellectual maturity. I would argue that the same is true for the vast majority of 13 year olds.

Ms Hewson criticises the investigation of historical allegations, saying that “…this national trawl for historical victims was an open invitation to all manner of folk to reinterpret their experience of the past as one of victimisation”. I no longer work in the field of law enforcement but I believe that it is still the case that in order for charges to be brought the CPS must consider that they have a reasonable chance of obtaining a conviction. I agree that the media’s habit of gleefully naming every individual arrested as part of Yewtree is unpleasant and unnecessary, and perhaps gives credence to the suggestion that those accused of rape should also be granted anonymity. However this is no reason for stripping rape complainants of their right to anonymity.

Ms Hewson continues “It’s time to end this prurient charade, which has nothing to do with justice or the public interest. Adults and law-enforcement agencies must stop fetishising victimhood. Instead, we should focus on arming today’s youngsters with the savoir-faire and social skills to avoid drifting into compromising situations, and prosecute modern crime.”. It’s almost as though she’s claiming that with the right skills and knowledge sexual predators can be avoided – a common theme of victim-blaming. But as a barrister surely Ms Hewson knows that rape and sexual assault is never the fault of the victim? I agree that young people should be taught what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of sexual behaviour but that in no way means that assault can be avoided if one has the appropriate “social skills”.

Although Ms Hewson’s article has moments where it is interesting and thought-provoking it is also ill-considered and her employers, Hardwicke Chambers, have been quick to distance themselves from it. It is a shame that this article seems likely to overshadow her reputation as a passionate advocate for abortion rights and her opposition to the court-ordered treatment of pregnant women. I hope that Ms Hewson’s views aren’t widely shared among her fellow legal professionals; meanwhile I imagine there are few victims of sexual assault or rape who would want her in their courtroom.

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