Susan Brownmiller, Angela Davis, & the erasure of Black Feminist Activism

Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will is one of the most important texts in the history of women’s liberation. There is no debate on its impact on the so-called second wave* feminist movement and on women being able to speak their truth. All movements for social justice need to understand their history in order to create their future. This does not mean we need to see foundational texts like Against Our Will as perfect. Unfortunately, Rachel Cooke’s interview with Susan Brownmiller, published last month in The Guardian, falls into the trap of refusing to acknowledge that our ‘foundational’ texts are not only not perfect but also not written only by white women:

Against Our Will finally came out in 1975, five long years after the first of the key texts of women’s liberation: Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics and Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex. Though it would later be attacked by, among others, the black activist Angela Davis for its attitudes to race (in his piece, Remnick writes that Brownmiller’s treatment of the Emmett Till case “reads today as morally oblivious”), its reception was mostly positive and it became a bestseller (much later, with pleasing neatness, it would be included in the New York Public Library’s Books of the Century).

Calling Angela Davis a Black activist rather than a Black Feminist Activist is deeply problematic. Davis was/ is a significant theorist and activist in the feminist movement. Her book Women, Race & Classfirst published in 1981, is as radical and essential text as Against Our Will, Sexual Politics, The Dialectic of Sex, and The Feminine Mystique. The erasure of the term ‘feminist’ here implies that Davis’ critique was rude and unnecessary; that the experience of women of colour should only be spoken of in terms of sexism, and not the racism (or classism, disabilism or lesbophobia) that women experience. Failing to include the term feminist here doesn’t just imply that Davis isn’t a ‘real’ feminist, it completely erases her from the feminist movement.

The use of the term  ‘attack’ rather than critical engagement reinforces the idea that Davis’ response was rude and unnecessary.  Considering the fact that Emmett Till’s accuser has admitted to lying about Till wolf whistling at her, the insinuation here that Davis is the problem rather than Brownmiller’ representation of the murder of a teenage boy for the crime of being African-American is very concerning.

Firstly we need to stop using words like ‘attack’ to define discussion within the feminist movement. Critical engagement, debate, and self-reflection are essential to all social justice movements. No one should be above criticism and apologising is not a sign of weakness.

Yet, somehow we’ve arrived at a point where we split women into 2 categories: those we put on a pedestal and are absolutely banned from critiquing because they are ‘important’ and those whose work we must NEVER EVER read for fear of our brains imploding. Or, something equally ridiculous. This dichotomy plays straight into the hands of misogynists: we’re so busy back pedalling and apologising that we no longer recognise feminists as women. Women who make mistakes. Women who say stupid shit. Women who say deeply offensive things (and if they are on the pedestal we are definitely not allowed to mention the offensive language and actions). We don’t allow room for women to grow and change as actual human beings.

I am not arguing here for an erasure of past abusive comments, theories and actions or the dismissal of feminist texts which are deeply problematic. We need to acknowledge our actions and the negative consequences these had for other women. We also need to acknowledge that women can grow and change; that the true liberation of women will not happen if we ignore our history. Erasing Angela Davis from the feminist movement in order to protect Susan Brownmiller’s feelings and legacy are not the actions of women who are committed to feminist theory and activism. Against Our Will can be a seminal feminist text and be representative of the erasure of racism from feminist history. These positions are not a dichotomy. They are the true history of the feminist movement, where challenges from within are essential to the success of the movement.

Angela Davis is a Black feminist activist and academic. She did not ‘attack’ Susan Brownmiller. Davis simply demanded that the experience of Black women be recognised as reality; that sexism does not trump the intersecting oppressions experienced by women.

 

Further Reading:

Patricia Hill Collins & Sirma Bilge, Intersectionality, (Polity Press, 2016).

Angela Davis, Women, Race & Class, (Random House, 1981).

Bell Hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, (Pluto Press, 2000)

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders: Decolonising Theory, Practicing Solidarity, (Duke University Press, 2003)

Cherry Moraga & Gloria Anzaldua, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Colour, (New York Press, 2015)

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, (Haymarket Books, 2017).

 

 

* I prefer Liz Kelly’s theory of feminism as a tapestry which all feminists (and now womanists) create and recreate by adding new threads and undoing that which is now understood to be problematic, rather than feminism as a series of ‘waves’.

Everyone Knew: The Harvey Weinstein Allegations – my new project

https://www.the-pool.com/news-views/latest-news/2017/43/a-comprehensive-list-of-every-weinstein-allegation-so-far (via @amysoandso)

Everyone knew.

