Michael Beck: Why labelling men who kill as ‘non-violent’ is irresponsible journalism

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 09.06.42Every single week, 2 men in England and Wales make a choice to kill their current or former partner. Despite the fact that these men consistently have a history of domestic violence, the media insists on reporting comments from random neighbours claiming that these men are ‘caring fathers‘, ‘loving brothers’, ‘quiet neighbours’,  and, as above, ‘non violent’. Men who choose to kill are violent. It’s pretty much the definition of the word since murder is an inherently violent act. As a culture, we refuse to recognise that coercive control is a choice made by men who believe they are entitled to own women and children, and that men who kill are not aberrations, but representative of the consequences of patriarchy.

 

Continue reading Michael Beck: Why labelling men who kill as ‘non-violent’ is irresponsible journalism

Victims of Domestic Violence own 50% of the responsibility

On a daily basis, we read some absolutely egregious examples of victim blaming culture: so many that we rarely have time to even log them, never mind deconstruct them. Today, we were sent a link to an article by Sallee McLaren called “The part women play in domestic violence” which was published in the Australian paper The Age. It is one of the worst examples we have seen in a while. McLaren, a clinical psychologist, claims that women living with domestic violence contribute 50% of the responsibility for the violence they live with. It is a clear example of a mental health professional who has no understanding of the gendered reality of domestic violence, how perpetrators function, or the impact on victims.

Any article which starts with the tagline”(w)omen can only command real power once we socialise girls to take themselves seriously and develop mental grit” is bound to be unsubstantiated drivel. The reason for domestic violence is not how we socialise girls: it is how we socialise men. We raise boys to believe that masculinity involves violence. How often do we hear parents, teachers and news media use the phrase “boys being boys” when talking about boys kicking or hitting each other? We tell 3 year olds that it is normal to behave aggressively and then wonder why they behave aggressively as adults. We tell young boys that they are entitled to women’s time, emotional support and commodities: that their needs supersede those of anyone else. This is made clear in study after study in education which shows that teachers give more attention to male students and allow male students to speak more than female students.

It is ever so kind for McLaren to suggest that perpetrators are always at fault from “a moral perspective” and we’re definitely on board with the idea that we need to understand how and why domestic violence happens in order to stop it. It’s just that we, based on actual research, find McLaren’s conclusions ill-informed and incredibly dangerous. We’re also a little perplexed as to why she doesn’t understand that legal responsibility lays with the perpetrator too. Or, quite how she’s arrived at a 50-50 ‘contribution’ for domestic violence when there is one perpetrator and one victim.

We’re also on board with the need to end gendered stereotyping of boys and girls as it is incredibly harmful to children, and adults, to be raised with expectations based entirely on ill-conceived and factually incorrect assumptions about gender. We just don’t support the theory that girls and women are responsible for being victims of domestic violence:

To explain what I mean, I want to tell you about a scenario I frequently see played out in various forms in my work in relation to domestic violence. Let’s say we have a male and female couple who are living together and he is becoming increasingly violent towards her. In my work, I have to retrain her exactly as much as I have to retrain him to correct this situation.

It happens like this. Early on in the relationship he becomes aggravated for some reason and raises his voice at her. She tolerates it, lets it go by, thinks to herself “he’s not too angry – no need to rock the boat”. At that stage he is at 4/10 in his level of anger. By not objecting she has just trained him that 4/10 is acceptable. So he continues to regularly reach that level.

Women are not responsible for “training” men not to be aggressive or violent. The ONLY person in this scenario who is responsible is the man and it is this kind of deeply stupid theory which puts women at risk by blaming them for men’s behaviour. This is why no qualified clinical psychologist, councillor, psychiatrist or therapist would recommend joint relationships counselling for a couple where domestic violence is involved. McLaren has just told the perpetrator they have the right to behave abusively: that it is the victim’s fault for not saying no.

This might be a shocking piece of information, but here at EVB, we don’t think men are stupid. We don’t believe they need to be told their behaviour is aggressive or abusive because they are confused or don’t understand boundaries. We believe men are perfectly aware that their behaviour is wrong; that they make a choice to commit domestic violence. Men who perpetrate domestic violence, and it is almost always men even when the victim is male, need to be held accountable for their actions. The very last thing they need is a clinical psychologist telling them it’s okay to be abusive if a woman doesn’t say no.

In comparing her own childhood at being allowed to be bad at sport as the same as a woman living with domestic violence, McLaren brings the woman-blaming to a whole new level of stupid:

I can relate this to my own life. As a child I was allowed to get away with being fairly sooky and ineffectual in sport. I was good enough at it technically but I was never really expected to push through into the realm of real mental toughness. Then, as a young adolescent I found myself standing at the top of a cornice (I had snow skied since I was a tiny child) and it was very steep, narrow and ungroomed. My older brother jumped straight off the cornice without a second of hesitation and skied it aggressively and beautifully to the bottom.

