Why it is time for a criminal offence of Domestic Abuse by @rachelhorman

(Cross-Posted with permission from Rachel Horman)

On the 1st April 2013 the Government amended the definition of domestic violence to include “coercive control”.  This was an issue that I have spoken about previously on the BBC website in September – and is an initiative that I very much welcome.

Changing the definition of domestic violence however is useless without there being a corresponding change in the law.  It sounds fantastic to say that domestic violence now includes coercive control but how on earth are abusers going to be prosecuted for it?

The only tools the police have to fight this type of behaviour are the laws against harassment and stalking.  These laws are massively under-utilised as it is and require repeated patterns of behaviour.  These laws were not devised to deal with coercive control within the setting of a couple living together and would be very difficult to use in many of the cases I deal with on a daily basis.

The Government has already committed itself to creating a criminal offence of forced marriage later this year so why not domestic abuse which is a far more common occurrence?

Coercive control can be just as terrifying as physical violence and there are very few cases of physical abuse where coercive control is not also present.  Coercive control is often the precursor to physical abuse so surely it makes sense to have the means to bring a criminal prosecution before the abuse becomes physical?  A woman is murdered by a current or former partner in the UK every 3 days so this is a huge problem we are dealing with.

Coercive control is often used to grind down the spirit and confidence of a victim until they are so submissive that they do not fight back or dare leave when the violence begins.  I have many clients who will say that this cycle of coercive control followed by violence is a constant feature of their relationship and that the psychological terrorism is so terrifying that they are often relieved when the violence eventually comes. Worse still the cycle will usually begin again in an increasingly short space of time.

I have heard people object to a criminal offence of coercive control on the basis that they might find themselves “being arrested for arguing with my wife”.

Coercive control involves humiliation, degradation and intimidation which is not something that can happen – even during arguments – within a loving relationship.

I deal with women being subjected to the psychological terrorism of coercive control on a daily basis, let me give you an idea of what this is like.  Alison was woken in the middle of the night by her partner Stephen, who had been out drinking, and ordered by him to go to the local garage to buy cigarettes for him.  He gave her the money to pay for the cigarettes as she was not allowed to have her own money or bank account.  She was told by him that as usual he would be timing her as he didn’t trust her not to have sex with other men ’on her way to the garage’.  She knew that there would be violence if she was more than a second longer than the agreed time.  When she returned he immediately demanded the change from her and the receipt.  In the rush to get back within the time limit she forgot to pick up the receipt.  Stephen began shouting sexual obscenities about her in her face with his forehead almost touching hers.  He then ordered her to get down on her knees in front of him to beg for forgiveness which she did straight away knowing that it was the only way to try to avoid violence and in the terror of the ordeal wet herself in fear.

Most people would immediately agree that the above example is abhorrent and could not be confused for a “normal argument”.  It would however be very difficult to fit this type of behaviour into the current range of criminal offences as the law stands and therefore the abuser would not be prosecuted.

A fair and humane society surely cannot tolerate this type of behaviour of itself and deserves to be punished in its own right but when you then consider that this type of behaviour often builds up to physical violence and sometimes murder it is imperative that action is taken to stamp this out before it escalates.  I am confident that if this was to become the case dozens of women’s lives would be saved in the UK each year.

(Cross-Posted with permission from Rachel Horman)

Rachel HormanFeminist legal blog by family legal aid lawyer of the year Rachel Horman. Mainly domestic abuse /forced marriage and violence against women. Sometimes ranty but always right…..

See My Face by @Psycho_Claire

Cross-Posted with permission from Thoughts by Claire

This post has been brewing for quite some time. In fact this story has been needing to be told for 16 years. But I was afraid and, unfortunately, wrongly, ashamed of it. What is my purpose in telling this story now? For attention? For pity? HELL NO!! I’m telling this story now in the hope that it will make you see. That those stories in the news, those tales of anonymous women; wont be so anonymous any more. That you’ll realise that there are faces behind those statistics, and mine is one of them. That perhaps after reading this, next time you will see my face.

The story began when I was a lonely 15 year old girl. I had a boyfriend (of the same age), but things were not going well and the relationship was about to end. I had few friends, was frequently bullied at school, had issues at home. I was a smart girl, doing well academically and looking forward to a future of A-levels and university. I was desperate to escape my life, living on a council estate and never fitting in. In short I was “vulnerable”.

I was introduced to this guy, through a friend’s boyfriend. He was older, MUCH older. 42 in fact. An ex-university lecturer with a PhD. He was clever, and charming, he had a car (obviously) and he had money. He didn’t treat me like a kid. And I got sucked in.

When I say this guy was clever, I mean, devious, cunning, sly. He ingratiated himself into my life. I thought he was my friend. Then, just after my 16th birthday (see, CLEVER) things changed. He made a pass at me. I freaked out!! I’d had sex with my previous boyfriend, but we were both kids, this was a whole different ball game and I remember being scared. Really scared.

But, I didn’t tell anyone. I wrote him a letter, telling him that I didn’t think of him that way. That I just wanted to be friends. Then a friend told me she’d spoken to him and he told her I’d over-reacted. It was nothing. His sexual touching of me was, nothing. Looking back now, I can see that this is where the game began. THIS point right here. Where I said he’d crossed a boundary, where I said “NO” and he said “calm down, you’re over-reacting, it’s nothing”. My “no” ignored.