We hear this over and over and over again. Every single time a male actor, athlete, musician, artist, politician, chef (and the list goes on) are alleged to be perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, the refrain is “oh, everyone knew”.

Somehow ‘everyone knew’ about the multiple allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape surrounding Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein; allegations that go back decades. Yet, no one (read men) in positions of power followed even the most basic protection regulations and laws around sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Everyone also ‘knew’ about Jimmy Savile’s predatory behaviour to children and women. Despite multiple allegations made to numerous people supposedly responsible for child protection and multiple reports to police, the media still didn’t want to publish the clear evidence of Savile’s sexually predatory behaviour. Even after he died. Everyone knew; no one talked.

The original plan of Everyone Knew was to list only those men for whom allegations had become public in the immediate aftermath of Rowan Farrow’s expose of Harvey Weinstein’s crimes. However, it soon became clear that it was a false division. Part of the reason for including men like Charlie Chaplin and Roman Polanski, whose crimes go back decades, is to show just how ubiquitous this level of entitlement is and just how many men are perpetrators – men who did not suddenly become perpetrators when named in the press.  We talk about Harvey Weinstein as though it was a watershed point. The simple truth is the complete opposite. These ‘watershed’ moments are continuous and constant. We need to keep pushing back on the silencing of women and children. And, we need to stop pretending that naming Weinstein will change everything. We have been here before and it hasn’t. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t fight back. We must. Otherwise the abuse will still continue – unnamed because we already ‘solved’ it.

Many of the men named in the past month as alleged perpetrators were business associates or friends of men who already had a documented history of inappropriate and illegal behaviour. A significant number had worked with Harvey Weinstein. Allegations about Academy Award winner Ben Affleck only became public recently, however, his younger brother Casey was the subject of two sexual harassment complaints in 2010. Ben knew about these allegations and, along with long-time friend and collaborator Matt Damon, used his status as a shield for his younger brother. Allegations about the behaviour of Brett Ratner resulted in allegations about his long-time friend Russell Simmons. Allegations about Harvey Weinstein raised allegations about the behaviour of his brother  Bob, who is accused not only of sexual harassment himself but of helping cover up Harvey’s crimes. A number of these lists also list fashion photographer Terry Richardson as a ‘new’ allegation because the publisher Conde Nast has chosen to stop working with him this past month. The fact that Conde Nast knew of the multiple allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault levied against Richardson in 2010 has been erased in favour of ‘watershed moment’ media coverage.

Over the years, feminist activists and journalists have campaigned for boycotts of celebrity men with a history of violence against women and girls.  The sheer number of allegations and the multiple perpetrators named in the past month make it difficult to keep track.  This is why Everyone Knew was born. It will be a database of convicted perpetrators, as well as naming men who are alleged to be perpetrators. You can find the list here; it is not complete and may never be as many predators will continue to use the their money and their power to silence victims. I have also built sub-categories of employment and industry to show that this is more than just ‘Hollywood’ or some rogue US senators.

You can follow us at @EveryoneKnew17 & #EveryoneKnew

As with many feminist projects, I created this database without external financial support. If you can afford to donate £1 to help continue this project, I would be incredibly grateful.

David Bowie and the issue of statutory rape

*** note*** I wrote this the day David Bowie died. I took it down after months and months of rape threats. I’m republishing now, with more links to media coverage of Bowie’s involvement with the ‘baby groupies’ scene.

 

In the 1970s, David Bowie, along with Iggy Pop, Jimmy Page, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger and others, were part of the ‘Baby Groupies’ scene in LA. The ‘Baby Groupies’ were 13 to 15 year old girls who were sexually exploited and raped by male rock stars. The names of these girls are easily searchable online but I will not share them here as all victims of rape deserve anonymity.

The ‘Baby Groupie‘ scene was about young girls being prepared for sexual exploitation (commonly refereed to as grooming) and then sexually assaulted and raped. Even articles which make it clear that the music industry ” ignor(ed), and worse enabl(ed), a culture that still allows powerful men to target young girls” celebrate that culture and minimise the choices of adult men to rape children and those who chose to look away. This is what male entitlement to sexual access to the bodies of female children and adults looks like. It is rape culture.

David Bowie is listed publicly as the man that one 14 year old girl ‘lost her virginity’ too.

We need to be absolutely clear about this, adult men do not ‘have sex’ with 13 and 14 year old girls. It is child rape. Children cannot consent to sex with adult men – even famous rock stars. Suggesting this is due to the ‘context’ of 70s LA culture is to wilfully ignore the history of children being sexually exploited by powerful men. The only difference to the ‘context’ here was that the men were musicians and not politicians, religious leaders, or fathers.

