BBC Continues its policies of minimising child rape

I’ve complained a number of times to the BBC about their insistence on placing stories of child rape perpetrated by celebrities under the topic of “Arts & Entertainment”. This is their newest excuse letter:

Reference CAS-2728613-MKGSSH

 Thanks for contacting us regarding the article ‘Rolf Harris trial: Entertainer denies ‘ludicrous’ assault claims’.

 Please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and we’re sorry you have had to wait on this occasion.

 I understand you were concerned that the report was featured under the heading of ‘Entertainment’.

 Stories about abuse are written by our main UK news desk and published on a story page that simply says “News – UK.”

 However, because they may have some relevance or significance to audiences coming to the site for Arts and Entertainment coverage we also place those stories on the Arts and Entertainments section in much the same way as we might place a story about a child sex abuse internet ring in our Technology section as well as in the main news section.

 Thank you again for contacting us. All complaints are sent to senior management and our news teams every morning and we included your points in this overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensures that your complaint has been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future output.

 Kind Regards

Because placing an article on child rape in the “Arts & Entertainment” section is exactly the same as placing an article of online child sexual exploitation and abuse under technology.

I’ve started a petition to get the BBC to change their policy. Please sign and share it!


BBC thinks ‘Entertainment’ is the correct category for child sexual violence

This is the BBC’s response to my complaint about them publishing the trials of Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall and Freddie Starr under the category of ‘entertainment’.

Dear Ms Pennington
Reference CAS-2694650-BMFJZY

Thank you for contacting us regarding BBC News Online.
We understand you feel the entertainment news section of the BBC website shouldn’t have included a report on Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall and Freddie Starr.

While we appreciate your concern the fact is they have all been broadcasters or affiliated with the entertainment industry and as such is connected with the entertainment industry. It’s therefore entirely appropriate to publish the content is this section.

We’d like to assure you that we’ve registered your complaint on our audience log. This is an internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily and is available for viewing by all our staff. This includes all programme makers, along with our senior management. It ensures that your points, along with all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thanks again for contacting us.

Kind Regards


BBC Complaints

Comedians are some of the best political commentators: a response to Helen Lewis

I’ve been rather open with my distaste at Russell Brand being invited to guest edit the New Statesman, and by distaste I mean horrified. It’s safe to say I have no respect whatsoever for Brand; a man who has “joke” called a rape crisis line during a show, phoned the grandparent of a woman to publicly and sexually shame his granddaughter live with Jonathon Ross and once sexually harassed a member of staff on his film set into displaying her breasts before he would do any work. None of these examples are of any comedic value. They are a clear pattern of misogynistic behaviour from a man who cares little about 50% of the population of the planet.

I objected to Russell Brand because of his behaviour, not because of his employment history. I objected because I like the New Statesman. They have some great women writers, including Sarah Ditum and Glosswitch. The New Statesman is one mainstream publication that I do read consistently and I objected to Brand because I do hold it to a higher standard than other media. Brand is the kind of commentator I expect on Sky News, not a magazine which has such a high standard of writing. The NS isn’t perfect and it does get stuff wrong; Brand being an obvious example.

This is why I was surprised to read Helen Lewis’s tumblr about the reaction to Brand as a guest-editor. It seems a rather lot of people objected to Brand because he’s a ‘comedian’. I have to say I find this utterly bizarre as an objection. Many of our great political commentators throughout history have used satire, irony and humour to make their point; even The Great Man himself: Shakespeare.* The entirety of the comedy panel shows produced in the UK are based on comedians making political points. And, you know: the Daily Show with John Stewart, This Hour has 22 Minutes and the Royal Canadian AirFarce: all of which are comedians fronting programs about politics.

Chris Rock is a comedian and a great political commentator. His tweets leading up to the last American election were fucking brilliant and, whilst I am unamused by his comments on the Kardashian sisters which are clearly based on sexism, he is far more qualified than Brand to guest edit the NS.  

There are so many great women comedians who are equally important political commentators: Roseanne Barr, Kate Smurthwaite and Ruby Wax spring to mind. 

I’m all for Brand being accidentally misplaced on another planet because of his behaviour. I am, however, equally bored of people dismissing ‘comedians’ as political commentators as if they only people who are entitled to have opinions are Oxbridge educated white dudes with trust funds.