Somehow, and I don’t really know how, I ended up in “a sexual relationship” with this man. Remember I was 16, he was 42. In fact, truth is, I do know how. Back then, no-one knew the term “grooming”, let alone understood the manipulation involved. But that’s what he did. He groomed my friends, my family and me. Manipulated us into accepting this “relationship”.

So, here’s your first headline to put my face to: next time you see on the news/ read in the paper/ on the internet – “grooming gang”, “vulnerable young girl”, “troubled girls” – see me! See my face. See a sad, scared and desperate little girl being manipulated and preyed upon by a cruel man. And don’t you dare demonise these men. They are not EVIL. They are not some kind of freak. He was (and still is) a respected man. A university lecturer. An educated man. An influential man. He’s a son, a brother, a friend. Just a man, a man who made a choice.

Some time passes, and things at home get worse. He adds to this, and by now I’m terrified of him. His emotional and psychological abuse is like nothing I’ve ever known (or, thankfully, ever will again). He has me under his control. What he says goes. I have so many memories of arguments, of him yelling at me, of him guilting me, of him scaring me. God, that fear stayed with me for so long. Even 10 years later I was still terrified when I saw him town. So, the arguments at home get worse, and I am sent to live him. Yep, sent to live with him. In fact, he collected me from school* told me I was going back to his and that I was to call my mum from there. When I called her, she told me that she couldn’t take it any more. Couldn’t deal with me any more and I was to stay with him. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive her for that.

And so now, there I am: 16 years old. Thrown out of home to live with my abuser. Still at school and the bullying is even worse now; coz they all know. They all think I’m weird, that he’s weird, that I’m disgusting. And they tell me this EVERY DAY. I have no escape.

And, now comes the hard part. The part that up until a few weeks ago I hadn’t admitted even to myself. The part that actually makes me feel sick. The part that I dread talking about. The part where the shame comes from. *deep breath*

I used to say that I was in some ways lucky. He never hit me. He wasn’t physically violent. Yes, the emotional and psychological abuse was beyond terrible; but at least he didn’t hit me. Hah! He didn’t need to. See he had a really effective way of keeping me under control. A way of teaching me that I was his to do with as he pleased. That I had no power, no control, no say.

Rape.

It’s such a little word. Four simple letters. Yet, it conjures up such images. Has so many connotations. I’ll bet right now you’re imagining me being pinned down, fighting and screaming. But that’s not how it was. That’s often not how it is. Remember, I was TERRIFIED of this man. He was capable of ANYTHING. And he taught me from day one that my “no” was meaningless. I couldn’t say no. NEVER. I had no choice. That’s what makes it rape. And every time it happened served to remind me that I had no power. I had no control. I had and was nothing. I existed simply to satisfy and please him.

I lived with this man for about 6 months. I have no idea how many times during that time he raped me. None. But it was systematic. And I only realised the true extent of the damage it caused about 3 months ago.

So, here’s your next statistic. That 1 in 4 women that experience Rape or sexual violence in their lifetime. That anonymous 1. That’s me. I’m a rape survivor. And it sickens and infuriates me how many women I know that are too. There are far too many of us. And we are far too quiet. Silenced by our abusers. And by a culture that puts the blame on us. So, next time you hear someone mention that statistic – see my face.

And one last thing……….. those times when you “casually” made jokes and reference to rape – they made me sick. They hurt me. They damaged me that little bit more. They silenced me. Made me ashamed. Made me feel that no-one would believe me. No-one would care.

That time you talked about “real rape” – same thing. Made me feel like it wasn’t rape at all. That all those feelings, that damage I had, was made up. That it was in my head. Made me feel complicit in my abuse. And so fed my shame.

That time you asked “what was she doing there?”, or said “well what did she expect?” – oh, God, the damage those statements do.

And that fucking Robin Thicke song you love so much. The one everyone is “over-reacting” to: words straight from my rapists mouth. So don’t tell me it’s not about rape. Don’t tell me it’s not damaging. IT FUCKING IS!

So, how do I end this post? With this statement. At 17 I got out. A few simple words, but you’ve no idea how proud they make me feel. I survived. I got away. I was damaged. I was hurt. And it took me a long time to get better. But I’m here now. I’m successful. I’m happy. I’m strong. So, don’t you dare pity me! You can feel sorry that these things happened to me. But use that. Pay it forward to the next survivor that you don’t know. Think about this when you’re in the pub or whatever. Next time someone makes a rape joke, or victim blames, or plays that song – see my face – and call them the fuck out for the rape apologist that they are! SEE MY FACE.

*oh, yes, I forgot that part didn’t I? I was still in school. I’m a September birthday, so was one of the oldest in my year. I didn’t leave school til I was almost 17. So yeah, you can also add the image of me in my school uniform to this horrible picture.

 

The Psychology Supercomputer: I write about Psychology, Science Communication, Women in Science and feminist issues. I also tweet as@psycho_claire.

Privitisation of Probation Services by @lexiconlane

Cross-Posted with Permission from Donna Navarro

Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, plans to privatise parts of the probation service, but how will this impact on domestic abuse cases? 

