#womenwrites (September)

MPs call for end to abusive men using courts against families by Sandra Laville

Getting real about bad advice  by @wordspinster

A high school student accused a classmate of sexual assault. Her school suspended her by Nora Caplan-Bricker

Councils to be allowed to opt out of child protection laws  by Sara Ogilvie

Should feminists talk about “pregnant people”? 

Men are increasingly invading feminism – excluding them isn’t ‘man hating’
by @bindelj

Bad science misled millions with chronic fatigue syndrome. Here’s how we fought back by Julie Rehmeyer

The Science Museum and the Brain Sex game by Young Crone

Trust > on men in the feminist movement

“He had the house, the kids – I had nothing” by anonymous @thepooluk

How has rape become such a common trope of television drama? by Ellen Vanstone

Glasgow Women’s Library: a treasure trove that shows how far feminism has come by Libby Brooks

Domestic abuse: Coercive control in Scottish Law by Vicky Allan

The scale of historical sexual abuse in the UK is a catastrophe. We need catharsis | Beatrix Campbell

Angela Bassett, the genius that defies age by Rooney Elmi via @WritersofColour

Medieval Embroidery, ‘Proper Art,’ and the V&A’s ‘Opus Anglicanum’ exhibition  via @LucyAllenFWR

Calling selective schools ‘new grammars’ won’t eliminate the old problems by Iesha Small

Why we have to take white working class people’s fears seriously by Jacinta Nandi  via @WritersofColour

Five things you should know about the scale of sexual abuse in Britain (content note)

originally published on Everyday Victim Blaming. 17.01.14

The Mirror has published a piece today which claims to evidence the scale of sexual abuse in Britain. Whilst we support any endeavour to expose the reality of sexual violence and we acknowledge that factually the graphs are correct, the Mirror has failed to state the most important fact about the reality of sexual abuse in the UK: precisely who the perpetrators are. Every time an article is published which does not examine the identity of perpetrators, it makes it easier for perpetrators to continue.

The main fact that the Mirror missed is that the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence are men. It is men who rape women, children and other men. The vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence and assault are men. This is the reality and we need to talk about this clearly without falsifying data or ignoring information which makes us uncomfortable.

We also need to deconstruct the statistics that the Mirror has posted as fact:

1. 1 in 20 children have been sexually abused.

Media coverage tends to make parents wary of “stranger danger”, but the figures, released by the NSPCC, show that over 90% of children who have experienced sexual abuse were abused by someone they knew.

This statistic is widely used by the NSPCC who actually use the term “contact sexual abuse” and who do not make it clear on their website or research paper what they define as “contact sexual abuse” and “non-contact sexual abuse”. Separating the two types of sexual abuse does not demonstrate the reality of children’s experiences. It also ignores the fact that the vast majority of victims, whether by family members, members of the community, or ‘strangers’ are girls.

Unfortunately, the number of child victims is much higher with many children never disclosing and many people fundamentally misunderstanding what the term ‘child sexual abuse’ covers.  We need to extend the definition to include children who are groomed and the reality of sexual harassment of children, including that of teenage girls by teenage boys with schools and adult men in public spaces.

We have written before of our concerns about the “stranger danger” advice and how it puts children at risk so we are glad that the Mirror has made this clear.

2. 18,916 sexual crimes against children under 16 were recorded in England and Wales in 2012/13. These include offences of sexual grooming, prostitution and pornography, rape and sexual assualt. They comprise 35% of all sexual crimes (53,540 in total) recorded in England and Wales in 2012/13.

The key word in this statement is “recorded”. We know that many children never disclose and many who do are simply not believed. We need to be clear when using this statistic that it does not represent the total of child victims but only those who become known to authorities (and that those authorities bother to believe the children).

3. Nearly one thousand teachers have been accused of sex with a student.

BBC Newsbeat investigation found that between 2008 and 2013 almost one thousand teachers and school staffers were been suspended, disciplined or dismissed after being accused of having sex with a student. Around one in four are facing charges over the allegations.

As the figures were obtained via an FOI to 200 councils (though only 137 responded), they don’t include teachers and staffers at private schools or academies, so the overall number is likely to be higher.

This is an important statistic to include because frequently the abuse of students in schools gets ignored. But, these teachers have not been accused of “sex with a student”. Sex requires consent. Children are not legally competent to consent to sex and this includes 16 – 18 year olds in “relationships” with adults in a position of authority. We need to be clear that this is child sexual abuse. We also need to be clear that this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of sexual violence experienced by children within schools which includes everything from sexual harassment, unwanted touching, threats, posting images on social media and rape. Steubenville was not an isolated case. The sexual abuse of children within schools occurs daily and is frequently left unacknowledged or the victims blamed.