Comedians have always made some of the  best political commentators. We just need to support the ones who do so without being misogynists like Brand [or racist, homophobic, disablist, classist etc.]

I would love to see the New Statesman guest-edited by some of the brilliant women comedians based in the UK; after all a number of their best writers use humour to make political points and how is that any different to a stand-up comedian using humour to make a political point? 

Same message; just a different medium.

*Actually, I find the obsession with Shakespeare being the greatest writer who ever lived classist, sexist and evidence of some serious issues with imperialism and racism.

OK Magazine: Still Hates Woman

OK Magazine: continuing it’s policy of woman-shaming.

I’m not surprised OK Magazine ran this cover. 

I’m angry. Sad. Depressed. Mostly angry. How dare they treat a woman like this. It doesn’t matter what woman because none of us deserve this.

I am surprised at how many people seem shocked by OK Mag running this as their cover. It’s not like OK Mag ever write anything positive about women.  All of their articles are about women being too fat fat, too skinny, too promiscuous, too orange, too stupid, too smart, too woman. Just like most women’s magazines.

Women’s magazines make their money making women feel insecure. They don’t care about women’s health or happiness: just the money.

We need to boycott them all.

We need to start developing magazines aimed at women which don’t engage in women-blaming and women-hating. 

No woman should ever be shamed for her body. Ever.

Dear Hackney Gazette, Why the sudden change?

You have suddenly changed the text of your article about a conviction for gang-rape which occurred in 2007. I have both articles reproduced below. The first states that the judge gave a reduced statement because of the amount of time which had passed since the crime. The second article removes that statement. If the judge actually made that statement, then I would like to report the crime to the Attorney General.

It’s a rather huge leap between the two articles. Why have you changed the article so drastically and why not say so online?

Emad Mohamed, 23, attacked the woman after she asked a group of men for directions at a bus stop in Clapton following a night out with colleagues.

She was taken to a flat where she was stripped naked, imprisoned and raped.
The 21-year-old former reporter said later: “Sometimes I feel like my whole personality has changed from a confident and outgoing young woman to a paranoid and reclusive person.”
It was not until 2011 that jobless Mohamed, of Canterbury Road, Beckton, who has since had two sons, was linked to the horrifying attack, and pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault.
The woman’s nightmare began on October 4 2007 when she left her friends in central London to buy cigarettes, and later phoned them to say she was going home.
But she took the wrong bus and ended up in Clapton, where the men promised to help her find a taxi, but instead led her to a squalid flat.
She remembers being naked raped by one man, who left his condom inside her body.
Mohamed then lay on top of her and sexually assaulted her.
She escaped the flat the following day, but was unable to locate it afterwards, and most of those responsible have never been traced.
Last Wednesday at the Old Bailey Judge Anthony Morris jailed Mohamed for just two years, saying he took into account his guilty plea and the fact several years had passed since the incident.
Finding it hard to cope after the rape, the victim gave up her job and moved in with her mother, and is still undergoing counselling.

The Second Article
The woman boarded the wrong bus home following a night out in October 2007 and ended up in Clapton where a group of men at a bus stop promised to help find her a taxi after she asked them for help.
But instead they led her to a squalid flat, stripped her naked and raped her – in an attack which the victim said had “devastated” her life.
The woman tried to escape the flat from a bathroom window after her ordeal but it was locked and she was forced to stay in there overnight.
She escaped the following morning and managed to get to Kings Cross where she reported the incident to police – but could not find the location of the flat afterwards and most of those responsible have never been traced.
But in 2011 Somalian immigrant Emad Mohamed, 23, was linked to the attack and was last week jailed for two years.
The Old Bailey heard how he had laid on top of her and carried out a sexual assault after she was raped by another man in the group.
The victim, who is still undergoing counselling more than five years on, said in a statement: “Sometimes I feel like my whole personality has changed from a confident and outgoing young woman to a paranoid and reclusive person.”
Judge Anthony Morris said: “At the time she was a happy outgoing woman but after the rape she found it difficult to cope.
“She had to resign from the newspaper and was out of work for several months. She finds leaving the house very traumatic and difficult to deal with.”
Mohamed, of Canterbury Road, Beckton, admitted one charge of sexual assault.