On 22 March 2013, the media reported on a harrowing video supposedly made by a Serbian domestic violence victim in 2012 which has gone viral.

In the video entitled: ‘One photo a day in the worst year of my life’, the first few pictures show the female victim looking happy, content and smiling. The tone changes quickly with visible bruising to her eyes, haematomas to her face, marks around her neck, until at the end of the video, her face is beaten badly.

In this final shot, she holds a sign stating: ‘help me, I do not know if I will welcome tomorrow’ implying she does not know if she will live to see tomorrow.

The authenticity of the video consisting of 365 photos has been questioned. Some believe the ‘victim’ featured in the video is a model made up to look like a victim using stage make up.

Whether it’s authentic and features a victim of domestic abuse, or whether it has been posted as an awareness raising tool, it clearly makes a very real representation of domestic abuse.

Whilst men and women can be both the perpetrator and the victim of domestic abuse, the figures indicate men are the primary perpetrators.

As someone who has spent ten years working with perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse, I have seen first hand the effects of domestic violence and the entrenched negative attitudes perpetrators hold towards women.

The fact is, whether this video features a real victim or not, domestic abuse happens, and all too often.

According to Women’s Aid , in the UK:

One incident is reported to the police every minute.

Domestic violence accounts for between 16 and 25 per cent of all recorded violent crime.

On average there will have been 35 assaults before the police are called.

Every day thousands of children witness domestic abuse.

54 per cent of rapes are committed by a woman’s current or former partner.

On average two women per week are killed by a partner or a former partner.

Domestic abuse is about control. Often it starts with a small incident, quickly progressing in severity and the degree of harm caused to the victim.

And often domestic abuse is committed by a perpetrator capable of convincing everyone he is utterly charming.

If the perpetrator receives a community sentence he becomes the responsibility of the probation service who allocate an officer to manage the community order and work to rehabilitate the offender.

Importantly, they manage the risks posed to the victim, to any children and to any future partners.

When working with perpetrators of domestic abuse it is critical to ensure information is gathered from multi-agency sources and not just from one-to-one contact with the perpetrator.

One typical characteristic of perpetrators of domestic abuse is minimisation. They will make light of their abusive behaviour, they will blame the victim or even deny the offence ever happened.

Domestic violence perpetrators by their very nature are manipulative – they are used to putting on an act.

They are not easy individuals to work with. It takes a skilled officer to unpick the web of lies, recognise and analyse the facts, make an accurate assessment of the potential risk of harm and put the relevant safeguarding measures into place.

Risk is a dynamic factor. It’s not static, it does not remain constant. Any victim will tell you how quickly things can change.

Managing risk takes effective team working and regular communication with programme tutors, victim liaison officers, the police, social workers, Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) officers, Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVA’s) and officers from women’s services.

It’s about managing this information and about the direct one-to-one work offender managers do with perpetrators.

Offender managers have been specially trained to have these skills, and they do their job not for the salary they receive, because they are far from well paid, but because they believe in people.

They work tirelessly and often thanklessly to rehabilitate offenders, to reduce re-offending, to protect the public and to make a difference to the lives of individuals and to our society.

The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling plans to privatise the probation service.

He plans to scale it back and “refocus” the public service to specialise in dealing only with the most dangerous and high-risk offenders and public protection cases. So, Grayling recognises the skills the probation service has in managing risk of harm and protecting the public.

His plan then, to privatise the service is extremely concerning for domestic violence perpetrators, but especially for their victims.

Under Grayling’s plans, private companies will only manage low and medium risk offenders. The probation service will manage only high and very high risk offenders.

Personal circumstances and the recognised triggers for offending can change so quickly.  In the current economic climate, financial hardship and unemployment add to the risks associated with domestic abuse. Often behind closed doors where there are no witnesses there is a very different scenario being played out to the one that is portrayed to friends, family and the public.

That’s the nature of domestic abuse. The level of risk posed to the victim can change in an instant. Managing that risk is about recognising the factors that impact on the likelihood of the perpetrator re-offending and to what degree.

It takes the highly regarded skills of the probation service, often the only agency to have direct, regular contact with the perpetrator, to identify when risks are escalating,to assess the imminence of those risks and to act appropriately and efficiently in putting into place effective risk management strategies.

‘High risk of harm’ is defined as ‘where the risk of harm is imminent’.  As the level of risk is what is to define the role of the probation service, let’s consider this definition in more details:

Under Grayling’s plans, perpetrators of domestic abuse will be passed back and forth between private companies and the probation service as and when their perceived risk levels change. For victims of domestic abuse, this could be catastrophic.

Once someone’s risk level is assessed as having changed to high, the risk of harm has been assessed as imminent. And the use of the word ‘imminent’ is critical.

When protecting the public, when protecting an identified victim, is there really time to be passing an individual capable of causing imminent harm across to another agency, to an agency where the officer won’t have worked with this individual or have had sufficient time to be fully aware and familiar with the intricacies of the case?

And while the case is being transferred what is happening to the victim?

And, when something goes wrong, which agency will be held accountable?

All important question which do not seem to have been given sufficient considered by the Justice Secretary.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan criticised Chris Grayling’s plans for privately-contracted probation services:

“Payment by results in criminal justice is untested, and the Tory-led Government are taking a reckless gamble with public safety.