4. Over 43,000 individuals were registered as sexual offenders in England and Wales as of 31 March 2013.

The reason for the considerable increase, according to the Ministry of Justice, is that more people are being sentenced for sexual offences. The average custodial sentence length is also increasing.

Many sexual offenders are required to register for long periods of time, with some registering for life. This has a cumulative effect on the total number of offenders required to register at any one time.

Again, those who are registered as sexual offenders, and whom are almost entirely male, are just the tip. The number of actual sexual offenders within the UK is much higher as many victims do not report and those who do are not believed. The rape conviction rate in England and Wales is appalling. Between 65 000 – 95 000 people, mostly women, are estimated to be raped each year. Approximately 1 170 rapists are convicted. The vast majority of sexual offenders will never be registered.

5. Last year saw a 9% rise in sexual offences and this – at least in part – is due to Jimmy Savile

This is the largest increase since records began. A total of 55,812 sexual offences were recorded across England and Wales in the year ending June 2013.  Within this, the number of offences of rape increased by 9%. According to the ONS, there is evidence to suggest that as a consequence of the Jimmy Savile inquiry.

The rise in reported cases is not “due to Jimmy Savile”. It is a consequence of the public investigations into the allegations against Jimmy Savile, many of which were made during his lifetime and his victims ignored or labelled liars. However, whilst we can assume that the increase is due to more victims reporting their experiences, it is also possible that sexual offences are themselves increasing.

The reality of sexual violence in the UK is that it is far more common than most people believe and the media actually reports. It is almost entirely perpetrated by men against the bodies of women, children and other men. If we want to stop sexual violence, we need to start naming the perpetrators, challenging rape myths and holding the media accountable for both minimising and sensationalising sexual violence for profit. Publishing these 5 Facts does not help the women and children that the Mirror has distressed with their poor coverage of rape trials. If the Mirror truly wants to help, they need to stop publishing rape myths.

A How Not to Guide on Teaching Children Internet Safety

She said X was the closest park to her house

This is genuinely a line in a YouTube video called “The Dangers of Social Media” that claims to teach parents how easy it is for a ‘paedophile’ to groom a teenage girl: by identifying the neighbourhood she lives in to 30 million viewers.

In fact, the video reveals identifying details of three teenage girls, including street views of their homes and their parents’ faces. Rather than giving any information to help parents actually teach their children how to navigate social media safely, the video invites us to participate in the public shaming of these girls. We are allowed to watch the parents shouting at the girls but not actually engaging in why these girls arranged to meet a stranger they met online. If the aim was to highlight their lack of skills in navigating the internet, a more pertinent question was why no one bothered to teach them any. Why isn’t the focus on the parents rather than the children?

There are so many issues with this video that it’s hard to know where to start. The language itself is incorrect – the term paedophile has a specific clinical definition. The vast majority of child rapists are normal men who make a choice to harm a child; they have no pre-existing psychological condition.

The video also reinforces the ‘stranger danger’ myth. Statistically, fathers form the majority of perpetrators of domestic violence – whether this is physical, emotional and sexual abuse of the children themselves or witnessing the abuse of their mothers. Fathers, brothers, cousins, grandfathers, uncles, and stepfathers are far more likely to sexually abuse a child than a stranger. If we focus on ‘stranger danger’, we ignore the majority of men, and most child sexual abusers are male, who are actually a danger to children. This isn’t to say we pretend that strangers never harm a child; rather that we need to understand risk and help children develop the skills to keep themselves safe. Pretending that the only person who is a child rapist is a creepy man in a trench coat puts them at risk.

Rather than going for scare tactics like those in the video -having parents dress up in skeleton masks and drag their kids into a van- we need to teach children the skills to negotiate a world where a large number are at risk of experiencing domestic and sexual violence and abuse. We can start by using the appropriate words for body parts like vulva and penis.

Children also need to be taught about consent starting as toddlers. One easy way to do this is with tickling. If a child squeals no, stop and ask them if they want you to continue tickling. Then keep asking them. Another way is by telling children that they don’t have to hug or kiss anyone anyone that they don’t want to. Granny might want a hug but a child shouldn’t feel pressured or obligated to do so. Doing this teaches children that they have the right to bodily integrity and that their boundaries should be respected.

Children need to learn the skills to negotiate social media, including online gaming safely. Banning social media until the age of 13, as Facebook does, and then expecting children to be safe online is simply ridiculous. How are children meant to differentiate between unsafe and safe adults when their parents have 900 ‘friends’ on Facebook? If we depend on ‘stranger danger’ myths, do these 900 adults then become safe because their parents ‘know’ them? Equally, we give children mixed messages if we tell them not to talk to strangers but allow them uncontrolled access to X-Box Live. How are children meant to recognise that the older boy from down the road is a child rapist or that the really cool guy on Minecraft is a safe person if we don’t give them the tools to do so.

