Violence against women, domestic violence and the problem of gender identity

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Photograph: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Sisters Uncut are a great example of grassroots feminist activism. Their protest at the premier of the film Suffrage helped raise awareness of the consequences of the decimation of specialist support services for women. However, their campaign is specifically about the importance of specialist domestic violence services, which is why I was disappointed to read a piece in the Independent by a member which uses the term domestic violence and violence against women interchangeably.

* See Michael P Johnson’s Typology of Domestic Violence

** The report into this was recently released and I have not yet had a chance to read it.

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.

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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”.

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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.

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.

Synthia China Blast: convicted for the rape, murder and abuse 13-year-old Ebony Nicole Williams (content note)

Image taken from Gender Trender

Let me be perfectly clear here: I do not like the US judicial system. They have sent generations of communities to prison for the crime of being poor or not white. The entire judicial system is racist, misogynistic, homophobic and simply not fit for purpose. The death penalty is barbaric and the three strikes rule inhumane. Incarcerating people for non-violent crimes is an asinine position – as is incarcerating juveniles with adult men. Hell, I’m not sure incarcerating men with other men, considering the sheer number of rapes which happen daily in US prisons, is anything but a human rights abuse.

That said, I am very concerned with the ways in which the media is covering Laverne Cox’s support of Synthia China Blast and the campaign to have safer housing for transgender people in US prisons. Blast, born Luis Morales, was convicted of the 1993 rape, murder and the abuse of the corpse of Ebony Nicole Williams who was only 13 years old. The campaign for safer housing writes this:

Synthia China Blast, an SRLP client and Prisoner Advisory Committee Member, has been incarcerated in New York for twenty-one years. Synthia identifies as a transgender Latina woman and proud native of the Bronx. Prior to incarceration, she experienced family rejection, lack of access to safe education, homelessness, police profiling and violence because she is transgender. The violent gender policing and various forms of trauma she experienced as a youth have only been reproduced and exacerbated while being held in various men’s prisons operated by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) over the past seventeen years.

There is no mention of Blast’s final conviction for child rape and murder – instead the coverage suggests that the Blast was incarcerated for being a transwoman.

Did Blast grow up surrounded by structural violence – absolutely. He was a member of a gang and had a history of violence. But, recognizing the violence within the system which results in boys like Blast perpetuating the very violence which harmed them does not mean we can ignore the crimes they commit.

We absolutely do need to talk about the criminal justice system and it’s gross failures to rehabilitate prisoners. We need to fight to spend our defence budgets on our own communities to prevent generations of children growing up experience poverty and violence. But, this doesn’t mean that we absolve people of their responsibility in committing crimes. We can believe the system is inherently corrupt and that prisoners deserve better treatment whilst holding individual people responsible for the crimes they committed.

Blast committed child rape and murder. We cannot ignore these facts.

You can read more here.

*As I was writing this blog, the video of Laverne Cox reading Synthia China Blast’s letter has been set to private and is no longer visible on Buzzfeed. These are the chunks of the video published on Buzzfeed:

“I was born and raised in the South Bronx, however since age 15 I’ve been raised in prison. In fact – since age 16 – I’ve only been home once, in 1993, for three months. I’ve been in prison ever since. I’m 38-years-young.”

“I am a political transgender woman ‘slash’ prisoner. I strongly support the rights of LGBT brothers and sisters in the community who are imprisoned also.”

“They may not live in a cage 23 to 24 hours a day like I do, year after year, with no fellow prisoner contact, but they too face the constant torment that LGBT prisoners face in here.”

“Lack of adequate medical care, abusive and evasive treatment by law enforcement officials, denial of basic human rights, the freedom to live among the straight society without fear of retaliation.”

“As a whole, in or out of prison, we all suffer,” Cox reads.

“My members consist of one voice. I want my voice to be heard, I want my dreams to matter, I want people to know who I am because tomorrow is not promised.”

“We each have to be an example for one another, we are minorities in here. If you are part of PAC, you are either directly or indirectly part of the LGBT family.

The letter concludes: “So when I’m asked why did I join the Prisoner Advisory Committee, I smile because I didn’t join anything. I found my family.”

UPDATE:

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project has released a formal statement in response to the removal of the video of Laverne Cox reading Synthia China Blast’s letter. Apparently, they didn’t bother to tell Cox what Blast was incarcerated for and don’t think it’s important. I’m glad Cox has demanded they remove the video,  although the lesson here in checking shit out before signing your name to it is one a whole lot of celebrities might want to familiarize themselves with.