“Pilots were already under way to see if payment by results worked and to ensure any problems were ironed out before being rolled out.

“The new Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, is demonstrating breathtaking arrogance in choosing to ignore the pilots,” he said.

Every Probation Trust in the country was rated either good or exceptional by the Government in 2011, and Mr Khan warned that Mr Grayling’s proposals risked replacing them with private firms such as G4S.

Mr Khan said; “Rushing into payment by results is a danger to the offenders who might not receive the rehabilitation support they require, and to the safety of communities up and down the country.”

Following the Carter Report in 2003 and until disclosure of Grayling’s plans, end to end management of offenders has been considered critical in affective rehabilitation; one significant aspect being the consistency of a dedicated officer assigned to the offender for the term of the sentence.

Working in this way is said to allow the offender manager and offender to get to know one another, to build a rapport. Importantly, it allows the offender manager a better knowledge of the offender and an increased opportunity of assessing when things aren’t right.

Grayling’s planned offender management model will abandon this concept.

Concerns are that his plans will jeopardise the lives of victims by experimenting with an untested model of risk management.

The offender managers and programme tutors employed by the probation service, the people who work on a daily basis with these offenders are extremely concerned about Grayling’s plans and rightly so.

They know the complexities and unpredictability involved in working with offenders and with risk.

The same cannot be said for the private companies it is anticipated will manage offenders assessed as low and medium risk of harm.

Offender managers are so concerned they are trying everything in their power to raise awareness about what might result. Action has involved twitter parties under the#saveprobation, a facebook page, many, many letters to politicians and an e-petition urging the government to rethink its plans to tender out up to 70 per cent of the probation service’s core work.

They have voiced their concerns in the hope someone in a position of power will understand the potential and very real issues connected to these plans and how they will impact on the offender, the victim and the public.

Ultimately, they want to save probation – a high-achieving public sector body with employees who care about people, not money.  They want to protect the public in a way the assessments of the service they provide indicate they seem to know best.

This piece was published on Women’s Views on News 28 March 2013

Cross-Posted with Permission from Donna Navarro

Donna Navarro : Writer, campaigner, former offender manager; passionate about social justice, criminal justice, feminism and freedom from male violence against women. Opinionated. Sarcastic. More fun than I sound. @lexiconlane |www.facebook.com/DonnaNavarroWrites

 

The Power of Silence in Enabling Domestic Violence by @CratesNRibbons

(Cross-Posted with permission from Crates&Ribbons)

Society has long known the power of words. In 1838, Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, a phrase that has proven its own point by marching its triumphant way down the generations. Books and speeches have been immortalised as turning points in history, ideas that have taken root and changed the world. And as the power of words has been celebrated, the power of silencing has emerged as a crucial tool of the patriarchy, a way of keeping women underfoot. This is why old texts like the bible contain the following lines – “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34), and “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12). It is why many cultures around the world require women to be demure and soft-spoken, speaking infrequently, and why, even in what we think of as the progressive West, outspoken women are regularly labelled ‘shrill’ or ‘hysterical’. It is a pattern cut from the same cloth, a way of ensuring that women’s views are kept hidden away, that we are kept compliant in the face of a system that has always been stacked against us.

Of course, it isn’t only women’s words that are erased. Any man bold enough to speak out against the patriarchial order is mocked for it, called a ‘gender traitor’ or ‘pussywhipped’, sometimes even leading to social exclusion. Given the immense social pressure to go along to get along, it is no wonder many choose to stay silent, no matter how much they may disagree with the rape joke that has just been told, or how much they dislike seeing their friend sexually harass a passing woman. And in this way, by meting out punishment to its critics, the status quo maintains itself.

And when it comes to domestic violence, the silence can be deafening. There is an overwhelming tendency in society to see it as a personal problem between two people, something they should sort out for themselves, and that it isn’t our place to judge the relationships of others. Our judgment centers around the woman in the relationship—we wonder why she doesn’t leave, speculate on her individual character, all the while viewing it as her problem to bear, rather than as a crime plain and simple, committed by the perpetrator. But here’s the key thing. Whenever we portray domestic violence as somehow less bad than random violence against a stranger, we’re furthering the idea that being in a relationship automatically gives a man the right to a woman’s body, and that being with him is tantamount to consenting to be hurt in that way. I feel this is really important, so I’ll say it again: Whenever we think that a woman who just doesn’t leave is responsible for what a man does to her, and that he is less culpable than if he had beaten a stranger, we’re implying that being in a relationship with him is akin to giving consent for whatever he might do to her. In other words, we’re equating a relationship with ownership, and decide that what goes on within it is nothing to do with us.

We need to break this silence, and decry domestic violence as an epidemic that is everybody’s problem. In the aftermath of the Cleveland kidnapping horror, it has emerged that warning signs aplenty were ignored—Castro’s long record of violence against women, neighbours’ calls to police treated lightly, and not followed up on. Could it be that, given that these incidents were taking place in a house, it was seen as ‘just’ domestic violence by the police? A personal relationship problem, and not a ‘real’ crime?