The basic requirement for a good person is taking responsibility for their choices and the consequences of their choices. At no point has Bowie, or another of the men involved in the sexual exploitation and rape of ‘baby groupies’ has taken responsibility for the consequences. I have yet to see a statement saying, “I participated in this culture. I hurt children by participating in this culture and I apologise to the children I abused and those whose abuse I ignored.” A man with Bowie’s financial wherewithal could have taken the second step and donated funds to rape crisis centres, funded programs working with vulnerable children at risk of sexual exploitation.

It is perfectly reasonable and rational to mourn a man whose music made a huge impact on your life. It is neither reasonable nor rational to pretend that that person was a ‘god’ and erase their illegal and unethical behaviour because you love their music. I wrote my undergraduate thesis and first MSc to the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s album Californication. That one album has had a positive impact on my life and I still play when working. I’ve since read Anthony Kiedis’ memoir Scar Tissue and know now that he has a history of sexual exploitation of teenage girls. I had been under no illusions of his misogynistic behaviour before reading the book, but I was not aware of the full extent.

David Bowie was an incredible musician who inspired generations. He also participated in a culture where children were sexually exploited and raped. This is as much a part of his legacy as his music.

 

 

 

#DickheadDetox: The Weinstein Years

It’s been a few years since I’ve written a post tracking abusive celebrity men under the tag #DickheadDetox. The origins came from an article by Eva Wiseman in the Guardian about holding violent male celebrities accountable:

“It’s to do with my problem giving money to dicks, to people who’ve punched their wives or broken their teeth. It’s to do with linking the things they’ve done to the things they’ve made. It’s a rule I’m currently formalising – I’m turning off the TV when abusers appear. I’m leaving shops where their songs dribble from the PA; I’m turning off the radio. Like a juice cleanse. A dickhead detox. And it feels good.”

I’ve been trying to do this, however avoiding financially supporting artists with a history of violence against women and girls is much easier than avoiding those who collude with them by minimising their crimes. Or continuing to work with abusers. You only have to look at the careers of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. And, now, Harvey Weinstein.

Harvey Weinstein’s actions are not an aberration. He is not an isolated incident.

Harvey Weinstein is the product of a white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy which requires women to pass the patriarchal fuckability test whilst holding them accountable for the rape and abuse they experience.

If Harvey Weinstein was an aberration, Roman Polanski would not have gotten a standing ovation at the Oscars; sexual harassment in schools would not be increasing in astronomical numbers; and, the majority of rapists would be in prisons having been found guilty of their crimes. Instead of the exact opposite.

The women who have been sexually harassed, assaulted and raped by Harvey Weinstein have been brave in speaking out knowing precisely what the punishment is for holding violent men accountable: being labeled liars and harassed and abused online.

Rape culture is a victim blaming culture and a culture of enabling violent and abusive men. Weinstein’s victims are already being berated for not speaking out sooner to ‘protect’ other women – as though they would have been believed. It is very clear that many, many men in Hollywood knew about Weinstein and did nothing – men who had the clout to refuse to work with him. Men who control the very media companies that could have reported the crimes. Instead, Weinstein is pretending to have a “sex addiction” – the new go to excuse for rapists.

The women Weinstein targeted were famous, young, vulnerable, and equally the daughters of powerful actors. The way Weinstein targeted these women reads like the various Jimmy Savile inquiries: powerful men given access to victims with the active collusion of some and the refusal of others to take a stand. And, the inquiries into the sexual exploitation of girls involved in gymnastics. Children living in care homes. Slate has created a timeline of Weinstein’s known criminal acts starting in 1990, which is distressing in the similarity of experiences. There are many women whose names are not recorded here as they are not in a position to speak out publicly or have chosen not to. Considering how long Weinstein has been assaulting women, it is clear that the number we see now are only the tip of the iceberg.

The #DickheadDetox is about refusing to financially support celebrities. This list is those who originally made my list for male violence against women and girls.

And, a significant chunk of the cast of the film The Expendables 3.

Richard Dawkins got a mention in the original #DickheadDetox for misogyny and rape apologism; Donald Trump for being a white supremacist (before the allegations of sexual assault and rape were made public); Clint Eastwood is also on the list for racism; and Owen Jones is there for whining. Constantly. Perez Hilton got a special mention for daily misogynistic drivel (see also: Jeremy Clarkson and Christian Jessen). The hypocrisy of left-wing dudes is as tedious as it is ubiquitous (see Thomas Gibson and Russell Brand) with the Affleck brothers trading on their status as liberals to erase their history.