More importantly, shaming is not an acceptable teaching technique. Publicly shaming your child will not encourage them to have open and honest dialogue with you. It teaches children that their parents are more interested in the performance of ‘safety’ than their actual safety. It makes it impossible for children to ask for help when being bullied at school, never mind when experiencing abuse by a family member or a stranger they’ve met online.

Parents, and schools, need to take more responsibility for helping children develop the skills to negotiate social media and gaming safely, but, as Lynn Schreiber, an expert in social media, says about the video:

Scaring parents will not protect children. Blaming victims will not protect children. This video also reduces the eSafety message to one (fairly rare) danger, while ignoring the far more commonly occurring issues of children viewing violent or sexual content, cyberbullying, going viral, reputation management, and public shaming. Our children are growing up with this technology and need to be taught how to use it in a positive and sensible way.

The average age a child views porn online is between the ages of 9 – 12. Many children experience online bullying and harassment. Others live with domestic and sexual violence and abuse within the home. These conversations on personal safety, online and off, are very difficult but that is why they are necessary. We need to teach children the skills to deal with unsafe people and navigate the real world. In our global economy, the Internet is the real world.

This is what child protection should start with: teaching children their emotions are valid, that they have the right to say no, and that is completely unethical and unfair to publicly shame them on social media.

 

Originally published in the Huffington Post on 02/8/15.

An earlier version of this article appeared on Everyday Victim Blaming on 17/8/15

David Aaronovitch, Beatrix Campbell and Conspiracy Theories

It’s fairly safe to say that David Aaronovitch does not like being challenged by women, especially women who actually know what they are talking about – unlike Aaronovitch who was given a huge platform by BBC Radio 4 to propagate myths about the ritual sexual abuse of children:

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Something of a pot calling the kettle black here since Aaronovitch’s program on ritual abuse neglected to mention a rather impressive amount of peer-reviewed evidence-based research into the reality of ritual abuse, and a number of successful prosecutions of perpetrators in the UK.

Since Aaronovitch seems to think everyone but him is required to disclose their entire life story before being allowed an opinion I obviously have to state that I have met Bea Campbell twice. I chaired a panel Campbell was on at the Nottingham Women’s Conference in 2014, and then said hello to her when she was chairing a panel at the Project Mirabel conference on perpetrator programs in 2015. I also spoke once to Campbell’s current partner Judith Jones on the phone with a query about a project. I’m sure that Aaronovitch, the great destroyer of conspiracy theories, won’t see anything untoward in me questioning his stance on a woman I’ve met twice. If he did, it would scream hypocrisy – a charge I’m sure Aaronovitch is unwilling to accept.

Just putting this out there. For your edification.Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 12.14.00

Obviously, claiming that the only reason women disagree with you is because you have a penis is nothing like a conspiracy theory. Women, after all, are clearly incapable of independent thought and the only reason a large number could be disgusted with Aaronovitch’s program is because of his penis. And, not because he’s ignored a large base of evidence that contradicts his theory – some of which, strangely enough, is also written by men but I haven’t seen Aaronovitch critiquing their credentials with quite such verve.

What I found truly objectionable in Aaronovitch’s complete refusal to recognise that he’s probably not an expert on child sexual abuse (what with his implication that children lie within the program) is that he resorted to a personal attack rather than to engage with the evidence:

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Keeping in mind that my personal knowledge of Campbell and Jones extends to knowing their names and the fact that they made a documentary about the ritual abuse case in Nottingham before they were in a relationship.  I don’t know if they were in a relationship when they wrote Stolen Voices (which was removed from publication as the publisher did not have libel insurance) but 30 seconds on google would no doubt find an answer and a series of inaccurate assumptions and a whole host of conspiracy theories from men’s rights extremists – strangely, Aaronovitch seems to have no opinion on these.

I’m struggling to see why Aaronovitch made the accusation in the tweets above since anyone reading online has access to google to check out the credentials of those making political points – including Aaronovitch who has form for minimising child sexual abuse.

I could get all postmodern about objective truth, bias and knowing, but its pretty clear that Aaronovitch isn’t interested in the truth about satanic ritual abuse considering his deflection of any engagement which tries to mention research or criminal prosecutions. I’ve been googling and have yet to find any evidence of Campbell claiming a global conspiracy of satanic child abuse. Writing about 1 of the very few instances of satanic ritual abuse does not make a conspiracy. Making insinuations about the relationship between two women as a way of deflecting critical engagement with your work reeks of lesbophobia.