If you follow my blog or regularly read feminist writings, you’ll be familiar with the fact that 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. Yet despite this staggering statistic, it is still largely marginalized as a ‘women’s problem’, and virtual silence in the mainstream about it as a pressing social issue. Male celebrities (especially white male celebrities) who have committed domestic violence, like Charlie Sheen, John Lennon, Mel Gibson, and Gary Oldman, have been subject to a ripple of condemnation, before the curtain of silence fell again. And while many brave survivors have spoken out about it, the onus cannot be placed solely on them. Every single one of us has a part to play in breaking the silence that has served to protect perpetrators for so long.

domesticviolenceuk.org

So what does ‘breaking the silence’ entail, exactly? Well, we could start by firmly disagreeing whenever someone makes a joke about violence against women. We could write to our MPs, asking them to make tackling DV a priority, and to increase funding for women’s shelters and other support services. We could volunteer at said services. We could contact companies selling products that promote or trivialize domestic violence and let them know how abhorrent we find it. We could air our views online, take to Twitter, write a blog, post on Facebook. We could challenge those who make excuses for violent men, and publicly refute those who mock or blame the victims. And we (especially the men amongst us) need to be far more vocal in challenging other men, and ask what it is about male culture that continually churns out men who abuse and control women.

None of this is easy. But if we keep turning a blind eye to the rampant problem of domestic violence in society, and insist on seeing it as isolated cases of relationships gone sour, if we excuse celebrity men for their actions and stigmatize the victim instead of the perpetrator, then the culture of male violence against women will continue to flourish in the silence of our complicity.

———-

* If you know a friend or family member who is experiencing domestic violence, please see this guide from Women’s Aid on what you can do to support them.

 

 

Crates&Ribbons:  A feminist analysis of society [@CratesNRibbons]

 

33 Women in 111 Days by @sianushka

Cross-Posted with permission from Sian & Crooked Rib

First Published in 2012

It’s been a year since I wrote my letter to our political leaders regarding the cuts to domestic violence support services, and just under a year since I received my (sole) reply from Theresa May. Since then, despite May assuring me that councils were being asked not to see this area as an ‘easy cut’, along with a vague reference to investing in ‘people’, everything that we predicted would happen to the sector and the women it supports, has happened.

In particular, refuges are closing down or losing their funding. Women’s Aid are reporting that refuges are turning away 230 women a day (http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/care/charities-have-to-turn-away-women-seeking-refuge/6520815.article), often with advice to sleep in occupy camps or A&E departments, or even in bus stations. Of course, many of these women, having found the courage and strength to leave a violent home, often with children in tow, will be forced to go back. They might not have anywhere else to go.

The warning from the domestic violence support sector was stark. Make these cuts, they said, and more women will die. And they have, devastatingly, been proven right.

According to Nia Central, between 1st Jan 2012 and 20th April 2012, 33 women and girls have been murdered as a result of gender-based violence. The suspects are their husbands, their boyfriends, their exes or male family members. That’s 33 women in 111 days. That’s one woman or girl (as some of the victims are under-18) every 3.3 days (https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=362416127128605&id=251422554894630).

There is little to say in the face of such horror, such damning evidence. Other than that this is a war against women. As a comparison, less UK military personnel have died in Afghanistan (15) than women have died as a result of gender-based violence in the same time period.

The government cuts are leading to the destruction of a support system that was – despite always being underfunded and overstretched – helping 1000s of women every day escape violent homes (and men too – Gemini for example provides refuge places for men). The closure of refuges has resulted in hundreds of women being told every day that there is no-where for them to go to escape violent homes. And this lack of support, this lack of escape route, is resulting in a higher rate of domestic abuse deaths – a figure that some evidence suggested was decreasing (from 2 a week to 1.5).

A report published last month found that funding from local authorities to organisations supporting victims and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse had fallen from £7.8 million in 2010/11 to £5.4 million in the current financial year (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/mar/03/refuge-chief-warns-charity-close). This is in spite of official reports that there were 400,000 domestic violence incidents reported last year and the police receive a domestic abuse related phone call every minute.  Some local authorities have made funding cuts to this sector of nearly 50% (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-12402776). Despite Theresa May’s promise to me last year, councils are seeing domestic abuse support services as an easy cut. Victims and survivors of domestic violence are being silenced and they are being forgotten. And with the continued closure of refuges, women are being offered the impossible choice of staying in a violent home and risking being killed, or leaving and sleeping rough with their children. This is not a choice at all.

When I write about domestic abuse murders, I am often questioned on my statistics. People who don’t believe the numbers, who think they are ‘too high to be true’. On the flipside, I’ve (unbelievably) had people comment that 104 murdered women a year doesn’t seem ‘very much’. I now feel that the government and local authorities have joined those online ‘trolls’ who don’t see the terrifying domestic violence figures as ‘very much’. Because, really, how many women have to die, before they say enough is enough? Before they stop these cuts? Before they see that closing refuges, cutting domestic violence support services is leading to the deaths of more and more women every week?

33 in 111 days?

Mr Cameron. Mr Clegg. Mr Osborne. Ms May.Ms Featherstone.  Enough is enough.
I will be sending a copy of this blogpost to above names.

Admin: The Counting Dead Women campaign is recording the names of female victims of fatal male violence. There is a petition demanding the government create a fit-for-purpose record of fatal male violence.