This week in Missing the Point Completely: Maria Miller and the WBC

According to the Guardian, Maria Miller has come up with yet another completely pointless but expensive program to deal with The Problem of Girls. This time she’s got the Women’s Business Council, which was only set up last year, making recommendations which demonstrate just how out of touch they all are with the reality of the lives of girls who aren’t white and born to wealthy, well-educated parents. Miller is going to produce information packs to teach parents of girls how to bring up “aspirational” daughters. You see, the only reason that the number of women in the upper echelons of management and on FTSE 100 boards is because girls lack “aspiration”.

It has absolutely nothing to do with systemic oppression which privileges boys over girls from the start of their lives. 

It has nothing to do with educational practise which favours boys.

It has nothing to do with girls being socialised to defer to boys their whole lives.

It has nothing to do with girls being taught that having an opinion or being intelligent doesn’t count unless they pass the Patriarchal Fuckability Test.

It has nothing to do with sexist hiring practises. 

It has nothing to do with the fact that women are penalised for being mothers before actually being mothers [and the assumption that all women want to be mothers].

It has nothing to do with poverty or class or race or disability. 

The Fawcett Society has clearly been blithering on about absolutely nothing for years.

The only problem girls have is a lack of aspiration. We know this because a bunch of well-educated, mostly white women who are very privileged have gotten together to say so.

I could rant for hours about Miller’s complete lack of understanding of the reality of the lives of most girls in the UK. Government policies to encourage FTSE 100 companies to have a minimum of 25% women on their boards won’t change anything if the vast majority of girls in the UK are being left behind for no other reason than not being born to privileged parents.

There are two things that will increase girls “aspirations”:

1. The Welfare State
2. Feminism

That is it. We need a fully functioning welfare state which supports everyone. We need universal and affordable child care. We need a social care network which helps care for family members who are disabled or elderly. We need a culture where men do 50% of the childcare and the housework. We need a culture where women’s choices are supported and not used as a stick to beat them with.

We don’t need information packs to teach parents how to raise “aspirational girls”. Our girls are already aspirational. We need nothing less than a complete destruction of the capitalist-patriarchy so that our girls can grow up to be who they want to be without being pilloried, insulted and denigrated.

So, The BBC is still confused about Rape Myths:

I awoke this morning to discover my Twitter timeline in an absolute uproar over a BBC Newsbeat article, written by Declan Harvey and Anisa Subedar, on prosecutions for false rape. I genuinely can not believe that the BBC thought it was appropriate to run a story which is so full of factual inaccuracies and that fundamentally misrepresents what Keir Starmer, head of CPP, said about the incidences of false rape convictions in the UK. 

I have been trying to write a formal letter of complaint to the BBC but I’ve been struggling with just how unbearable the article is. I just can’t quite articulate how damaging and destructive I found the hateful article to be. Others, more articulate than have written responses notably this piece in the Huffington Post, Glosswitch and the F-Word.

The End Violence Against Coalition have written a formal letter of complaint which is available here

Dear BBC Heads of News, 

We are writing to complain about the BBC Newsbeat report on today’s (13 March) CPS report on false allegations of rape and domestic violence. 

We represent more than 60 specialist organisations working to end violence against women and girls in all its forms, and a national network of Rape Crisis centres who work directly with survivors of sexual violence. 

The news report by Declan Harvey and Anisa Subedar, which at time of writing is still on the Newsbeat website and the main BBC news website, is an appalling misrepresentation of the CPS report and fails to reach very basic standards of good journalism. It comprehensively misrepresents the findings of the new CPS report, which is particularly disturbing as Newsbeat is a news outlet for younger people and young women are subject to particularly high rates of sexual violence – victims considering whether or not to report will be among your readers and listeners. 

The BBC report says in its first paragraph the figures on false allegations “…show how common the problem is…” which is precisely what the CPS report (and DPP Keir Starmer when interviewed on the Today Programme this morning) do not say. In commenting on the report Keir Starmer says, “This report shows that false allegations of rape and domestic violence are very rare… From the cases we have analysed, the indication is that it is therefore extremely rare that a suspect deliberately makes a false allegation of rape or domestic violence purely out of malice. It is within this context that the issue should be viewed, so that myths and stereotypes around these cases are not able to take hold.” 

 The BBC report says that some have called for anonymity for those accused of sexual offences but says the government has ruled this out – but it fails to say why the government ruled this out, which is in fact that a consideration of the proposal in 2010 found “insufficient reliable empirical evidence” on which to base such a change (House of Commons Library Note, February 2012). 

