Anonymity for rape defendants is antithetical to our justice system

I started this petition because I’m incredibly worried about this recommendation for anonymity for rape defendants. It is a regressive policy predicated on the belief that all women lie about rape and that a man’s reputation is more important than justice.

PETITION 

Each year in England and Wales 85 000 women and 12 000 men are raped. We know that only 10 -15 % of victims report to the police due to “shame, prejudicial media reporting and mistrust in the criminal justice process”. We also know that rape trials have the lowest conviction rate of any crime because of systemic and institutional disbelief of victims. Our adversarial legal system is predicated on the belief that women and children routinely lie about sexual violence – despite false reports of rape being no higher than any other crime; despite the fact that many ‘false reports’ are due to misogyny within the police who routinely ‘no-crime’ rape without investigating.

We are extremely worried to see the Home Affairs Select Committee suggest that suspects being investigated for rape and other forms of sexual violence require anonymity until charged or police ‘needed’ to name them because of the potential damage to their ‘reputation’. Why is justice now about the reputation of the accused rather than upholding the law?

Would Jimmy Savile’s name been released as a serial sexual predator as he was never formally charged? Would we have seen the numerous inquiries held into the failures of police and the establishment to take child sexual abuse and exploitation seriously following the allegations about Savile? Would David Lee Travis, Rolf Harris, Max Clifford and Chris Denning have been investigated without the media reporting the sheer scale of the rape and sexual abuse committed by Jimmy Savile? Would John Worboys have been investigated and convicted without being named in the media following serious failures by the Sapphire Unit to believe a large number of women who reported him?[5]

The End Violence Against Women (EVAW) umbrella organization response to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s recommendation makes it clear that rape is

“…..a known repeat offence, and the police may need the discretion to name a suspect for investigative purposes. Decision-making on this should of course be clear and transparent.”

 and that it is:

“It is notable that this short report by the Home Affairs Select Committee makes little reference to the specific justice issues around sexual offences before making this serious recommendation on anonymity. These include very low reporting to the police rates, vulnerable witnesses, and the fact that rape is a known repeat offence.”

Sexual violence is the only crime where sympathy is with the perpetrator rather than the victim. It is the only crime where decisions and recommendations about the criminal justice response is based entirely on fallacious assumptions, myths and victim blaming. As EVAW also states the Home Affairs Select Committees report:

“…is also alarmingly incorrect about false allegations – recommending that those accused and not convicted should receive “acknowledgement that they were falsely accused” when such cases are not necessarily based on a false allegation.”

We call on the Home Affairs Select Committee to review their recommendation using evidence-based research on anonymity for perpetrators and not assumptions about ‘perpetrators feelings’. We call on all political parties and Members of Parliament to show their support for all victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence by insisting that suspects in cases of sexual violence are treated no differently than suspects in other crimes.

Anonymity for suspects in cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence is a dangerous precedent that puts women, children and men at risk.

PETITION 

 

Five Wounds by @KatharineEdgar

I have had the absolute pleasure of reading various drafts of this book over the past two years. I started the first draft one evening and spent the following day half-asleep. The worst thing you can do when you have fibromyalgia is stay up late reading a book, but I simply couldn’t put it down as it melds all my favourite parts of literature: a brilliant, capable and feministy teenage heroine and historical accuracy.

5 Wounds is the comingof-age story of 15 year old Nan – a fiercely independent and headstrong young girl whose life changes drastically during a period of revolution and rebellion. Nan was sent sent to live in convent school following an unfortunate incident as a young child. This afforded her a level of freedom and education that many young girls of her class would never have experienced.

However, this is 1536 and the schism between Rome and Henry VIII has changed everything. Nan’s dreams of remaining in the convent and becoming a great Abbess are destroyed after Henry’s troops close the convent. Instead, Nan was bartered as a commodity and betrothed, rather unwillingly, to the much older and frequently married Lord Middleham. Nan’s father gains more land from this betrothal and Lord Middle ham a wife younger than his children. Nan’s Catholic faith, nurtured during her years living in a convent leads to her involvement in the Northern rebellion against Henry VIII during the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is forced to choose between her faith and her personal safety. Does she chose treason or eternal damnation?

 The true strengths of Edgar’s writing are the character of Nan and the accuracy of the historical context of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is alternately naive and brave, and her flawed choices reflect her optimism, faith and failure to understand the full consequences of rebellion. She is equally a child and an adult – limited by the constraints of her gender but freed by her desire to change the world.

Edgar’s love of history and the breadth of her research only adds to brilliance of the story. 5 Wounds precipitated one of my favourite historical discussion The Great Whether-Or-Not Noble Women Learned to Ride Normally Debate. I voted yes on the theory that noble daughters were valuable commodities and no sensible father would allow an expensive piece of property to remain incapable of escape from the numerous wars/ tantrums and general violence that defines European history.

I loved 5 Wounds. It was fast-paced, exciting and utterly brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough!

You can buy 5 Wounds from Amazon now.