Sian and Crooked Rib I‘m a bristol based blogger who writes stories, talks about feminism and politics and generally muses on happenings. [@sianushka]

Bristol Fawcett report reveals the impact of the cuts on domestic abuse support services by @sianushka

Cross-Posted with Permission from Sian & Crooked Rib.

Originally posted in 2011

“Fair” has been the buzzword from the start. Since the emergency budget announced by the Shadow Chancellor in the summer of 2010, to the last budget plans of April this year, we have been assured over and over again that these cuts will be fair. ‘We’re all in it together’, we were assured. ‘The most vulnerable will be protected’, the line went.

But it didn’t take long for the National Fawcett Society, as well as some Labour MPs, to uncover who would be shouldering the real burden of these cuts. Women. Yvette Cooper’s and Fawcett’s investigation into the emergency budget discovered that the 70% of the money raised from the cuts would come from women’s purses.
Considering the assurances given that the most vulnerable would be protected from the cuts, it has been shocking to learn that a sector that works hardest to protect the vulnerable are in the firing line for budget cuts and centre closures. I am talking of course about the domestic violence sector. From Devon initially facing 100% funding cuts to their support services (eventually reduced to 42% cut) to Women’s Aid’s announcement in March that 60% of refuge services will receive no council funding in the coming year, it seems that it is exactly the most vulnerable, and the most silent, groups of people who are having their lifelines cut.

So what does this mean for the city I live in, Bristol. Partly as a response to Fawcett’s national challenge, the local Bristol Fawcett group have created a report to explore how the cuts are impacting women living in the city. Amongst the shocking statistics, there is plenty of evidence to see how cuts to health and social care, legal aid, housing and benefits system will make the lives of those fleeing violence harder.

And there have been direct cuts to support services too. The city council were faced with the difficult decision of how to allocate money to domestic violence support services, and the commissioning process led to funding being given to one central organisation, Nextlink. This has left a range of local community charities and support services without funding. Whilst it is important and necessary that funding has been provided to tackle domestic violence, there have been some questions raised over this decision, with concern that centralising services will reduce choice for women seeking to leave violent relationships. The commissioning process has meant that Bristol now only has one council-funded organisation that specialises in domestic violence. Nextlink will be running support services for women and men, as well as providing dedicated support for BME women and men.
As the cuts start to bite, domestic violence continues to be a big issue for the city. Bristol Fawcett’s anti-cuts report found that between 15,400 and 22,000 Bristol women will experience intimate partner violence each year, and around 130 women are raped in the city each month. These women are from all the different communities and areas of Bristol, and there is a real concern within the sector that the cuts to support services will reduce women’s choices and accessibility to the services they need to leave a life of violence.

One of the organisations that lost their council funding in the commissioning process was WISH, a domestic violence support service and charity based in South Bristol who offered support to both women and men victims and survivors. Facing closure, WISH received funding from BBC Children in Need to run a project working withyoung perpetrators of violence.

I spoke to Sian Taylor, an independent domestic violence advisor working with the charity about the impact of the cuts on WISH and the victims and survivors of violence who they support.

Taylor explained that ‘the funding cuts mean we will have lost our core work of supporting victims and survivors.’

Both the Bristol Fawcett report and Sian Taylor recognise that the problem with the cuts isn’t just an issue of lack of funding for support services. It goes a lot deeper than that. In the socially deprived areas of Hartcliffe and Withywood where WISH is based, issues such as housing provision and cuts to other benefits make it harder for women to leave violent relationships.

‘The cuts to housing benefit have a massive effect on those who want to leave and don’t feel able to,’ Taylor explains. ‘Not having access to housing makes it harder for them to be independent. The perpetrator of domestic violence often feeds on making their partner feel that they are completely dependent on them, and they will make their partner feel like they can’t leave. Many women end up staying with a violent partner because he controls the finances, so she fears that she can’t cope without him or that she is tied to him because she doesn’t have the money to get away. As a result, a lot of people who leave end up going back. We often find that someone leaving a violent relationship will return a couple of times before leaving for good.’

High private rental costs, cuts to housing benefit and depleted council house provision work together to make leaving a violent relationship difficult financially, as well as the obvious emotional trauma. This lack of support, encouraged by the cuts, leaves those trying to escape with limited options. Currently, if someone has a mortgage and tries to leave a violent relationship, they will find it difficult to get the financial support they need, be that from council housing or benefits – a situation that completely ignores how domestic abuse works and how perpetrators often control and withhold money. ‘Victims of domestic violence shouldn’t be penalised for owning a house’, argues Taylor. ‘People fleeing a violent relationship don’t always have access to money and that needs to be better understood’.

Although ostensibly legal aid has been protected for victims and survivors of domestic violence, in reality it is becoming increasingly difficult for it to be accessed. In order to claim in a domestic violence case the claimant needs to provide “evidence” of the violence. This of course sounds reasonable, but in practicality it can be hard to define what evidence of domestic violence is. Taylor explains to me that on average there are 35 incidences of violence before a victim goes to the police – 35 incidents that aren’t recorded and therefore aren’t evidenced. Evidence also immediately suggests physical violence, which ignores the nature of  how domestic violence works. ‘The definition mustn’t be just about physical violence but about coercive control, emotional abuse – these are difficult to prove and difficult to evidence, but they are still violent acts. By not taking this into account, it makes it very hard for those leaving to get the help they need’.