I am very disturbed by the message within the SRLP which effectively states that it doesn’t matter why a transwoman is in prison, they must be supported regardless. Prejudice is a common reason for incarceration in the US and many people within the system should not be there, particularly those incarcerated for substance misuse, prostitution and petty theft. But, there is a huge difference between a transwoman incarcerated for prostitution and one incarcerated for rape, murder and abuse of a corpse – just as there is with any other group of  people incarcerated. We can understand that the carceral system is built on racism, poverty etc and that young men and women living in ghettos end up in gangs for millions of reasons which have nothing to do with personal choice whilst still holding them accountable for their actions. Understanding the system and campaigning to destroy it doesn’t mean that people who commit rape and murder should be forgiven because of the violence they grew up with. Lots of people grow up in families and communities ravaged by poverty and structural violence who do not go on to commit child rape and murder. Whatever we think of the system itself (and it’s a massive failure), the crimes committed by individuals within it need to be spoken about. Failing to address Blast’s actual crimes undermines the SRLP.

UPDATE TWO:

Laverne Cox has posted a response on her tumblr.

UPDATE 3:

This video was just shared on my FB. It is Cox’s reading interspersed with facts about the murder of Ebony Nicole Williams :

 

Oh, More Rape Apologists Whinging About Poor Ickle Sexual Predators Lives Being Ruined

I think Savannah Dietrich is a pretty incredible teenager. Having been sexually assaulted by two teenage boys, she took the very brave stand of publicly naming and shaming them despite the fact that it was technically illegal for her to do so. Now, I’m a generally fan of the theory of a  juvenile justice system whose entire purpose is supposed to be the rehabilitation and education of young offenders. I think many teenagers end up caught in the system due to the failings of the adults responsible for them. I think sealing juvenile records and keeping their names from public knowledge is, in many cases, the best way to ensure that those teenagers have the possibility to go on to become important members of our communities. But, I have two qualifiers: those who commit sexual violence and murder need to have exemptions made on a case by case basis. A fifteen year old who shoots their stepfather who had been molesting them for 4 years deserves the chance to heal in private. A fifteen year old with every advantage who chooses to get behind the wheel of a car whilst intoxicated which results in the death of a pedestrian doesn’t necessarily deserve the protection afforded by anonymity [unless, of course, said 15 year old is also a victim of abuse]. I like to live in a utopia where our teenagers are nurtured and respected and not villified for crimes caused by the Patriarchy.

The two teenage boys who sexually assaulted Savannah Dietrich don’t deserve that protection. They had no respect for Dietrich’s bodily autonomy. Then, they published photos of the assault on the internet. They needed to be held publicly accountable for their crime; particularly since they seem to be playing the victims of a smear campaign orchestrated by Dietrich. Here’s a hint, if you commit sexual assault, your reputation isn’t being smeared by being publicly named. Your reputation was smeared because YOU chose to do so by committing sexual assault. It is YOUR fault. No one else is responsible for your behaviour. Just you.

Judging by this article in the Huffington Post, I suspect the boy’s defence attorneys might want to revisit the concepts of personal responsibility and free will.  Or, at least, contemplate not making public statements that make your clients look even more pathetic and guilty than they already are. Yeah, death threats were a tad OTT but suggesting that the victim of their sexual assault ruined the lives of the perpetrators by holding them publicly accountable is just stupid, rape apologist horseshite. Being kicked out of the high school you attend with your victim and being forced to move are the NATURAL CONSEQUENCES of sexual assault. NO ONE should be forced to live near or go to school with the person who sexually assaulted or raped them. The fact that the defence attorney of one of the attackers, David Mejia, thinks that the possibility that his client might lose a potential scholarship to an Ivy League university is worse than the sexual assault his client committed just demonstrates how fucked-up rape apologists are. His client should be in therapy. He should be in therapy as part of his legal punishment to deal with the fact that he’s a sexual predator.

We never hold sexual predators properly accountable for their crimes.

We always excuse them by blaming their victims.

Savannah Dietrich has kicked off a public debate which seems to be changing the discourse around sexual violence and personal responsibility. I’m glad she’s taking the very brave step of naming and shaming her attackers but how shameful is it that it takes a teenager to get the media to notice the vileness that is rape apologism?

I also notice a real lack of left-wing right-on Dudes declaring Dietrich a hero for her use of “Free Speech” but that’s because “Free Speech” protects the perpetrator’s right to publish photos of their sexual assault and not the victim’s right to publicly name them.