I signed the petition demanding MPs protect access to abortion

I support women’s right to access abortion on demand without limit and without being forced to ask permission from a doctor. Access to abortion, contraception, and the right to choose are a fundamental part of the women’s liberation movement. Without these rights, women cannot and will not be free from patriarchal control.

I am very concerned about the provisions in the new serious crime bill as it criminalises pregnant women for being trapped in a patriarchal, woman-hating society. I signed this petition because any attempt to limit women’s reproductive choices – and a limit that involves criminal law – do nothing to change the system. It just replicates what already exists. The last thing women who are feeling pressured into have a sex-selective abortion need is the added fear of criminal prosecution.

Women must have the right to choose.

On the 23 February the Serious Crime Bill will be debated in Parliament. It includes a last minute amendment to the bill which specifically criminalises sex selective abortion.

We are deeply concerned that this amendment would have an immediate negative impact on women’s access to abortion and is a first step towards further regressive legislation to limit abortion access.

Please sign this petition to ask UK MPs to vote against this amendment and to make the case that their colleagues do the same. If enough people contact their MP they will be more likely to attend the vote and block this dangerous bill from passing.

There are many problems with the amendment. It will:

do nothing to address the causes of boy-preference in some communities

do nothing to stop sex selective practices

set the scene for an attack on abortion rights as a whole, by undermining key principles that underpin the 1967 Abortion Act

lead to racial profiling of people from communities assumed to be ‘at risk’ of sex selection

undermine the doctor patient relationship and patient confidentiality, and will have a chilling effect on doctors who will be less willing to refer for or provide abortion

potentially criminalise women, reducing the likelihood that a woman who is under pressure to have an abortion for sex selective reasons will disclose it to a professional and seek the support she needs.

The consequences of this bill in terms of the threat to abortion law and access in the UK can hardly be considered unintended, as the bill author, Fiona Bruce, is an anti-abortion campaigner.

The amendment also makes no exception for sex-linked genetic disorders.

There are complex reasons for boy-preference in some communities. An amendment to criminalise sex selective abortion does not and cannot tackle any of these. There is no evidence that the proposed ban would prevent a single sex selective abortion.

Please sign the petition to contact your MP to urgently to ask that they oppose this dangerous amendment.

More information from EVAW and a template letter you can send your MP from Abortion Rights

Helen Castor’s Joan of Arc: A History

Unknown

I was disappointed by Castor’s Joan of Arc but only because I had not realised what it was Castor was writing. I wanted to read a biography of Joan and chose Castor’s book simply because I absolutely adored Helen Castor’s She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth. It was historically accurate, as well as imaginative. There is so very little writing left by the women Castor profiled that any biography would be contingent on teasing out finely spun threads within the misogynist writings of those around them.

Unknown 1Castor’s Joan of Arc is the contextualisation of Joan within the history of Europe. It is about the France that existed in Joan’s beliefsIt contains little of Joan’s own dictated letters or chunks of testimony from the trials. As I wanted to read more of Joan, I chose to read The Virgin Warrior: The Life and Death of Joan of Arc by Larrissa Juliet Taylor next. The Virgin Warrior contained more direct testimony of Joan but engaged in the hero-worship that Castor was arguing against. Equally, without having read Castor’s book I would not have been in a position to understand the historical context in which Joan was living. I knew the basics of the 100 years war and the various Henrys running about, but not enough about the political situation. Taylor’s text in focussing more on Joan does not contextualise her life and accomplishments within the greater political scene.

I suppose what I really wanted was a history of Joan of Arc that traced the myths as well as the history – rather like Bettany Hughes utterly brilliant Helen of Troy. Whilst I haven’t found that (and I’m always open to recommendations). Castor’s text is a well worth the read. She’s funny, sarcastic, and accurate – a skill set not many historians have. I love the way Castor challenges historical orthodoxy whilst making it clear that how we interpret history actually erases the lived experiences of those we are writing –  making Joan a “legend, icon and saint” but no longer a young girl. Instead, we label Joan schizophrenic without recognising the reality of faith during Joan’s life where talking to saints was considered a gift – not a curse. Castor made Joan real – and that is an essential rewriting of history.

Unknown

 

And, because there is never a moment when Horrible Histories isn’t a good plan:

The No-Platforming of Feminists

Today, the Guardian published an open letter written by Bea Campbell about the no-platforming of feminists at universities. I signed the letter because I am increasingly concerned by the silencing of dissenting views – particularly by women – on university campuses. It is absolutely essential that universities remain spaces which challenge orthodoxy. Students are spoon-fed heteronormative, white supremacist history in secondary schools, particularly in relation to the obsessive examining of children through SATs, A-Levels and Highers. Universities and colleges should be places where students are exposed to all manner of thought and theory – even those which make them uncomfortable.

The cancellation of Kate Smurthwaite’s show at Goldsmith’s last month was the latest in a long line of questionable decisions by universities. I’ve read accounts from all manner of people who were involved in the situation prior to the university’s security firm deciding it was “not safe” to go ahead with the event due to protests. Smurthwaite should not have been un-invited due to her stance on prostitution and the sex industry.