But, heh, according to Aaronovitch’s theory of relationships, I’m biased for happening to chair a conference where Campbell spoke. I can’t wait to see the disclaimers Aaronovitch will be adding to every single thing he writes or produces for fear of sharing the same Tescos delivery guy makes him biased about a politician.

I highly recommend reading  part one and part two of Campbell’s response to Aaronovitch, as well as the articles by Dr Sarah Nelson (researcher, writer and media commentator on child sexual abuse at Edinburgh University) and journalist Tim Tate who both appeared in the Radio 4 program but feel that Aaronovitch misrepresented them.

And, then ask what historic allegations and prosecutions for ritual sexual abuse of children have to do with current historic allegations of sexual abuse (not ritual abuse) and systemic child sexual exploitation across the UK.

 

EDIT:

End Online Misogyny have written a response to Aaronovitch here. Liz Kelly linked to this 2003 article by Aaronovitch called “Don’t look now: In the sordid world of child abuse, fantasy and reality are perilously intertwined”, which is as horrendously ill-informed and misleading as the title suggests.

 

Narcissistic Father declares daughter property: internet decides her consent no longer exists

I flinch when I see babies in “Daddy’s little princess” pyjamas and girls in “Mummy’s Little Helper” t-shirts. I don’t think these kinds of clothing are cute. Mostly, they make me want to vomit.

This image takes the fucking cake though. In the category of “how well can you meld creepy narcissism with daughter as property”, it would totally blow away the competition. It’s the other side of those horrific purity/promise rings given by fathers, particularly in US sects of Christianity, to their daughters so they will always remember their “Daddy’s Little Princess”. The similarities to grooming practises by sexual predators is completely ignored.Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 09.04.30

It’s more than just the creepiness of labelling children possessions of the fathers. There is also the issue of consent.

I’ve deliberately removed the child’s face from the image because I believe it is unethical to share images of children without their consent – particularly when the image is used to humiliate. Yes, every other site has published her face but that doesn’t make it fair. Consent isn’t given via other people’s misuse of a child’s image.

Realistically, who wants to be known forever more as that girl from the Facebook meme with the creepy father? The one who warns away boys from her body with his six pack on her t-shirt? What about her right to privacy? Her right to live a life not defined by the actions of her father? The choice to be anonymous? This isn’t a child who is old enough to consent to her image being used. She’s not old enough to understand the full ramifications of having her image online.

Publicly humiliating your child in this manner isn’t good parenting. We need to stop sharing these images of children when we know that the only reason they are doing the rounds of Facebook is for people to laugh at.

 

 

How to identify a school you shouldn’t send your kids too.

A school in Gustine Texas has forced around two dozen kids, segregated them by sex and then forced them to pull down their pants after feces was discovered on the gym floor. The school’s defence, via Superintendent Baugh of the school district, appears to be that they only made the kids pull down their pants just a little bit.

Because there is totally an acceptable amount of lowering underwear that schools should be able to force children to do.

I am completely flabbergasted by this. I cannot believe that any adult with even a modicum of respect for children could even think about doing this, never mind actually following through with it. And, this is without getting into the issues of child protection and the possibility of the child acting out due to child sexual abuse or a developmental delay that results in children being unable to understand the consequences of their actions. I find it very hard to believe a neurotypical child who has never experienced abuse would do something like this. Even if this turns out to be a bet between children, there is clearly an unhealthy power dynamic occurring.

The parents have gone to the media and are demanding that the school be held accountable. I’d be tossing around words like sexual assault and threatening to sue the school. I’d also be looking for a new school for my kid because children have the right to bodily autonomy. They shouldn’t be exposed to this type of abusive behaviour. Because, it is abusive.

Granted, finding feces on the gym floor isn’t a highlight of anyone’s career in education and a school in this situation does need to find the child responsible. They need to find the culprit to appropriately support the child. Demanding children lower their underwear is disgusting behaviour – and this without getting into the issue of child sexual abusers working in schools. To be honest, I’d be wondering if the teachers whose idea this was and those who participated were child sexual abusers. I certainly wouldn’t trust them near children.

What if they had found the culprit this way? Does the school believe public humiliation is an appropriate punishment? Or, that mass humiliation as a communal punishment is anything but piss poor teaching? What if the child had done it as a cry for help because of sexual abuse in the home? Or, that the gym teacher was sexually abusing them? Or, the caretaker staff were? What if this was an accident following long-term bullying of the child by other students? What if it were incontinence caused by long-term anal rape?