The updated list now features:

Quentin Tarantino gets a mention for whining about potential damage to his career for covering up the well documented criminal history of Harvey Weinstein. Matt Damon also gets a mention for covering up the crimes of Casey Affleck (not to mention the whole whitesplaining racism and diversity to a Black woman). Brad Pitt is on the list for knowing about Weinstein but doing nothing to stop him.

Then there is this list, by Beth Winegarner, which includes male celebrities whose history of violence I was unaware of including: Jim Carrey (domestic violence), James Deen, Rob Lowe (sexual harassment), Dudley Moore (domestic violence), James Caan (domestic violence) Billie Dee Williams (domestic violence), Oliver Stone (sexual harassment), Brett Ratner (sexual assault), and Arnold Schwarzenegger whose history of sexual harassment did not prevent him from becoming governor of California.

Carrie Fischer’s last book The Princess Diarist includes her ‘affair’ with Harrison Ford, which started during the filming of Star Wars. A number of male crew members had pushed Fisher into drinking too much at a bar and then tried to take her out of the building. Ford sees this and ‘rescues’ Fisher only to have sex with her instead. This incident received a lot of publicity after publication, but none focused on the inability of an incapacitated vulnerable 19 year old to consent to an encounter with a man 14 years her senior.

There has also been some interesting stories around Tom Cruise and his divorce from Katie Holmes. The Daily Mail, and other gossip sites, are claiming that Holmes had to sign a clause prohibiting her from  ‘publicly dating’ until 5 years after the divorce. There were allegations of coercive control throughout the marriage; always attributed to an ‘anonymous source’. Holmes has primary custody of their only child, who apparently went three years without seeing her father. Cruise’s children from his first marriage to Nicole Kidman remained in Cruise’s physical care following that divorce. Cruise’s name very rarely appears on lists of violent men, but there is a documented history of actions that constitute coercive control.

I had stopped writing entries to the #DickheadDetox because of my mental health. I stopped because it become overwhelming recording so many men. I’ve written very little over the past 2 years and it has taken me 8 hours to write this through panic attacks. I needed to write it.

Harvey Weinstein is not an aberration. Women telling their stories of sexualised violence is not unusual either. Yet, somehow this feels like a tidal wave has been dented. Not stopped. But dented enough for women to feel safe recording their experiences. Where this goes depends on men listening and standing up for women. Right now it feels like we may have a chance.

 

 

*I’m using both domestic abuse and domestic violence because the terms reflect the legal status of the crime in the jurisdictions in which the men were charged.

** None of these men were convicted of child rape. But, that’s because we live in a society that celebrates male violence and doesn’t give a shit about children.

*** I dislike using the term ‘alleged’ since it implies the victim is a liar. I believe victims. The criminal justice system and the laws around libel do not.

No woman deserves to be raped. Ever

(originally published on Everyday Victim Blaming)

No woman deserves to be raped is a statement that should need no qualifier. Every day we see excuses made for perpetrators and women, children and men blamed for their experiences of domestic and sexual violence and abuse. We highlight inappropriate, offensive or misleading language presented by the media. Despite our daily experiences of victim blaming, there are still days when we are shocked by the depth of hatred for women.

This article appeared in the Chicago-Sun Times. We have reproduced the entire document as it exemplifies everything wrong with rape culture:

  1. Contrary to author Mary Mitchell’s opinion, women involved in prostitution are still women.
  2. Being held at gun point is a crime. One that charges around unlawful confinement should be applied.
  3. Women involved in prostitution have the right to say no to a client – especially one who has a gun.
  4. The police are legally mandated to investigate all crimes. Raping a prostituted woman is rape, therefore it is a crime. Insinuating that women involved in prostitution have no right to report their rape to the police is victim blaming.
  5. The police should arrest any man they believe has committed rape.
  6. Claiming that you don’t believe rape victims are at fault and then stating that a prostituted woman is not an “innocent victim” are contradictory statements. Your victim blaming and hypocrisy are evident when you make such statements.
  7. The innocent/good victim narrative is rape culture.
  8. “misled some randy guy into thinking it’s his lucky night” is victim blaming. You may say you don’t believe women are responsible for rape but that type of statement is pretty clear that you do believe *some* women are at fault.
  9. The phrase “off the streets” implies that March only views women raped by strangers at night as true victims of rape. This theory erases the experiences of sexual violence by the vast majority of victims who are targeted by men they know – many of whom are raped in their own homes by fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles and grandfathers.
  10. There are many reasons women are involved in prostitution. None of these reasons make it acceptable to commit rape.
  11. Inserting your penis into the body of a woman without consent is rape. Women’s bodies are not object. It is not “theft of services”. Theft of services is walking out of a restaurant without paying your bill. Inserting your penis without consent is rape.
  12. Charging a rapist with a criminal offence does not minimise the act of rape. It makes it clear that any sexual activity without consent is a criminal act.