Your reporters meanwhile go on to include a case study of a woman prosecuted for a false allegation, “…jailed for two years after accusing three men of raping her. Police say she made the claim because she was embarrassed she’d slept with them in one night.” Whereas the CPS report finds that in a large proportion of cases of false allegations, “…a significant number of these cases involved young, often vulnerable people, and sometimes even children. Around half of the cases involved people aged 21 and under, and some involved people with mental health difficulties.” Your reporters’ choice and description of this case study instead reinforces a dangerous myth about rape – that women make it up after regretting consensual sex. The evidence conclusively does not show this. The fact is that the majority of actual rapes go unreported – not least due to the perpetuation of myths about rape and women’s and girls’ fears that they will not be believed. 

Your reporters go on to make a point about allegations staying on a police record for some months, but again, like the anonymity point above, they fail to say why this is. Allegations remain on a police file, which is not a criminal record and does not show up in record checks (also not clarified), because in the past when allegations have been made against men like Ian Huntley and Jimmy Savile among others, police officers handling further separate allegations were unable to find this information and potentially detect a pattern. 

Your news reporting does BBC journalistic standards a great disservice – it reads as if the reporters read the CPS press release quickly and arbitrarily chose what story they felt like writing, disregarding the actual findings of an authoritative report which is part of ongoing CPS work to improve convictions rates for rape and other forms of violence against women. 

The BBC is still under a spotlight for its failings with regard to Jimmy Savile and a culture of sexism and sexual harassment, and not least the editorial decisions that were made at Newsnight when evidence based on testimony from “just the women” (Peter Rippon) was dismissed as inadequate. We hope that all your news staff are receiving comprehensive training on myths around abuse of women and girls and also how the media’s perpetuation of rape myths is believed to contribute to low reporting rates (Alison Saunders, CPS). A joint report by several of the signatories of this letter published last November, ‘Just the Women’, highlights with examples how poor news reporting on abuse of women and girls contributes to a climate of victims not being believed and not getting justice – it is available on all our websites. 

We want to see your news article comprehensively amended or removed soon. We hope the reporters and editor concerned will receive some training on myths and facts about violence against women and girls. 

We look forward to your reply. 

Yours sincerely, 

End Violence Against Women CoalitionRape Crisis England & WalesEavesEquality NowObject

The Guardian, Reeva Steenkamp and Celebrity Culture

The Guardian is currently running a particularly distasteful article which claims that Oscar Pistorius “wants to contact” the family of Reeva Steenkamp. The only part of this article which isn’t offensive is that they’ve actually remembered to name Reeva Steenkamp; the woman Pistorius murdered by shooting her 4 times. The fact that I am actually grateful that the Guardian remembered to name Steenkamp makes me so very angry.

Hannah Curtis wrote a very powerful blog on Steenkamp’s murder and the real consequences of the media’s objectification of women last week. This Guardian article is precisely what Curtis was outlining in her piece: the Guardian has just published what is effectively a PR statement which completely minimises Pistorius’ responsibility for murdering Steenkamp whilst simultaneously piling the guilt onto Steenkamp’s family to forgive him. 

This is not a news story. This is not about the murder of Reeva Steenkamp.  There is nothing new in this piece. We already knew that Pistorius got bail. We already knew that Pistorius’ family think it was an “accident”. Now, we know who Pistorius’ new PR team is because, obviously, we needed to know that.

This is the hateful nature of our celebrity culture and our obsession with forgiving the violence perpetrated by male celebrities: instead of focussing on the murder of a beautiful, intelligent and amazing woman whose family and friends are desperately grieving her loss, our media is running stories written by PR firms. 

I think it’s past time our celebrity-obsessed mass media culture is destroyed.

Hannah Curtis has started a petition here to force for the Sun to apologise for their disgusting coverage of the murder of Reeva Steenkamp. Please sign it.

Circus Freak Shows: Bullying Culture, Mass Media and Personal Responsibility

This past Halloween, I watched the film Monster House with my children. It is one of the unnecessary DVDs that we own but one that I had not actively watched before. It is a childrens film about a haunted house. I expected puerile jokes and unnecessary references to films that no one cares about anymore. I was wrong.

The basic plot of Monster House is that a house is possessed by the spirit of a dead woman, Constance, who steals children’s toys, which land on the grass around it. Before being rescued by the man she marries, Constance had spent her life as an unwilling freak show act in a circus where children paid money to laugh, belittle and humiliate her. Constance dies falling into the foundations of the house she was building with her rescuer-husband, after, once again, being belittled by a group of small children, and the house thus becomes both Constances grave and her avenger.