Equally, students who wanted to protest outside the venue should have had that option. Frankly, it’s the responsibility of university security to maintain the right to peaceful protest. I am sure they were worried about that gang of men, who normally self-define as anarchists but are mostly pro-violence, showing up to cause havoc. They do so at every single protest going and take great delight in causing damage and engaging in threatening behaviour. The fact that a group of people intent on violence *may* have shown up is not serious enough to cancel either Smurthwaite’s performance or any potential protest on site.

University and college campuses (and one day secondary schools) should be hotbeds of radical thought, protest and anger.  It should be where students are challenged, provoked and forced to confront ideas antithetical to their own. It doesn’t mean they will change their minds and it doesn’t make changing your political position a sign of weakness. It means we are teaching students to think for themselves – something which is sorely missing right now.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve been told Julie Bindel is transphobic by people who have never read any of her work and had no idea that she was involved in feminist campaigns like Justice for Women. If students find her work transphobic, they have every right to say so. BUT, they need to actually read this work for themselves and not just parrot what someone else has told them.

It is ironic the number of people tweeting out #JeSuisCharlie in defence of freedom of speech for a deeply racist and misogynist magazine who have no problem whatsoever in telling women to shut up.

We need to insist that our children grow up with critical thinking skills and the ability and desire to challenge anything they deem incorrect and dangerous. The right to protest is a fundamental right of democracy – but this right is not predicated on ensuring that everyone thinks or believes the same. I have written before about my concerns on the rhetoric of “free speech”  being guaranteed only for those in power to engage in abuse towards those without power. This is what universities need to change: ensuring that political debate is encouraged and that the right to protest remains protected.

This is why I signed the letter written by Bea Campbell: silencing women you disagree with is simply replicating the same heteronormative, capitalist power structures that exist.

The fate of Kate Smurthwaite’s comedy show, cancelled by Goldsmith’s College in London last month (“What could be more absurd than censorship on campus”, Nick Cohen, Comment) is part of a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed “transphobic” or “whorephobic”. Most of the people so labelled are feminists or pro-feminist men, some have experience in the sex industry, some are transgender.

Last month, there were calls for the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer; then the Green party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists. The feminist activist and writer Julie Bindel has been “no-platformed” by the National Union of Students for several years.

“No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists and Holocaust-deniers. But today it is being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of the sex industry and of some demands made by trans activists. The feminists who hold these views have never advocated or engaged in violence against any group of people. Yet it is argued that the mere presence of anyone said to hold those views is a threat to a protected minority group’s safety.

You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic. Universities have a particular responsibility to resist this kind of bullying. We call on universities and other organisations to stand up to attempts at intimidation and affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange.