There are so many other questions that arise from a school who does this that I could spend the next 7 hours listing them. What they all boil down to is that any school who thinks this is appropriate isn’t a safe school for children.

Jimmy Savile is *NOT* a disgraced former presenter.

Jimmy Savile is child sexual predator.

Jimmy Savile is one of the most prolific child sexual predators known in the UK.

He is NOT a “disgraced” former presenter.

We need to stop using euphemistic language when discussing sexual predators. Savile did not pee on the Queen or vomit on the Prime Minister. He didn’t get caught smoking pot in the House of Commons. He sexually assaulted, raped and tortured vulnerable children whilst the entire establishment, from the BBC to politicians to the police, looked the other way. It is beyond disgraceful for the media to run headlines like today’s Guardian:

At least 500 children abused by Jimmy Savile, new research claims

NSPCC study highlights extent of the disgraced presenter’s offending, making him one of the UK’s most prolific sex offenders

It’s not really that hard to come up with to describe Savile’s behaviour: violent would be a better word since sexual assault and rape are acts of violence. Or, and I know this goes beyond all the limits of thought, the media could just call him a serial sexual predator. Since that’s what Savile was. 

The Savile inquiry was not about Savile’s reputation. It’s a criminal investigation into the assault, rape and torture of children committed by Savile. It’s not necessary to google synonyms; just call him what he is : a prolific sexual predator who raped children.

Victoria Coren, Roman Polanski and Being one of “those feminists” [content note for rape]

I’ve been mostly too cross to respond to Victoria Coren’s rape apologism in the Observer today. Or, more accurately, I’m too cross to respond to Coren’s response to being challenged on her article in the Observer today. As one of those who was clearly too dim to “understand” what Coren was saying , I’ve  decided to go through line by line to work out what it is that those of us who don’t understand, “don’t understand”. I’m fairly sure I’m “one of those feminists” Coren is complaining about on twitter. Of course, I’m not entirely certain Coren understands what “those feminists” are criticising which goes a long way to explain what’s wrong with Coren’s piece in the first place.

So, this is me, being too dim to understand what Coren meant when she wrote the following:

Roman Polanski and the sin of simplification:

Let’s be totally honest here, anyone who uses the term “sin of simplification” when discussing a case of child rape probably isn’t starting from a child-centric position. Roman Polanski groomed Samantha Geimer. He took topless photos of her. Several weeks later, Polanski took Geimer to Jack Nicholson’s house, fed her a quaalude and champagne and anally raped her. While she was saying no and crying to go home.

A adult man groomed and raped a child. I’m not sure how accurately describing an event counts as “simplifying” but, hey, I’m one of “those” feminists.

The Samantha Geimer/Roman Polanski case demonstrates our terrible dread of nuance

Technically, this is the stand-first so it’s unlikely that Coren wrote it. Whoever did was clearly confused about the topic of the article. I’m fairly sure there are no “nuances” to child rape but I’m basing this on research by Rape Crisis and a number of other women’s organisations who I’m sure Coren would class as “those feminists”.

Samantha Geimer, the girl in the Roman Polanski rape case, has published what might be the most important and valuable book of the century so far.

Hyperbole is perhaps not the best way to start a serious article on a woman writing her story of sexual violence. Geimer’s book is very important, not least because of the sheer number of people who think Polanski’s art should be reason enough to forgive him for raping a child. Geimer has consistently been written out of her own life by journalists and celebrities obsessed with Polanski and his privileges of fame.

It may prove to be one of those books that a lot of people talk about without actually reading, like A Brief History of Time, or The Tipping Point, or most of the school syllabus.But that’s OK.

The value of Geimer’s book, The Girl, lies in the debate it stirs up; this is already happening through serialisation and widespread, articulate interviews with the author. If that triggers a bigger discussion among non-readers, then she has still done something useful and important.

This is the start of the “missing the point completely” bit. The problem with the “debate” about Polanski is that far too many people have an opinion on a topic they don’t actually have any knowledge of.  A brief survey of the comments published under any media piece, blog and arguments on Facebook demonstrates just how many people don’t know about the grooming or the drugging of Geimer and just how many people think that Polanski only “fondled” Geimer. Much of the public “debate” involves people who genuinely don’t know that Polanski put his penis in Geimer’s mouth and anus without consent. They don’t know that Geimer said no repeatedly and was crying to go home.

Suggesting that it’s okay that they don’t read the book whilst participating in a debate about the rape of a child is ridiculous.

And, honestly, this bit: “then she has still done something useful and important.” Really? Did Coren really mean to include a statement that implies that Geimer’s only done one useful thing in her life: start a debate about being raped as a child? Because I keep rereading that paragraph and twitching.