Suddenly I thought: “I’m sick of being pathetic – he does it, why can’t I”. At that moment I decided to never again be passive. I took off, forcing myself to trust in my own ability, skiing forcefully, fast and with authority and I have skied that way ever since. Most of the girls and women I knew back then have still not taken this step of mental toughness and although they remain excellent technicians, skiing with beauty and grace, they never really learnt just how good they could be.

Women experiencing domestic violence are NOT pathetic and anyone who suggests this should not be allowed to work with either perpetrators or victims. Girls and boys are socialised differently: boys that risk is good and girls to put the needs of others before their own. This socialisation, whilst damaging, does not negate male responsibility for their own violence.

Let us be very, very clear here: women living with domestic violence are not “tolerating” it. They are living in a violent relationship where there choices and safety are decreased incrementally. For some of these women, ‘objecting’ to the violence will lead to serious physical harm or death – and, they know this. Women do not teach men that “at each stage that his level of anger is tolerable and has no consequences”. People who make excuses for perpetrators, like McLaren, are the ones who teach men their behaviour is acceptable.

Domestic violence involves a pattern of coercive control and it is that control which increases and not all domestic violence involves violence. The failure to recognise the pattern of coercive control shows that McLaren has done very little research or training on the subject.

It isn’t just McLaren who is at fault here. The editorial staff of The Age made a choice to publish this deeply irresponsible article, which contradicts every piece of research-based evidence into domestic violence and abuse.

The only person responsible for domestic violence is the perpetrator. McLaren and The Age have just published an article that tells perpetrators they don’t need to take any responsibility for violence putting women and children at risk. This article needs to be removed from the online version and The Age needs to publish an article from a qualified professional breaking down all of the dangerous misinformation.

 

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.

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.

I Never Said Yes – a documentary

I’ve only just watched BBC 3’s documentary I Never Said Yes by Pips Taylor. I’ve been putting it off mostly because I knew how much it would upset me but actually it disappointed me far more than it upset me. I wasn’t expecting a radical feminist expose on rape but I was expecting something less, well, naive. The questions Taylor posed were interesting:

… what happens when a victim does want to report an attack or rape here in the UK? Do victims have enough support to help them through their ordeal? What is it like to experience our justice system?

But, they were also self-evident questions to anyone who has experienced sexualised violence or has an interest in the criminal justice system and its treatment of victims. It left me wondering who precisely were the target audience of this documentary. I would have thought that the only people interested in watching would have been people in the two former categories. It’s not a subject matter likely to appeal to those with no relevant experience or interest. The mish-mash of survivor stories, interviews and voice-overs was disconcerting and far too Daily Mail rather than in-depth journalism.
The most powerful part of the documentary was the five survivors Taylor interviewed who, simply, deserved more time. There was simply far too much information incorporated into a one hour documentary: the survivors competed with police and attorneys with the focus flipping between personal experiences of rape, to the failures of the criminal justice system and rape myths. It felt like a whistle-stop tour with the survivors merely addendums to to Taylor’s pontificating. They should have been the focus; not Taylor.
Now, I grant you that part of my problem with the documentary is that it definitely fit into the new “shock-doc” television which takes serious problems and bounces them about like balloons in between voice-overs, bad scene settings and “re-enactments”. It was a documentary on rape. It does not need a re-enactment or scenes cut to pop-art to make a “point”. I loathe this type of television as much as I hate reality television as it assumes the audience is too dim to understand what the “experts” say so it requires, usually, someone incredibly chirpy to repeat their words; as if chirpy makes it easier to understand.
What really annoyed me most was Taylor’s handling of an interview with a group of young men. She was asking questions about consent but let the young men bandy about rape myths without really challenging them and, consequently, it ended with the suggestion that men are just “bad” at reading signals. Taylor even repeats this in her BBC blog on the documentary:

The problem that shocked me most of all was young peoples’ attitudes towards consent and what is and isn’t okay. Young people are the most vulnerable, yet it seems that there is a lack of communication amongst them.

Rape is not a communication “problem”; nor is it about inadequate boundaries. Rape is about power and control. Men who rape, rape because they can. Not because they are confused by a woman in a short skirt dancing with her friends. Frankly, if a man is too stupid to understand the difference between consensual sex and rape then they are too stupid to be having sex.

Taylor may have been looking at the devastating consequences of rape myths on the ability of rape survivors to access the criminal justice system but she let some seriously bad myths go unchallenged; as when interviewing a defense attorney who suggested some rapists deserved lesser sentencing because of their “good” character. Technically, she critiqued this theory in one sentence in a voice-over but she never directly challenged the defense attorney. Having a “good” character should not be a defense to rape; nor should it be considered a mitigating factor. A man who rapes can not, and does not, have a “good” character.
And, ending her blog with this:

Although people regard rape to be a depressing subject, meeting the survivors has shown me a hopeful side – that victims can regain power.

Well, its just cringe worthy. Considering the interest in changing and challenging rape laws and rape myths, this documentary could have sparked a series of thought-provoking documentaries exploring the issues in more detail. Instead, it felt like pulp fiction.