When I wrote to Theresa May earlier this year to find out more about how the cuts were impacting on the domestic violence sector, she responded that ‘the Government has made it a key priority to take a strong lead on tackling violence against women and girls to help ensure this issue remains a priority at local level…local authorities must not see this sector as an “easy cut” when making difficult decisions.’ She assured me that the government ‘have also provided ring-fenced Home Office funding for local specialist services to tackle VAWG with over £28 million allocated until 2015 for Independent Domestic Violence Advisors, Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference co-ordinators.’

But in a country where two women a week are murdered by their current or ex-partner, 100,000 UK women are raped each year and 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes (rising to 1 in 3 teenage girls), this simply isn’t enough money or support. If it were, vital organisations such as WISH would not have had to cut their support services. Women and men in violent relationships are among the most vulnerable in society, and this is an issue that affects people across the country, and across class.

‘I’d like to see more refuge provision’, Taylor says when I ask her about what we could be doing more of in our city. ‘I’d also like the sentencing for offenders to match the crime – offenders are often released having had short custodial sentences (if sent to prison at all) – what kind of message is that delivering to our society? And why would women want to go through the ordeal of giving evidence in court if sentencing is so minimal anyway? I’d like women to have a choice of services. I’d like to see women supported, regardless of age, history, and whether they have a criminal record. I’d like to see those fleeing violence given priority for social housing. And I want to see more protection from harassment.’

The future of WISH, in a rather more limited role, is safe, for now. With funding from Children in Need for two years for the 11 to 24 Project, the team are moving further into prevention, working with young people and young perpetrators of violence. Taylor hopes that the project means that rather than ‘mopping up’ the aftermath of violence, it will tackle the root causes of violence with an aim to educate around consent and respect. But after those funded two years, Taylor isn’t sure what the future holds.

‘Wish have two years worth of funding, after this the future is uncertain. So many good projects are set up but then plugged because of funding constraints – I dont want this to happen to Wish.’

To learn more:

The Wish Centre

Bristol Fawcett

Stats on VAWG in Bristol: ( Based on a rate of between 7 and 10%. Domestic Violence is often under-reported. The British Crime Survey 2009/10 records a rate of domestic violence of 7%

Women’s Rape Crisis

British Crime Survey shows a lifetime rate of sexual abuse or rape of 19.7%: Home Office., 2010.
Crime in England and Wales 2009/10 findings from the British crime survey and police recorded crime (Third Edition) at p.72 [online] Based on Female population of 220000. Available at:

National VAWG stats: Home Office and BCS as above

Cuts to Devon services

Women’s Aid announcement

 

Sian and Crooked Rib I‘m a bristol based blogger who writes stories, talks about feminism and politics and generally muses on happenings. [@sianushka]

Manweek: #MyFirstLove: How Fathers will prevent domestic homicides by @EVB_Now

Cross-Posted with Permission from Ending Victimisation and Blame (Everyday Victim Blaming)

At Ending Victimisation and Blame, we support all campaigns that seek to end the epidemic of violence against women and children [2]. We believe that the answer to this epidemic lies in both the education of men to prevent abuse and the non-judgemental support of women and children through the NHS, social services, police services, department of education and third-sector organisations. We believe all of the aforementioned organisations need better training in order to support women and children, particularly in terms of language that holds victims responsible for the abuse perpetrated against them.

We have grave concerns about a campaign designed to prevent violence against women and children that is entitled “Because we have daughters UK”[3]. We understand the origins of this campaign but we do not believe that a campaign based on patriarchal constructions of the family will help end violence. It is absolutely vital that men are helped to build healthy relationships with their children but ending violence against women and children should be based on the recognition that women and children are not possessions.

Predicating campaigns on the theory that “daughters” do not deserve to experience violence fails to understand the systemic oppression and violence in our culture. These types of campaigns reinforce a dichotomy between “good” and “bad” female victims of male violence predicated on male ownership. In order to challenge both violence against women and children and victim blaming, we need to ensure that all campaigns understand this systemic oppression. Women and children deserve to be safe from male violence because they are human; not simply because they may be someone’s daughter.

We also have concerns about this statement in the Feminist Times article by Deborah Owhin:

Girls who develop healthy relationships with their ‘fathers’ make better decisions in future relationships. This ‘first love’ or foundational relationship gives them a base line to measure against for future love relationships.[4]

Firstly, we need to recognise that the man most likely to abuse a daughter -emotionally, sexually, physically or financially – is their father (biological or step). The failure to include this piece of information is quite worrying as it ignores the realities of much of the abuse experienced by girls.

Secondly, the idea that a woman is trapped in a violent relationship because of “poor decisions” is victim blaming. It fundamentally misunderstands the nature of violence within intimate relationships and the grooming process whereby violent men slowly erode women’s reality and support networks. Violent men target specific women for a variety of reasons; none of which are due to “poor decision making” on the part of women. It is extremely worrying that a campaign designed to prevent male violence against women places the blame on victims for their “decision-making” process; and this is without acknowledging the fact that many abusers are fathers.