And, really, what “debate” are we supposed to be having? The one where everyone excuses Polanski because he’s an “artiste” because I am genuinely beyond sick of that “debate”. It’s simply rape apologism.

How much do you know about the story? I knew a bit, but still experienced what hurried book reviewers call “an emotional rollercoaster” while reading one of her interviews.

Actually, I know quite a bit. In fact, I know more than I think is appropriate about the rape of a child. I know because I got angry reading article after article written by a journalist squealing about how amazing Polanski’s films are. These articles almost inevitably list Polanski’s rape of a child as something bad which happened to Polanski. And, something that Polanski was almost justified in doing after his wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered. References to Polanski’s status as a Holocaust survivor are frequently mentioned as a mitigating factor.

If we lived in a culture where the bodies of women and children were not tortured and raped on a daily basis, we would not need to know more than the fact that Roman Polanski raped a child. He would be in prison and Samantha Geimer would never have been placed in a position where she was forced to go public with her experiences.

And, frankly, any journalist or reviewer who used the words “emotional rollercoaster” about the autobiography of a child victim of rape would not have their review published.

When Samantha Geimer was 13, the famous 43-year-old film director Roman Polanski said that he was photographing young American girls for a feature in French Vogue. With forgivable naivety, Geimer’s mother allowed him to take her out alone. He photographed her topless, which she did not tell her mother.

This is quite clearly evidence that Polanksi groomed Geimer.  We need journalists start using the correct terms when writing about male violence against women. Terminology matters. The AVA project has guidelines which are easily accessible via google.

Suggesting that Geimer’s mother showed “forgivable naivety” is a back-handed way of blaming Geimer’s mother for the rape perpetrated by Polanski. It was not “naivety”. Most people believe that no one would ever contemplate raping a child. People hand over their children to priests, scout leaders, piano teachers, and relatives without  ever contemplating whether or not that adult will rape the child. We assume the best of men despite a large amount of evidence to the contrary.

The only person responsible for the rape of Samantha Geimer was Roman Polanski. And only Roman Polanski.

A few weeks later, Polanski took Samantha to Jack Nicholson’s house, gave her several glasses of champagne and part of a sleeping pill, then had sex with her. It was statutory rape. Geimer says: “It was rape in every sense of the word. I said no.”

Roman Polanski “did not have sex with her”. Roman Polanski orally and anally raped a 13 year old girl.

The moment we start using phrases like “had sex with her”, we are obfuscating what is a very clear case of rape. Secondly, there is a strange disjoint in this paragraph: Comer goes from “had sex” to statutory rape to rape. Now, technically this was a case of statutory rape since Geimer was only 13 and too young to consent. Children can not consent, however, had Geimer been 18 the case still would have been rape because she did not consent. The use of “statutory rape” within the context of this paragraph reads as a minimisation, like Whoopi Godlberg’s infamous “rape-rape” comment.

Roman Polanski groomed and orally and anally raped a child.

The way in which he had sex with her is indelicate to include, but important. Geimer’s book expresses it with literate sarcasm: referring to a sympathetic psychological report after Polanski’s arrest, which cited his “solicitude concerning pregnancy” as a mitigating factor, Geimer says this was “an interesting new euphemism for sodomy”.

Polanski did not “have sex with her”. Yes, I’m repeating myself but, honestly, it’s not actually that difficult to note the difference between rape and sex: one is a crime. The other is not.

I don’t know how this makes you feel. It fills me with thoughts of violence. I imagine being alone with Polanski, kicking and punching him. The anger I feel, at the thought of this being done to a drugged child, seems to be an instinctively brutal one.

Then you read about the life of Roman Polanski. How shameful and how pointless to punish him with violence, even in the imagination.

I honestly don’t know how to respond to this with anything other than despair. I feel a tremendous amount of anger about what Polanski did. I want him to held responsible by the criminal justice system in the state of California. I am furious that he has managed to evade justice for all these years.

I also know his personal history and nothing in it makes me think that holding him accountable would be shameful or pointless. Punching him in the face does nothing. Holding him criminally responsible for his crimes does change things: it sends a clear message that we do believe, as a society, that there is no excuse for child rape.

Aged six, he saw his father taken to a concentration camp. His mother died at Auschwitz when she was four months pregnant. At 35, with God knows what ineradicable scars, Polanski married Sharon Tate and they started a family immediately. Tate was eight months pregnant when a gang broke into their home, stabbed her to death and smeared “pig” on the front door in her blood.