Mary Mitchell has made it very clear that she does not view women in prostitution as real women. It is also abundantly clear that Mitchell has no understanding of rape culture or victim blaming culture.

The Chicago-Sun Times must remove the article immediately and issue a full apology. We suggest Mitchell undergo specialist training before being allowed to comment on rape cases again.

No woman deserves to be raped is not a difficult concept. It’s time the media be held accountable for erasing perpetrator’s responsibility for their crimes and for pretending that some women don’t count.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.17.13

 

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.18.48Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 09.52.52Thank you to Pastachips for bringing this to our attention.

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 

 

Telling rape victims how they *must* process their rape is inherently anti-feminist

I was unsure about writing this. H’s disclosure of rape in the New Statesman was incredibly brave and I do not want to bring more rape apologists and their handmaidens into her mentions. Yet, I’m still horrified by the reactions of certain feminists to H’s disclosure. Rather that simply stating the feminist imperative “I believe you”, Sara Ahmed, a professor at Goldsmiths,  wrote that she would “challenge every word” of H’s article. This is simply because Hewitt pointed the value of female-only space for her as a victim of rape. Ahmed was more concerned with making a political point that supporting a rape victim.* This is the point we have arrived at with transgender politics – instead of listening to victims and ensuring that there are support services for everyone, women are being told they have no right to a service that reflects their needs because others are more important.

Alison Phipp’s tweet concerning H’s disclosure is utterly disingenuous:

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 16.25.36 I have NEVER seen a single person suggest that transgender people have no right to support services. I have seen numerous women – and not just radical feminists – state that their experiences of male violence are so traumatising that being forced to share with anyone socialised as male is impossible. Whilst transwomen may have felt they were in the wrong body from birth, it doesn’t erase the socialisation of male privilege – including the fact that teachers still consistently favour boys over girls in class discussions. It isn’t anti-feminist to demand that every single person who has experienced male violence have an appropriate space that meets their needs at the most difficult time of their life.

Phipps, in further tweets, suggests that if a female student discloses rape to her using language Phipps deems ‘transphobic’, Phipps would immediately challenge their transphobia. The last thing a rape victim needs is someone telling them that their support needs are wrong or hateful. It is precisely this type of suggestion that makes university policies of ‘safe spaces’ utterly ridiculous. Phipps believes that an event hosted by a gender-critical feminist makes university an ‘unsafe’ space. Frankly, she’s missed the boat.

University campuses and student hang-outs are already unsafe spaces and it has nothing to do with transgender politics. They are unsafe spaces because they are full of violent, predatory men (including staff). Female students are at an increased risk of sexual violence because sexual predators choose to hunt on campuses. Suggesting universities are ‘unsafe spaces’ because you don’t agree with an opinion makes an absolute mockery of the violence and micro aggressions women experience every second on a campus.

We need to talk about women’s specific needs for spaces that they define as ‘safe’ for themselves. This includes recognising that there are already men in prisons who have committed sexual assaults and rape in women-only spaces by claiming to be trans. As long as the definition of transwoman is ‘anyone who identifies as trans’, it will be used as a loophole for rapists to access women’s spaces.

There are also transwomen in prison – in the UK, as well as the US and Canada – who are incarcerated for rape and murder of women and girls. Many of these transwomen transitioned after being incarcerated as the case of Synthia China Blast makes clear. There is already evidence that predatory men use ‘safe spaces’ like Alcoholics Anonymous to  target vulnerable women. There is also anecdotal evidence of male perpetrators of domestic violence claiming to be transwomen to access the very refuge in which their wife is living. In the UK, we have a pre-op transwoman convicted of murder who had to be moved out of a woman’s prison because of their behaviour with other female prisoners. The fact that women in the criminal justice system are likely to have histories of childhood sexual abuse and substance abuse and are uniquely vulnerable is ignored. A convicted killer with a penis in a prison full of vulnerable woman – the majority who are there for non-violent crimes – raised no flags for the potential for sexual abuse.