Beatrix Campbell

Lynne Alderson

Ruth Ahnert

Dr Lucy Allen

Nimko Ali

Dr Kerri Andrews

Lisa Appignanesi

Prof. John Barrell

Prof Mary Beard

Melissa Benn

Rosa Bennathan

Katie Beswick

Dr Sue Black

Prof Jenny Bourne Taylor

Alison Boydell

Fiona Broadfoot

Paul Burston

Dianne Butterworth

Prof Deborah Cameron

Ivy Cameron

Dr Rosie Campbell

Cynthia Cockburn

Anna Coote

Caroline Criado-Perez

Hannah Curtis

Dr Liz Davies

Kim Darwood

Dr Sukhwant Dhaliwal

Jane Diblin

Sarah Ditum

Stella Duffy

Dr Victoria Dutchman-Smith

Louise Evan-Wong

Dr Katharine Edgar

Jayne Egerton

Carol Fox

Kim Graham

Rahila Gupta

Prof Catherine Hall

Prof Jalna Hanmer

Jeremy Hardy

Dr James Harrison

Heather Harvey

Lorrie Hearts

Prof Nicholas Hewitt

Dr Rachel Hewitt

Deborah Hyde

Bridget Irving

Susan Jack

Darren Johnson MLA

Claire Jones

Jane Clare Jones

Judith Jones

Prof Liz Kelly

Karen Hanna Kruzycka

Jenny Landreth

Claire Lazarus

Kate Leigh

Prof Alison Light

Prof Ruth Lister

Dr Julia Long

Sonia Long

Prof Joni Lovenduski

David Lusted

Dr Samantha Lyle

Shakila Maan

Dr Finn Mackay

Nancy Mackeith

Rosina Mcrae

Sarah Maguire

Dr Sarah Mansfield

Elizabeth Mansfield

Heather McRobie

Gia Milinovich

Lucinda Montefiore

Dr Helen Mott

Hannah Mudge

Sonali Naik

Dr Peter Newbon

Jill Nicholls

Sian Norris

Juliet Oosthuysen

Sue O’Sullivan

Femi Otitoju

Ursula Owen

Sue Parrish

Pragna Patel

Louise Pennington

Cat Peters

Prof Jill Radford

Dale Rapley

Dr Rebecca Reilly-Cooper

Dr Victoria Rimell

Roweena Russell

Dr Adam Rutherford

Gita Sahgal

Dr Joan Scanlon

Sandhya Sharma

Vanessa Shaw

Dr Ben Schiller

Prof Sophie Scott

Shelley Silas

Karen Ingala Smith

Prof Francesca Stavrakopoulou

Sian Steans

Mary-Ann Stephenson

Prof Ann Stewart

Marina Strinkovsky

Southall Black Sisters

Julka Szymanska

Felicity Tarnell

Peter Tatchell

Steve Trafford

Dr Sue Tate

Dr Matthew Taunton

Lisa-Marie Taylor

Helen Thompson

Dr Megan Todd

Janet Veitch

Judith Vidal-Hall

Nicky Wallace

Dr Jim Walsh

Liz Waterhouse

Prof Nicole Westmarland

Lisa Whelan

Dr Michael Whitworth

Jim Wild

Dr Heather Williams

Clair Wills

Prof Alan Winfield

Harriet Wistrich

Miranda Yardley

Fundraising to build A Room of Our Own into a multi-media feminist platform!

A Room of Our Own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network is a trans-inclusive, women-only blogging platform created to share women’s writing, art, experiences and musings. It was created both to combat cultural femicide – the term coined by feminist writer Bidisha to define the erasure of women from politics, art, and culture – and celebrate women’s creativity in a space without men.

Women only spaces are a fundamental part of the feminist movement and represent women’s right to self-determination and liberation. There are countless studies which evidence the silencing of women’s voices by men. Margaret Atwood wrote about this in the early 80’s and Dale Spender has written on it many times, notably in The Writing or the Sex in 1989 and in Man Made Language. A member of Ending Victimisation and Blame said this in a speech for the opening of the Lincolnshire Rape Crisis Centre on the importance of women-only services and women-only spaces:

Men set the agenda. Men often talk over women, sometimes without any awareness that they’ve even done so. Women need space within which to discuss their oppression and manage their activism.  That space does not need to include men. If men wish to talk about feminism and the oppression of women, they do not need to be in women’s spaces in order to do this – men can use the space they have in the rest of the world, and make it more feminist.

Andrea Dworkin’s famous passage from her seminal text Intercourse is truer now than when she wrote it:

“Men often react to women’s words – speaking and writing – as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence. So we lower our voices. Women whisper, Women apologize. Women shut up. Women trivialize what we know. Women shrink. Women pull back. Most women have experienced enough dominance from men – control, violence, insult, contempt – that no threat seems empty.”

I have been online for nearly 20 years and the abuse of women online has become worse. The misogynistic attacks on feminists like Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Feminista Jones – and every single other feminist who dares to speak publicly about male violence, street harassment and video games is targeted to silence women. Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have done very little to deal with abusive behaviour, prioritising profits over the safety of their users.

In many ways, Dworkin’s words are an understatement of what occurs online. Men’s reactions to women’s words has become more violent, more hateful, in many ways, more socially acceptable. Women can’t hear one another when we’re forced to plough through thousands of threats of rape, torture and death in online spaces. We lock our twitter accounts, censor ourselves and hope we don’t become the next target. We don’t need a threat to be directed at us personally for it to act as a silencing tactic.

This is the reality in which A Room of Our Own was born. I wanted to create a space for feminists by feminists – a safe space where women can share their thoughts, their writing, their art and their lives without abusive comments and without men dictating the terms of the discussion. The need for this space is seen daily in the in the number of abusive comments I delete from men and the number I have to block on twitter. More importantly, the women involved have spoken about how significant the space is to them – that an online space where men’s entitlement to women’s time is simply not accepted makes a difference. A space which prioritises women’s voices over mens, that refuses to allow men to dictate the terms of the conversation and that gives a platform for all feminists to speak is essential to health and breadth of the feminist movement.

It has been an incredible 13 months for AROOO. When I started this network, I had no idea if it would work or if only 5 of my friends would join. I worried that the divisions within the feminist movement would make a platform for all unsustainable: that we were too fractured to work together. I was wrong.

So far, 164 women have signed up to the network. They run the gamut of feminism from intersectional to liberal, radical, socialist, materialist and everything in between. We have published articles about male violence, faith, swimming, pornography, friendship, art, feminist mothering, infertility and the UN’s #heforshe campaign – the one thing which managed to unite all our bloggers in disappointment. We’ve been listed as a resource by Engender Scotland and got a brilliant shout-out from Media Diversified.

In the coming year, I have ambitious plans to expand AROOO, including a full professional blog redesign to increase accessibility and optimise sharing of individual bloggers’ writing across multiple social media platforms, as well as publishing feminist reviews of books, radio, television, and film. I also want to expand outside of traditional blogging platforms and start a chat forum. In order to do this, I need to raise £3000 so that I can pay the women web designers for their work. The work I do for AROOO is out of love for women and their writing, art, photography and lives. My tech skills simply aren’t adequate to develop AROOO to its full potential. The women involved with AROOO deserve to have their work shared to a larger audience and this requires financial support.

