Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘violence’

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On the 20th November 2014 SUFC announced that they had withdrawn permission for Evans to train at their ground.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.

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).

Fear me! (Asda says you have to).

“Hey everyone! Want to really terrify your friends this Halloween? Why not buy this horrifying “diabetic” costume?”. I expect you’re a bit puzzled – that doesn’t make sense, what’s so scary about someone with diabetes? Why would dressing up as someone with a debilitating illness be appropriate for Halloween (or ever, for that matter)?

Well I’m just as bemused as you but Asda (the British supermarket owned by the American Walmart) seem to think that this is perfectly acceptable. So much so, in fact, that they’re selling a costume that does just this:

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Yes, you read that right. This is a “mental patient” costume. The description reads Everyone will be running away from you in fear in this mental patient fancy dress costume. Comprising of a torn blood stained shirt, blood stained plastic meat cleaver and gory facemask it’s a terrifying Halloween option.

Wow. Just wow. Mental illness affects 1 in 4 people every year, making it one of the most common life-altering illnesses in the UK. And yet it is stigmatised to the point where a leading supermarket thinks that selling a costume that perpetuates that stigma, is absolutely fine. No problem. Expect that of course it is a problem. The mentally ill are a vulnerable group, far more likely to be victims of violent crime than offenders. We are seen as “other”, as apart from society, as something to be avoided. This incredibly offensive costume not only encourages that view, it specifically endorses the idea that someone with a mental illness is violent and to be feared.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining – now that I know how utterly terrifying I apparently am, I won’t need to buy a Halloween costume this year.

Update: In the last few minutes Asda have tweeted an apology:

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Stigma (n.): from Latin ‘stigma’ meaning to mark or brand

When you hear the words “mentally ill” what’s the first thing that pops into your head? I bet for most of you it wasn’t a friend, neighbour or colleague but someone violent, scary or strange, possibly in a straitjacket or shuffling around like a zombie because of medication. And yet at any given time 1 in 4 people are likely to suffer from some kind of mental illness. So why is there still such a stigma about it? Why the stereotypes and ignorance?

It’s a complex issue but I think that it may be partly due to unease that our ‘sense of self’ can so easily be altered. We humans live inside our heads and have a self-awareness that is unique. We are acutely aware of who we are and our place within a group, and yet mental illness can alter that ‘self’ very easily. This makes people uncomfortable. And when something makes people uncomfortable they often seek to distance themselves from it.

There’s also the problem that mental illness isn’t easily fixed the way a broken leg can be. The human mind is unbelievably complicated and we are still only beginning to understand how it works. A common misconception about mental illness is that the sufferer should just snap out of it, switch it off, that they’re seeking attention. But who would dream of saying such things to someone with diabetes or kidney disease? Physical illness attracts sympathy; mental illness often merely attracts impatience and scorn, as though it is a sign of weakness. Anti-depressants are often demonised as being addictive and handed out far too easily by doctors. But strangely few people would make the same criticisms about painkillers, which are often available over the counter instead of by prescription.

The media is also partly responsible for the ignorance and stereotypes surrounding mental illness. I can think of very few films or programmes where a person with mental illness is portrayed sympathetically. It’s all too common to have the violent murderer, the weird loner or the crazy kidnapper. It’s not just fictional media of course, the news media is just as bad. A common incidence is when a violent or terrible crime has been committed (parents killing children for example) and the journalists will ask “Were they depressed?”, “Was there any history of mental illness?”. Now, of course people with mental illness commit crimes. People without mental illness also commit crimes. But the way that the media glibly imply that only someone who is mentally ill could do such a thing infuriates me. I’ve been mentally ill for most of my life and the most criminal thing I’ve ever done is accidentally run a red light.

Talking to friends and family about mental illness is difficult. Some will be sympathetic and understanding; some will be sympathetic but won’t understand. And of course there are those who withdraw from you as a result. Membership of the matter group isn’t always due to ignorance either, I lost a very close and trusted friend when I had PND after the birth of my daughter. This friend had also had PND previously but couldn’t cope with me struggling for so long and withdrew from me.

It takes a lot of courage to be open about mental illness. I don’t mean online – I’m very open about my problems here. But I tend to hide it as much as I can from people I know in real life. I don’t want them to look at me differently; I don’t want them to see me as a diagnosis first and a person second. I don’t want to lose any more friends. And yet there are those who know and are extremely supportive. My husband, my mother and sister, 3 friends whom I can talk to honestly about absolutely anything and know that they will still be there.

The more open we are about mental illness the less stigma there will be. But in order to be open we must run the gauntlet of that stigma, of being branded as ‘other’. It’s a difficult cycle to break but I am trying – I am starting to be more open about my problems and so far it’s been ok. No-one’s run away screaming yet. 😉

(This post was inspired by the Time To Change campaign).

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