What we need is more investment into support services for everyone living with male violence: more specialist refuges, more rape crisis centres, better NHS provision. We do not need victims of male violence to be shamed out of accessing support because they do not feel safe around people who have a penis. This isn’t about creating a hierarchy of people who deserve support but rather insisting that investment in services reflect the needs of individuals.

We certainly don’t need tweets like this claiming that rape victims who need female-born only spaces “think like rapists”.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 16.32.35

Particularly when the tweeter then points out that they haven’t actually bothered to read the article they are objecting too:

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 16.33.02 Shaming women for their experiences and insisting that they *must* process their experience the way someone else demands of them is anti-feminist and cruel. No one deserves to be spoken to like H was for disclosing their experience of rape. If your reaction is to tweet abusive language and dismiss the experiences of a rape victim, then you need to reflect on your feminism.

 

*The tweet has since been deleted and I do not have a screencap of it.

Britain’s Youngest Mum was 11 years old [content note for child rape]

(originally published at Ending Victimisation and Blame)

Tressa Middleton was only 11 years old the first time she became pregnant. When first reported, in 2006, the media repeatedly made statements about the father being a “neighbourhood boy”. The focus was on the girl; not the boy and not the circumstances in which an 11 year old child could find themselves pregnant. There was very little discussion about the fact that an 11 year old cannot legally consent to sex and that any sexual relationship with a “neighbourhood boy” older than her would have still been classed as a crime. There was very little discussion about why an 11 year old child was “having sex” or drinking alcohol. Instead, media coverage focused on shaming Tressa and her mother.

Many feminist commentators and people involved in child protection clearly knew the story was far more complex. Those directly involved in the case knew it was more complex, yet could not defend Tressa from the media intrusion without putting her further at risk. When Tressa was 14, it was revealed that her older brother Jason, aged 16 at the age of the attack, was the man who raped her. Jason Middleton was sentenced to 4 years in prison in 2009 and has since been released home to live with his mother.

Tressa, a child victim of rape, became pregnant. She also became addicted to alcohol and was eventually placed in a residential unit without her child and placed in a position where she had no choice but to sign adoption papers.

The original coverage of Tressa’s pregnancy was simply victim blaming. It was horrific shaming of a child victim of rape with no attempt to contextualise Tressa’s abuse. The case has once again gained media coverage due to Tressa’s new pregnancy with the Daily Mail publishing an article conveniently ignoring their original victim-blaming. The refusal to acknowledge their own responsibility in perpetuating the harm to Tressa by publishing salacious articles is important to note but equally so is the failure to place Tressa’s experience within a paradigm of male violence and our culture’s refusal to accept responsibility for not supporting Tressa.

Tressa was a child who was raped. Instead of discussing her experience as rape, which it clearly was under law as 11 year olds cannot consent, the media blamed Tressa repeatedly. Whilst I cannot comment on the specifics of the investigation into Tressa’s rape since that is not a matter of public record, I do want to make it clear that child rape is frequently not investigated properly. We simply do not know if the authorities involved in Tressa’s care realised they were dealing with a child victim of rape. The media certainly didn’t think so. If the authorities did realise it was child rape, did they ever investigate the brother as a possible perpetrator? Again, we cannot know that. All that we do know is that an 11 year old rape victim was forced to live with her rapist despite becoming pregnant (and the rape becoming known to the authorities). The reality is that most rape victims are raped by someone known to them yet we don’t publicly acknowledge the reality of rape by fathers and brothers. We talk about stepfathers and uncles but very rarely fathers and brothers despite this not being uncommon.

What the Daily Mail has also failed to make explicit is that Tressa’s daughter was placed for adoption because of the lack of specialist services for teenage mothers and for mothers with substance misuse problems. They failed to acknowledge the lack of adequate support for victims of child rape; for a child with a clear case of trauma. They didn’t investigate the poor provision for teenage mothers. They didn’t acknowledge how traumatic it would be for a young mother to be forced to live with her rapist; to have no safe space. Or, how traumatic it would be for a child to have her own child forcibly removed from her care simply due to the lack of resources to support both.

Tressa Middleton has had very little choice in having her story become public knowledge. We are doing her a tremendous disservice by focusing on her pregnancies without acknowledging that she was originally blamed for being a victim of child rape; that she has been publicly shamed and humiliated.