Possessed by the spirit of the abused Constance, the house is portrayed as insane, evil and violent. There is no discussion of whether or not she was justified in her paranoia following years of intense bullying. The house is angry and frightened because Constance was angry and frightened. But, no one listened when Constance was alive and no one listened when she died. Instead, the climax of the film is the complete destruction of Constance.

It is easy to dismiss Monster House as just another poorly executed childrens movie but this film is simply a reflection of our culture. We may no longer have circus freak shows designed to bully and humiliate those who do not fit our gendered dichotomy of human bodies, but our bullying culture still exists in the form of reality television, shock-jock radio programs, the ubiquity of  lifestyle and celebrity magazines, and mass media coverage of news. Much of our entertainmentnow rests on the same constructions as the circus freak show, we are simply unwilling to acknowledge our own personal responsibility in consuming these forms of entertainment and the harm that they cause.

Just as we now blame Mel Greig and Michael Christian for the death of Jacintha Saldanha, we blame Constance for her actions without looking at the context. I do not want to minimize what Greig and Christian did, since anyone who is no longer 15 should know the potential consequences of pranks, but they are not the only ones who are guilty in the death of Saldanha. Focusing our blame on Greig and Christian is a convenient way to minimize our collective guilt as a society that actively encourages the same bullying experienced by Constance.

Greig and Christian would not have made the prank call if there was not an audience for it. We cannot simply blame the two, although their culpability is without doubt, we also need to examine our own behaviour. We need to take personal responsibility for perpetuating and perpetrating bullying culture. Without an audience of consumers buying magazines like Heat and Grazia or newspapers like the Sun and the Daily Mail or watching/listening to shock jocks like Howard Stern and Matthew Wright, there would be no financial incentive for these people to behave in a crass and offensive manner. Before we start blaming others, we need to check our own behaviour, examine our own privilege, and stop financially supporting an industry based on the abject humiliation of others. The harm caused to vulnerable people who participate in reality television is obvious, yet millions of people watch shows like Big Brother and X-Factor and laugh at the judges’ vile comments. Millions of people take to Twitter to insult the physical appearance of contestants.
We shouldn’t need the Leveson Inquiry to regulate the media. We should be holding the media accountable through our financial power. We can change print media simply by refusing to consume misogynistic, racist, disablist and homophobic stories. We can change talk radio by switching off Greig, Christian and Stern. We can change the culture of bullying traumatised families by refusing to purchase newspapers or watch television newscasts that show images of traumatised parents mourning the loss of their children. We can stop buying newspapers that doorstop grieving parents. We can stop consuming media that suggest that women and children are somehow responsible for their own deaths at the hands of violent men for just exisiting.

Monster House is a film, which uses the emotional and physical abuse experienced by a vulnerable woman and then blames the woman for her behavior, whilst excusing the children, and their parents, who bullied her during her life. In fact, the film never makes the direct correlation between the long-term abuse experienced by Constance and her quite justified paranoia. The blame is entirely Constances despite the fact that society had conspired against her for cheap entertainment.

Contemporary mass media from reality television to celebrity culture, from talk shows to shock jocks, together form a 21st century freak show, only now the phenomenon is 24/7 and shows no respect for private boundaries or personal space. We are invited to laugh and jeer at vulnerable people, like Constance, and we pay to financially support their exploitation. We continue to exploit the most vulnerable members of our communities for our entertainment: in reality television, in traditional and online media, in the music industry and in pornography.

Life isn’t a circus freak show. Lets just stop acting like it is.

Dear BBC, Re: Lucy Worsley

Dear BBC,

I like her a lot. You should hire Worsley more. And, Mary Beard and Bettany Hughes. Not just because they are incredible historians, because they are. I just appreciate watching programs on the BBC not fronted by homophobic, racist, misogynist and disablist middle aged white dudes. It’s rather refreshing to see someone who actually knows what they are talking fronting a history program. I appreciate that you don’t let David Starkey loose in the building but, really, way too many Dudes running about the joint. You should be making more programs with these brilliant women. 


P.S When hiring women to write programs about the history of women, it’s best not to refer to the program as the history of girls. It makes you sound like a bunch of misogynists.