Polanski is a Holocaust survivor. His first wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered whilst 8 months pregnant. These are both horrific and traumatising events. But, so is being orally and anally raped. It is not shameful or pointless to imagine punishing Polanski with violence. He has been both the victim of crime and perpetrated a crime. One does not negate the other. Yes, Coren’s next paragraph starts with “this is not an excuse” but stating that after having listed excuses for the rape is problematic. Their is a disjuncture between Coren’s intention and what is understood by the reader.

This is not an excuse; other survivors have not become rapists. But it silences my violent instinct immediately and creates a sharp and terrible sympathy in parallel with the anger. A second complicating factor is that Polanski’s work is filled with beauty and humanity.

Ah, the old “Polanski is an artiste” defence. I honestly cannot count the number of times I’ve read this exact same defence in the Guardian, never mind the rest of the media. There is absolutely no correlation between Polanski’s “work” and the brutal rape he committed.

The idea that Polanski’s work is a “mitigating factor” is rape apologism. It doesn’t matter how much “beauty and humanity” are in Polanski’s films: he raped a child.

Polanski groomed and drugged a child. Then he orally and anally raped her. His career is irrelevant to this. After all, a plumber convicted of a similar crime wouldn’t be excused because of their job. Artists must be held to the same standard as anyone else, which, frankly, in our culture isn’t that  high to begin with.

These are unfamiliar feelings; our modern world does not invite us to treat anybody as nuanced. People are heroes or villains, victims or victimisers; sometimes neither, but never both.

People are nuanced. Child rape it is not nuanced. It is a crime, regardless of who perpetrates it.

And, yes, our modern culture does create a dichotomy of heroes or villains and victims or victimisers. But, articles like this do nothing to challenge that dichotomy. It is very clearly arguing that Polanski is a hero because of his “art”. He is a hero because he is a victim. Our celebrity culture with its obsession with “important men” doing “important art” is something we need to destroy. But, let’s do this without giving excuses for child rapists.

When Roman Polanski, who has lived in exile from America and its justice system for decades, was nominated for an Oscar for directing The Pianist, Samantha Geimer called on the Academy to “judge the movie, not the man”.

She has been exchanging emails with Polanski for several years.

I’m not quite sure what Coren is trying to say here. It reads as though Coren is suggesting that we all stop being mean to Roman Polanski because The Piano was a good film and Geimer emails him. I’m sure this not quite what Coren intended to say but, as with the rest of the piece, Coren seems to be arguing the exact opposite of what she meant to say.

She says that the police investigation, hospital exams and reporting of the case were more traumatic than the attack itself. She says: “I did something wrong, I was stupid… To pose topless, and to drink and to take the [sleeping] pill.”

Many rape victims feel that the police investigation, hospital exams and reporting of the case are more traumatic than the rape itself. This is not news. This is the result of of a woman-hating culture where women are held responsible for being victims of rape. Our first instinct is to believe women are lying. It is to make excuses for their rapists. The treatment Geimer has received for the past 30 years by the media, by Hollywood and by the justice system is a disgrace to humanity. Her voice has been silenced. Repeatedly.

Coren hasn’t done much to ensure that Geimer’s voice heard here.

It is so easy and tempting to knock this into a pigeonhole: the misguided self-blame and denial of the victim. But this woman is too smart and articulate for us comfortably to assume we know better. She puts these complicated thoughts out there, alongside her anger, not because she’s too damaged to think clearly but because she can’t bear the world’s oversimplification.

Does this mean that women who aren’t “smart or articulate” aren’t allowed to define their own experience? Can we “comfortably assume we know better” than other victims for sexual violence? I am also very uncomfortable with the idea of victims being “too damaged to think clearly”. That’s precisely the excuse given by rapists, the police and the criminal justice system to prevent rapists from being held accountable for rape.

We know that Roman Polanski orally and anally raped Samantha Geimer when she was just 13 years old. No one who has experienced sexual violence or has actually listened to victims of sexual violence would ever assume there was a “pigeonhole” for victim’s experiences to be slotted into. That “oversimplification” is rape culture. Suggesting that there are victims of sexual violence who are “too damaged to think clearly” fits into that discourse and not in a helpful way.

When a therapist on the Oprah Winfrey show explained that Geimer was suffering from “victim’s guilt”, she said this was “patronising”; who would dare patronise her further by saying that it wasn’t?

In The Pianist, Polanski transformed his ghastly knowledge of the camps into an act of artistic self-expression. In The Girl, Geimer does the same with her rape. That is a powerful response, from both of them. But what an incredibly complicated common bond.

I honestly just want to put my head on my desk and cry at this statement. The arrogance of Coren in writing this is just breathtaking.

Polanski raped Geimer. They do not have “an incredibly complicated common bond” through art. Polanski is a rapist. Geimer was raped.