Tressa’s case is not an isolated one. We do not have exact figures for children who are raped within their own home by male relatives. We do not have accurate figures for children who become pregnant after being raped. We do know that it is not uncommon. We need to reflect on the treatment Tressa received and look into implementing victim-centred support so that no other child is forced to experience what Tressa did.

There are two separate required responses to this case:

1. The lack of services for victims

  • specialist rape support for children
  • better mandatory training for GPs, health workers, social workers, teachers, police and any other front line staff working with children to recognise the signs of child sexual abuse
  • residential units to support all mothers who are recovering from trauma and/ or substance misuse where the babies can live with their mothers
  • foster care for teenage mothers where the babies can remain in the primary care of the mother

2. Enforceable legislation guiding the publication of stories of male violence against women and girls. Guidelines already exist but they are not strong enough and the media ignores them.

We are complicit in continuing the abuse of Tressa by irresponsible reporting and denying services to victims.

We need to do better.

The Best Rape Prevention: Tell Men to Stop Raping

This post was originally published in the Huffington Post. It was shortlisted for the Best Blog category and first runner-up at the Write to End Violence against Women Awards hosted by Zero Tolerance, White Ribbon Campaign, Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid held at the Scottish Parliament.

 

Last week, New York defence attorney Joseph DiBenedetto made headlines when he used the phrase “I’m not saying she deserved to get raped but” live on Fox News. The comment was a response to a question about the rape of teenager Daisy Coleman in Maryville, Missouri. The case hit the national press because of how the criminal justice system in Missouri handled the aftermath of the rape rather than the rape itself; rape being such a common crime that it very rarely makes headline news.

Comparisons have already been made between the Maryville case and that of the rape of a young girl in Steubenville as both cases involve high school athletes, charges were originally dropped and the online harassment of both young women has been horrific. As with Steubenville, it has been public campaigns, which have resulted in the case being investigated by a Special Prosecutor.

The reaction to DiBenedetto’s comment has been one of outrage, which is interesting because DiBenedetto has not said anything different than many other people.

Victim-blaming is endemic in our rape culture. It is the cause of West Mercia Police’s “advice” for women that blames women for drinking alcohol rather than men for committing rape :

“Don’t let a night full of promise turn into a morning full of regret”, says the headline on West Mercia Police’s web page dedicated to tackling rape. “Did you know”, they ask “if you drink excessively, you could leave yourself more vulnerable to regretful sex or even rape?”

Oxford Police ran a similar campaign. The University of Kent and the University of Oxford’s Student Union have both come under criticism for anti-rape campaigns that focus on the victim rather than perpetrator.

Slate recently published an article by Emily Yoffe with the title “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk” which blames women who have been drinking for their rapes rather than the rapists. Yoffe’s article is hardly new though. The advice within it is the same advice women get everyday despite the fact that the only factor that makes people vulnerable to rape is being in the presence of a rapist. The article itself has been publicly criticised by a number of feminist organisations and publications like JezebelFeministing and Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]. It has also been criticised in more mainstream media outlets.

DiBenedetto’s comments aren’t new either; neither is his suggestion that Coleman has made a false allegation. The public’s reactions to these comments are new. The widespread condemnation of DiBenedetto’s comments is new.

We are at a turning point: we have the power to end rape culture and victim blaming.

The campaigns fighting rape culture and victim-blaming are incredibly inspiring, Rape Crisis Scotland’s anti-rape campaigns: “This is not an invitation to rape me” and “Ten Top Tips to End Rape” went viral because they inverted normal anti-rape campaigns. Parenting website Mumsnet’s We Believe You campaign was instigated by members angry at the prevalence of rape myths. End Online Misogyny was created in response to the rape threats directed at feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and MP Stella Creasy. Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming] started in May in response to the press surrounding the Oxford Gang case. Reclaim the Night marches are being held all over the UK now, as are Slutwalks.

Only last week, the CPS published new guidelines for the prosecution of child sexual abuse in England/ Wales that actively challenges the existence of rape myths in trials. These new guidelines were in response to feminist activism and, whilst they aren’t as strong as they could be, they are an important start.