This platform will remain non-profit, and advertising free, but the amount of work to redesign the site is substantial. This requires financial support – as do all other independent media sites. AROOO has the potential to be an important part of an independent feminist media – inspired and created by feminists and womanists for other feminists and womanists. If you can, please donate so I can pay professional web designers to improve AROOO. Even one pound makes a huge difference to my ability to support feminist writing by creating a professional platform for feminists by feminists.

 

 





What is feminist activism: Jessica Valenti, Julie Bindel and the loss of criticial analysis

(cross-posted from My Elegant Gathering of White Snow)

Jessica Valenti’s latest article in the Guardian made me roll my eyes. It’s yet another in a long line of dreary “who gets to be a feminist” that doesn’t actually discuss what it means to be a feminist, so much as taking out 10 minutes to trash the reputation of other women who call themselves feminists. Interestingly, it’s precisely what Valenti suggests Bindel does in Bindel’s latest Guardian article.

There is a very necessary discussion of the definition of feminism to be had – both in law and praxis. Valenti’s definition rests on gender equality. My definition is the liberation of women, as a class, from male violence and that our liberation requires the abolition of gender. It recognises that capitalism is intertwined with patriarchy and that both are predicated on inequality in law and culture. Women can never be “equal” to men when capitalism requires many to live in poverty in order to allow a small group access to wealth. Gender equality means nothing when we have laws that grant women equal pay in existence for more than forty years and women are still consistently paid less than men and this is without acknowledging the fact that women of colour are paid less than white women. I believe pornography, prostitution, and all other forms of the sex industry constitute violence against women and girls.

Jessica Valenti and I have very different definitions of feminism. I think her feminism actively harms women and I’m sure she would feel the same about my definition. The difference is I don’t doubt Valenti’s commitment to feminism and to supporting women. I fundamentally disagree with her political stance but not her activism.

This is why I am quite disgusted with her article in the Guardian likening Julie Bindel to Sarah Palin. It demonstrates a complete failure to fact check Julie Bindel’s 30 years of feminist activism and erase it based on one article that Bindel wrote over ten years ago. Feminism needs critical analysis. We need to read the research, the personal testimonies, and then make judgements based on fact. Basing the entire career of one woman on one article from 10 years ago isn’t critical engagement. It ignores Bindel’s work with Justice for Women and supporting the Emma Humphreys Prize for Ending Violence against Women. It ignores Bindel’s work on the harm of pornography and prostitution – you don’t have to agree with her position but erasing her work is patriarchy in action.

Julie Bindel is a gender abolitionist – this doesn’t mean she “oppose(s) the very existenceof trans individuals” as Valenti claims. It means she is a gender abolitionist who campaigns to eradicate the hierarchical oppression of gender. Bindel is extremely critical of the behaviour of a small group of transactivists, not all of who are transgender, but Bindel is very clear this is a small group who engage in abusive harassment. She is very consistent in stating that the behaviour of this small group is not representative of transgender people as a whole. This is the exact same argument that liberal feminists use when discussing “not all men”.

Critical analysis is essential to a healthy feminist movement. I have seen far too many feminists claim that Julie Bindel is ‘transphobic’ because they read that fact on the Internet. They know nothing else but that Bindel is transphobic and the NUS no-platformed her for being “vile” (the fact that the NUS engages with all sorts of violent dictators and men whose financial wealth is predicated on human rights abuses of their employees goes unremarked).

Being a feminist isn’t just about a label or recognising “gender equality”. It’s a political theory that requires critical thought. This doesn’t mean that all feminists agree with one another on issues but it does mean that we are required to come to our own political stance ourselves – and not because some dude on the internet thinks a woman is a vile because she wrote an article 10 years ago and has since retracted it. Accepting what we are told without thought is patriarchy in action – not feminism.

 

Abortion on demand is a mandatory requirement for women’s liberation

Whilst abortion is legal in the UK, it is not available on demand.* Abortion can only be carried out in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy if two doctors agree that “abortion would cause less damage to a woman’s physical or mental health than continuing with the pregnancy”. That’s only if you’re lucky enough to live on the mainland. Abortion isn’t available in Northern Ireland. There are some obvious exceptions to the 24 week rule involving saving the life of the mother or preventing grave or serious injury to her; as well as the more difficult issue of aborting a fetus due to disability.**

I find any limits on abortion problematic. I think all women should have access to abortion when they want it without having to faff about finding two doctors who agree to the procedure. Having to find two doctors just extends the unwanted pregnancy unnecessarily causing added stress. The right to decide what does and does not happen to one’s own body is a fundamental issue of self-determination. I believe that women have the right to abortion at any point in their pregnancy; after all 91% of abortions in 2011 were before 13 weeks. There are very, very few abortions after the 24 week point and, no, the Sarah Catt case isn’t representative of anything. She was denied an abortion and therefore chose to self-abort. Catt was also not convicted under the abortion laws; instead she was found guilty of an archaic law from the mid 19th century. Women are perfectly capable of deciding if and when they need an abortion without having to discuss it with two doctors; doctors who may or may not be anti-choicers.