It is the complication that we need. People have become desperate to reduce everything, including each other, to mindless categories of good and bad, as if the world can be divided into Facebook likes and dislikes.

And, it most certainly is not a “complication” that we need. And, frankly, if anyone is guilty of the sin over-simplification, it’s the mainstream media who reduce everything to soundbites with little analysis.

When I wrote about the Muslim women in Birmingham who were protesting against a ban on the niqab, and the argument that they are so deeply in the patriarchal grip that they cannot choose as freely as they think, I pointed out that people have said the same to me about taking my husband’s name. Many readers asked why I was defending the veil. Others pointed out the differences between veiling your face and changing your name. It was as though there is no room for analogy unless it’s a direct comparison and no room for words on the niqab other than “Hurray for it” or “Ban it”.

My first thought when I got to this paragraphy was that Coren only wrote about Geimer and Polanski because she was still having a tantrum about being questioned over the piece on Muslim women in Birmingham. Having read this paragraph, the rest of the piece seems to be nothing more than an adult whining about being “misunderstood” and demanding people apologise for deliberately “misunderstanding” here.

Here’s a hint: if a large number of people don’t understand your point, it’s possible you didn’t do a very good job of conveying your point. This is a time for a little bit of self-reflection and not writing articles about the “sin of simplification” in cases of child rape.

Similarly, we yearn to know if we should be cheering or booing at Operation Yewtree, political leaders or the idea of bombing Syria.

So what is to be done with Samantha Geimer’s story? She does not condemn Polanski nor exonerate him. She does not blame herself nor refuse to examine herself. Her voice is strong and complicated. You cannot simplify her, or him.

Her current battle is not with her original oppressor but the reporters of then and now, the lawyers, the psychologists of reality TV and everyone watching – all of whom objectified her further. She is fighting against reductive simplicity. She forces us to think hard, to use muscles that must not go slack.

There’s an irony in this last paragraph in relation to Coren’s response to the criticism of this piece on twitter. Her immediate dismissal of any response which she does not approve doesn’t make me believe Coren is actually arguing against over-simplification within the media.

Mostly, it sounds like a woman cross at not being lauded for another article and using the rape of a 13 year old girl to get in some snide digs at those who disagreed with her last week.

I’m not overly upset at being dismissed as one of “those feminists”. It’s always code for that group of weirdos who think women are human too. And, I’m okay with being too dim to understand what Coren thought she was saying since the problems within Coren’s piece reflect pretty much everything which is wrong with rape culture.

Amazon: Supporting Child Rape or Just Really, Really Lazy?


So, apparently whilst I was asleep the other night, some brilliant Feminist activists managed to get Amazon to withdraw a book which advocates child rape through that lovely construction of “sex tourism“. You know, that thing which is actually illegal in the UK because it’s travelling for the express purpose of rape. Now, I don’t really care whether or not Amazon apologises for this [although, they’d have to be pretty freaking stupid not to]. Frankly, I’m disgusted they allowed it to be put for sale in the first place. There is no way an organisation as large as Amazon does not have an approval policy for which products they do or do not sell and its Amazon’s approval policies which piss me off.

My lovely friend Frothy Dragon wrote this several days ago:

Through providing such a product, Amazon has not only promoted the Sex Tourism trade, but it has told rapists of children where they could potentially escape charges for child sex offences. Amazon has, in one publication, minimised child sex abuse, and normalised it, implying that not only is it legal in some countries, but “Hey! Other men are doing it too, y’know!” 

I further call on all relevant agencies, INCLUDING AMAZON, to work together to prosecute the people who have purchased, produced and distributed this publication. As outlined by the Foreign And Commonwealth Office, British citizens and residents can be prosecuted for having sex with a child whilst out of the country. Tourism is no excuse to allow the rape of children.

I agree with every word. Amazon is minimising and legitimising the rape of children with the sale of these products. We should be pushing for more prosecutions of men, and it is always men, who travel for the express purpose of raping children and vulnerable women. It’s not like we need to invent a new law for this. It’s already illegal in the UK to travel for the express purposes of sex tourism.

But, this isn’t just about prosecuting individual men. We need a full cultural change in order to protect vulnerable children and women. That requires multi-national corporations like Amazon taking responsibility for the products that they sell. It doesn’t matter whether or not the information in the book was freely available on the internet [and Wikipedia might want to start deleting that information too]. Amazon should have an approval policy in place which expressly prohibits this kind of material from being sold by them. The fact that they put profit before any moral or ethical obligation [like, say, actually paying taxes] will only change if people start boycotting them. And, telling Amazon they are boycotting because of Amazon’s refusal to deal properly with products which advocate sexualised violence.