However, we need to do more and we need to start with more anti-rape campaigns which put the focus on the perpetrator rather than that victim, like Vancouver’s Don’t be that Guy campaign. We also need a fundamental overhaul of our justice system :

1. Anonymity for rape victims must remain a fundamental tenet.
2. Rape victims should never be required to testify in open court.
3. Rape victims should never be required to testify in front of the accused.
4. Rape victims should be entitled to their own legal advisor to protect them.
5. Rape myths must be legally prohibited from being used as a defence tactic.
6. The CPS and judiciary must undergo constant (re)training on rape myths.
7. Juries must be giving training on rape myths before the trial starts which includes the real definition of what a “false accusation” actually entails [since we consider rape victims who withdraw their complaints as “false accusations” this is absolutely necessary].
8. The “sexual history” of a rape victim must be banned. The defence should have no legal right to undermine the credibility of the victim by discussing their “sexual history”.
9. The press should be prohibited from publishing the specific details of the rape. It is enough to say: X has been charged with child rape.
10. Anyone who attempts to identify the victim should be prosecuted.

Rape has a purpose in our culture, as does victim blaming. We will not end rape culture, victim blaming or the oppression of women by continuing to focus campaigns on rape prevention that hold victims responsible for being in the presence of a rapist.

Most importantly, this change needs to start with a message to men: rape must stop. Men must take personal responsibility for their own perpetuation of rape culture and men need to call out other men who are engaging in sexually predatory behaviour.

We all have the power to change rape culture, but we need men to take a public stand now.

* The legal definition of rape in England and Wales requires the insertion of a penis without consent . Men and women can be, and are, convicted of sexual assault that carries the same tariff as rape. See Rape Crisis Glasgow for the definitions of rape and sexual assault in Scotland.

Reclaim the Night must remain women-only

(originally published in the Morning Star)

The Leeds Revolutionary Feminist group organised the first Reclaim the Night march in Britain in response to victim-blaming and poor practice by police officers in Yorkshire following the serial murders committed by Peter Sutcliffe.

The Byford Report into the investigation, released in 2006, made clear the serious failings of West Yorkshire Police which had actually interviewed Sutcliffe nine times during the investigation.

Very little has changed since 1977.

Only this week, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has released a damning report on serious failings by the police to report crimes appropriately.

This includes under recording 26 per cent of rapes and sexual assaults reported to them. Considering less than 10 per cent of sexualised violence is reported to the police, this figure is an utter disgrace.

The West Yorkshire Police response to the brutal murders committed by Sutcliffe was to tell women to remain inside at night. This same “safety” advice is repeated by police forces across Britain to this day. Curtailing women’s freedom is a tried and trusted method of blaming women for being victims of a crime.

After all, no safety campaign ever suggests that violent men — and the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by men — remain inside in case they are overcome by the urge to commit violence.

Instead, we tell women what to wear, where they can go, and what they are allowed to drink.

If only women stayed inside at night (and if you work shift work, well, that’s your fault too) or wore longer skirts or were more polite to men, then men wouldn’t feel obligated to harm them.

Reclaim the Night is about women standing together and reclaiming public spaces. It is about women supporting women and raising awareness of the reality of male violence and the consequences of it on the bodies of women and children.

They were a reaction to police failures but also about a community of women.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the new Reclaim the Night marches in London. It is the largest march in Britain but also one of the few that remains women-only.

The trend now is to allow men to attend. Supposedly this inclusion is to ensure that men feel involved in the campaign. In reality, the inclusion of men makes a mockery of the spirit of Reclaim the Night.

Reclaim the Night is meant to be a safe space for survivors of male violence. Many of the women marching will have experienced rape, 90 per cent by a man known to them, and then were blamed for that rape.

Focus on male inclusion is at the expense of survivors of sexual violence. The concerns of these women are dismissed by the prioritisation of men’s feelings — and it is very clear that male inclusion is about men’s feelings.

I have attended numerous Reclaim the Night marches over the years. So many have been forced into including men. These men show up at planning meetings demanding the right to attend and silence any woman who objects by insinuating they are hysterical or silly.

They replicate the same male entitlement that results in rape culture and this is without addressing the men who see Reclaim the Night as their own personal dating pool. Nothing quite says sexism like a man propositioning women on a march about sexual violence.

One concession has been the creation of women-only sections at the front of marches. Women are forced to ask permission to walk in public with other women which rather negates the point of women reclaiming the street.

These sections mark survivors out as “other.” If you walk in one, you are the problem — not the men insisting on their right to access all women’s spaces.

At one Edinburgh march, a man following the women’s block kept banging into the women in the “safe space” in the march. He couldn’t understand why women were so angry at being touched, repeatedly, by a man in a march about sexual violence. He clearly thought he was a “feminist ally.”

The women he was touching without permission saw him as the problem. Women had come to march to end male violence but even in this safe space they could not prevent a man from touching them without permission.

Reclaim the Night marches must remain women-only — anything else is the capitulation of the fight for the liberation of women and the continuing violation of women’s boundaries.