The language around accessing abortion itself infantilises women. We can only have an abortion if someone else tells us we can. Not because we want one. Not because we need one. But, because someone else deems it medically necessary. Abortion should be available to women at any point in the pregnancy because the woman deems it necessary and not because someone else gave her permission to do so. I also dislike the rhetoric around “good” abortions for victims of rape versus “bad” abortions for women who have had the temerity to have consensual sex without wanting to get pregnant. Any attempts to create a hierarchy of acceptable reasons for women to have abortions just limits women’s choices. It is the heart of woman-hating. This is without getting into the fact that many women have to access abortions for financial reasons. It’s hardly a choice if you are having an abortion because you can not afford to feed a child. That is why we have a welfare state [or did before the ConDems destroyed it]. Limiting access to abortion gives others rights over women’s bodies. It serves only as a punishment for the crime of being born with a vagina.

Top Eleven Favourite Books of 2014

These are my top eleven favourite books of 2014 in no particular order:

Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place

There is little I can say to give this book justice but Kincaid’s essay on the impact of colonialism, slavery, and corruption in Antigua as seen through the prism of reality/unreality (tourism) is a must read.

Lynn Harne’s Violent Fathering

Harne’s text needs to be read by every single person involved in the family courts, child protection, police and politicians since she debunks the theory that children need fathers, even violent ones, in their lives. Harne examines all the research which demonstrates that children are actively harmed by domestic violence and that forcing women to continue to relationships with a violent partner for the ‘sake of the children’ is all about men’s rights to women and children as possessions and not about the children. She makes it clear that despite this evidence on the harm violent men do to children (and their mothers) government policy insists on the rhetoric children need fathers because of misogynistic, patriarchal assumptions about men’s rights. Preventing violent men from continuing to abuse their former partners through contact with their children is not what is best for children – particularly when these men continue to commit financial child abuse through the withholding of maintenance.

Lorraine Radford & Marianne Hester’s Mothering Through Domestic Violence

This is another essential read for anyone working in social services, education, the criminal justice system, family courts and anyone blaming the victims of domestic violence instead of the perpetrator. Hester and Radford approach the issue of mothering from a variety of ways making practise recommendations from research evidence and knowledge of the law. They also make it clear how the separation of children from mothers, within social services, when dealing with domestic violence causes both groups harm, particularly with the government policy to encourage women to leave violent relationships with very little in terms of practical support and legal protection to offer them and the increase of violence for many in the post-separation period. Effectively, this book is clear evidence that the current responses to domestic violence, in law and practice, work to undermine mothers and blame them for their own victimisation. Far too little professional intervention is aimed at the perpetrators. Good practice should be based on the individual needs of mothers and children, not on the rights of violent men.

Anita Rau Badami’s Can you hear the nightbird call? and Tamarind Mem

I read these whilst in Canada caring for my sister. Can you hear the nightbird call? follows three women after the partition of India, migration to Canada exploring family, love, hate and the seeds of terrorism. Tamarind Mem is the story of Kamini and her mother Soroja, and confronting the past. It is about the love and difficulties which bind mothers and daughters everywhere. These are both incredibly beautiful books and were read at a time in my life when family, love and hate were rearing their heads in my personal life.

Marilyn French’s War Against Women

This book is 25 years old but still relevant. The war against women continues unabated – but with more violence and hatred.

Lydia Cacho’s Slavery Inc.: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking

Slavery Inc. is incredibly heartbreaking as Cacho tracks the rape traffickers and their victims from Mexico to Turkey, Thailand and the US exposing their not-so-hidden connections with tourism, pornography, illegal drugs trade, arms dealing, money laundering, terrorism and the illegal trade in body organs. The first person interviews with all who are involved in this industry  make this a truly powerful, if terrifying, book.

Denise Thompson’s Radical Feminism Today

The book was based on Thompson’s PhD entitled: Against the Dismantling of Feminism: A Study in the Politics of Meaning which is a much better title considering the book is about defining feminism and not about the state of radical feminism today (or as it was in 2001). Why the publisher thought the title Radical Feminism Today was an appropriate title for a book on defining feminism is, frankly, boggling.

Thompson is a radical feminist and her definition of feminism is about male domination. In this she critiques a wide variety of feminist  and non-feminist writing which use terms like patriarchy, gender and sex without referencing biology or the reality of male domination and male supremacy. A feminism which does not recognise this reality is not, in fact, feminism.

Thompson deals with the issues of gender, race and class by insisting on the primacy of male domination and supremacy: women all suffer from the effects of the Patriarchy which is historically and culturally contextually whilst acknowledging the importance of multiple oppressions in how women experience Patriarchy. A major theme throughout the text is that we simply are not working with defined terms; instead we allow them meanings which do not have biological realities (gender). In order to do feminism, we must define what it is we mean by feminism and cannot simply be by women for women otherwise it is reduced to the idea that everything a woman does is feminist because a woman does it. Feminism has to recognise male supremacy and domination or it is simply irrelevant.

Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy

Lerner’s thesis is based on the belief that women’s oppression is based on both women’s potential reproductive ability and their potential as sex objects which occurred before the creation of private property and a class society. This is then institutionalised in practise through the creation of slavery, the codification of laws and the creation of monotheism. Lerner’s thesis is, obviously, far more complex than that brief sentence and her work deserves more thought than I’ve written.

Beatrix Campbell’s End of Equality

Marina S. wrote a fabulous review of this text for Trouble & Strife that says better than I can why this is such an important book:

As is often the case with the best of feminist writing, this slim volume makes clear something which has been stubbornly inexplicable: what went wrong for the feminist movement? Why was our revolution unfinished? How could we have failed so badly (we think) when seemingly so close to achieving our goals? Two generations of feminists have wrestled with these questions, quite often wrestling with each other in the process. Recrimination and antagonism was bred from a frustrating failure of the liberal paradigm to explain the backlash of the 80s and beyond. If history always marches towards greater equality, and we are not seeing that equality manifest for women, then the fault, the thinking goes, must be in us: we have failed to be inclusive; we have failed to understand race; we have failed to take the correct attitudes to sexuality, marriage, domestic labour, sex work.

In contrast to this soul-searching, Campbell locates the seeming retreat of feminism in a squarely material framework. The reassertion of capital’s power after its brief post-World War II retreat rolled back or arrested not only feminist politics, but the civil rights movement, the student rebellions and other political liberation movements that were active in the 60s and early 70s. What she terms the ‘neo-patriarchal’ paradigm congealed around and in support of the neoliberal economic and political turn in global affairs in the last third of the 20th century. Not just Britain and the US, but countries as politically diverse as China and India went through processes of ‘liberalisation’ beginning in the 70s, and the impact of these changes on women has often been profoundly regressive.

The biggest philosophical difference between neoliberal, patriarchal politics and feminism is that the former is profoundly pessimistic. Human nature in the neoliberal reading is base, selfish, violent and grasping – and incapable of reform. All radical politics is embedded in a confidence that people will strive to cooperate, coexist and care for each other if the material conditions they find themselves in don’t militate against it.

It is no coincidence, in this view, that we live in an age of war without end; an unintelligible series of local skirmishes and conflicts in which women, and the cooperative, relational social capital they nurture, are often the hardest hit, not as accidental ‘collateral damage’ but through deliberate acts of mass rape and disenfranchisement that hit purposefully at the heart of social existence. Violations of human rights, in Campbell’s phrase, ‘are not side effects, but a decisive methodology’. Feminism’s project, in her view, is to bear witness to the ‘wit and heroism that makes up everyday life amid chronic violence’.

Anna Politkovskaya’s A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya

It feels like I have read this book a thousand times. This is just another war with another brave woman crossing into hell to report on genocide, mass rape and the real consequence of capitalism. I have read it a thousand times reading testimonies of Holocaust survivors – Odette Abadi, Eva Brewster, Ruth Elias. I’ve read it when the countries named were Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bangladesh. I’ve read Linda Polman’s catalogue of failures of UN peacekeeping forces in Somalia and Haiti. I have read it in Beverly Allen’s Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia  and Anne Llewellyn Barstow’s War’s Dirty Secret: Rape, Prostitution, and Other Crimes against Women. I have read Judith Zur’s research into memories of violence among Mayan Indian war widows. I have read about the Rape of Nanking and the slaughter of civilians at Mai Lai. And, I read every blog posted on Women Under Siege about BurmaNorth KoreaLibyaSri Lanka Darfur and countless other war zones where sexual violence is an intrinsic part of genocide. I have read feminist texts like Beatrix Campbell’s End of Equality  which demonstrate the direct link between capitalism and the oppression of civilian populations through sexual violence and war.

The names of the perpetrators change. The name of the conflict zone changes. The civilian populations targeted change. The names of the reporters changes. The names of those murdered grows longer. But, still the Twentieth Century remains one where genocide, mass rape and torture were normal – a  century where more people lived in abject poverty without access to clean water, sanitation and even food in order to perpetuate a capitalist economy that privileges very few.

Anna Politkovskaya’s text is powerful, distressing and enraging. It is a catalogue of torture, murder, rape and the acceptability of concentration camps all whilst the rest of the world looks on and does nothing. It is about men’s desire to exert control and power: to control natural resources, including people. We allow children to starve to death and grandmothers to perish from preventable diseases despite having the ability to prevent them because it would interfere with men’s desire for power.

Domestic Violence does not go ‘awry’

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 09.37.33

 

Earlier this week, I challenged a tweet from Warrington Central Police which implies that the victim is responsible for stopping domestic violence and that, once reported, the police will ensure it stops. They did respond to my challenge, defensively, but they did respond which is more than other police forces have done in the past. I challenged because it is this language which prevents women from reporting to the police. Women know that the greatest risk to their life and that of their children is leaving the relationship. Several reports on research in the US suggest that the majority of physical violence resulting in hospitalisation occurs after separation and that the majority of male offenders are not living with women they abuse. Richards, in a London study in 2003, found that 76% of women are murdered by violent men are killed during separation. That study also found that 50% of sexual violence occurred during or after separation.* Women living domestic violence know this – a tweet suggesting that the police will immediately stop the perpetrator does not give women confidence since it suggests a police force which simply does not understand the reality of domestic violence. With ‘austerity cuts’ slashing budgets to women’s services which have resulted in refuges closing, women are quite aware that safe spaces are decreasing. This also assumes that they have no children as very few violent men are actually denied contact with their children forcing women to live with domestic violence even after the relationship has ended. Neither the family court system, criminal justice system nor government services are adequate to deal with domestic violence. Like the tweet above which suggests that one phone call will render everything hunky-dory, the system does not prioritise the safety of victims. Instead, it holds the victim responsible for ‘allowing’ the abuse to continue and completely erases the perpetrator.

I challenge these types of tweets fairly frequently so I would not have thought anymore about it had I not woken to the news of the murder of 8 people in Edmonton, Alberta where the formal police statement includes the phrases ‘extreme domestic violence’ and “domestic violence gone awry’. Identities of the murder victims and the perpetrator have not been formally released (although I see the media is already trying to get around that law), but the police are clear that the perpetrator has a long criminal record that includes arrests for domestic violence, sexual violence and uttering threats in 2012 and this year. I have to wonder why the perpetrator was not in prison since Canadian law does not require the victim to testify in order to proceed with a criminal trial. I await the excuses as to why this man was not being monitored more appropriately considering his history of domestic violence is a clear indicator of the potential to commit fatal violence.

What is most concerning are the statements from police chief Rod Knecht which demonstrate a clear failure to understand what domestic violence actually is: the murder of 8 people is not an “extreme form”. It is domestic violence. These are only some of the statistics on domestic violence in Canada:

  • On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.  In 2011, In 2011, from the 89 police reported spousal homicides, 76 of the victims (over 85%) were women.
  • On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women (along with their 3,000 children) are forced to sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. Every night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full. 
  • Each year, over 40,000 arrests result from domestic violence—that’s about 12% of all violent crime in Canada.Since only 22% of all incidents are reported to the police, the real number is much higher.
  • According to the Department of Justice, each year Canadians collectively spend $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence. This figure includes immediate costs such as emergency room visits and future costs such as loss of income. It also includes tangible costs such as funerals, and intangible costs such as pain and suffering.10
  • In 2010, the rate of intimate partner homicide committed against females increased by 19%, the third increase in four years. During that same period, the rate for male victims fell by almost half. 20
  • Victims are now less likely to report an incident to police.22
  • More women are experiencing violence after leaving their abuser.23

These statistics are taken from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. These statistics are not shocking to anyone working in the sector and they shouldn’t be shocking to a chief of police. Yet, Knecht’s statement ignores this reality by suggesting that murdering 8 people is ‘extreme’ as though non-fatal domestic violence were not really a problem because no one dies (except, obviously, the one woman a week who is murdered). And that domestic violence isn’t really a problem unless it goes ‘awry’ – as if there were a ‘normal’ pattern of domestic violence that really wasn’t that big a deal (unless of course you are one of the 200 women a night turned away from shelters because they are full) and that the number of women reporting to police declining is their fault.

Over the next few days, we are going to hear a narrative of a poor depressed man who was not really responsible for his actions – this is already apparent in the CBC coverage. We will hear statements about ‘good fathers’ or ones like that made by coroner Kevin McCarthy on the brutal murder of Deborah Ruse by her ex-husband Oliver, who then committed suicide:

 “Tragedies like this bring home to us all the complexities of relationships and the frailties of life.”

We will hear a lot of discussion about mental health services and depression. We will hear a lot of excuses made for perpetrators of domestic violence. What we will hear little of in the mainstream press is that perpetrators make a choice to commit domestic violence and that depression does not cause domestic violence, nor does it cause the murder of 8 people. We will hear a lot about father’s rights and nasty women preventing fathers from seeing their children, as though domestic violence has no impact whatsoever on the emotional and physical wellbeing of children in the house. We won’t talk about men’s entitlement to women’s bodies. We won’t take about the fact that police are statistically more likely to be perpetrators of domestic abuse than the general population and that it is these very perpetrators who are being sent out to investigate domestic violence in the wider community. We won’t talk about the culture of hyper-masculinity within police forces or their failures to deal appropriately with their own officers who are perpetrators. We won’t talk about how language used by the police minimises domestic violence, erases the perpetrator and leaves women with no faith in the very institution who are supposed to protect them.

Instead, we will hear Knecht talking about domestic violence going ‘awry’. We will hear the term ‘isolated incident’ even though 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. And, then we will hear of another male family annihilator with a history of domestic violence brutally murdering his current or former partner and children – where the same excuses, minimising language and misrepresentations of domestic violence by police will occur. The media will remain silent on the irony of the organisation with a serious problem of domestic violence being responsible for investigating the very crimes a not-insignificant number of their members commit. And, police forces will continue to tweet out statements which hold victims accountable for being victims.

 

*Scottish Women’s Aid run a training course called Why Doesn’t She Leave? I highly recommend attending for anyone who may be working with women and children living with domestic violence or those trying to support family members and friends.