We are equally concerned by this statement:

Growing up in a nuclear family is no longer a norm for many young people, as a result relationships between fathers and daughters are suffering. This has directly led to a low sense of self esteem in young girls looking to the internet, social media, friends, the entertainment industry and Hollywood for an identity and to create their images of what a healthy and respectful relationship is – this is detrimental to our society.

This reduces a complex problem to what is colloquially referred to as “Daddy issues”. Growing up in a nuclear family does not equal a healthy father-daughter relationship. As we have already stated, this is the man most likely to abuse a child.  Secondly, having parents who are separated does not mean that the relationship between fathers and daughters must end. If it does end, one has to ask if the relationship was there to start with. We would be interested in seeing research that directly links poor relationships with fathers to low self-esteem in girls that then results in girls looking elsewhere for an identity, rather than it being a complicated response to being groomed by a culture which privileges girls who meet the criteria of “good girls” whilst holding 13 year olds girls responsible for their own rapes.

We are also worried by the lack of adequate information on the website “Without women, where would we be?” [5]. The program appears to be based on 4-hour workshops with fathers and daughters. There is no information as to who leads these workshops and whether or not they have training in recognising violence against women and children [6]. As Lundy Bancroft has noted in his seminal text “Why does he that? Inside the minds of Angry and Controlling Men”, groups for violent men become places where abusive men seek support to continue their abusive behaviour rather than preventing it. They become places where male violence is normalised and encouraged if the group organiser is not trained appropriately.

The definition of violence against women used by this campaign is taken directly from the UN definition but there is no information as to how they are implementing that knowledge within their practise [7]. There is also no information on the website about data confidentiality or ethical practise codes in case they are made aware of an abusive relationship.

We fully support all programs that seek to end violence against women and children but these programs must make their practises clear [8]. We also believe that men have the power to end violence against women and children but this must be about them changing their behaviour. Implying that women make “poor decisions” which result in their abuse at the hands of a male partner is victim blaming. It allows men to elide their responsibility for committing violence and it implies that victims bear some responsibility for being victims.

1http://www.feministtimes.com/men-as-allies-to-end-domestic-violence/#sthash.frwZNnrp.dpuf
2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22975103
3. http://withoutwomen.org/current-projects/bwhd-uk
4. http://www.feministtimes.com/men-as-allies-to-end-domestic-violence/#sthash.frwZNnrp.dpuf
5. http://withoutwomen.org
6. There is basic information about training programs on the American website for Men Stopping Violence who developed the “Because we have daughters” campaign, however it is not detailed and we cannot confirm whether or not men’s personal histories of violence are investigated before they are allowed to participate or even to train as workshop leaders. http://www.menstoppingviolence.org/training
7. http://withoutwomen.org
8. http://www.niaendingviolence.org.uk

– See more at: http://everydayvictimblaming.com/news/manweek-my-first-love-how-fathers-will-prevent-domestic-homicides-1/#sthash.tOC2bLgV.dpuf

Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]: This campaign is about changing the culture and language around violence against women and children.  We aim to challenge the view that men cannot help being violent and abusive towards women and children.  We want to challenge the view that women should attempt to ‘avoid’ abuse in order to not become a victim of it.  We challenge media reports of cases of violence against women and children where there is an almost wilful avoidance of the actual reasons for these acts.  Power, control, women and children being considered ‘possessions’ of men, and avoidance of personal responsibility all contribute to a societal structure that colludes with abusers and facilitates a safe space in which they can operate. This is what we are campaigning to change.

Reframing the Conversation around Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse by @EVB_Now

Cross-Posted with permission from Ending Victimisation and Blame (Everyday Victim Blaming)

This post is a collective piece, thanks to all who have contributed. It is going to focus on men who abuse women and children. We acknowledge that there are female offenders, but this post will not be discussing them. It comes with a content note for Domestic & Sexual Violence and Abuse.

What do we mean when we say language matters? The words that we use say a great deal about our interactions with the world, about us, and about how we discuss difficult topics. The words that we choose need to have impact and power if they are going to help us change the issues around domestic and sexual violence and abuse.

We’re going to start with problematic terms that we’ve been sent by our site contributors, and include some alternatives. These alternatives help to reframe the debate – using terms that some may find upsetting needs to be balanced with a decision that we make a conscious choice to use terms that reflect what we are actually talking about. This avoids us talking around the topic.

Some of the terms may feel unpalatable. Talking about ‘indecent images of children’ or ‘images of child sexual abuse’ may feel difficult when compared to the ubiquitous term ‘child pornography’, for example. But why does it matter? Discussions on twitter about this from those who suggest that the term ‘child’ negates any consent inferred from the word ‘pornography’ miss the point – sex offenders use the phrase as their preferred term. They are aroused by these images – so indeed, to a sex offender, they are considered ‘pornography’. If we use the term pornography to denote indecent images of children, we are using the term preferred by the men who use images of child sexual abuse to get aroused. Not so comfortable now, is it?

Alongside this term, we have other terms used about child abusers. ‘Sex tourist‘ – the men who travel to other countries to sexually abuse children. ‘Child sex’ is another phrase where the presence of the word ‘child’ does not negate the consent implied by using the word ‘sex’. What we really mean when we say this, is ‘child rape’. The child has been raped, by a man who had power and control over them. Using the term ‘child sex’ adds to his power. He probably didn’t think he did anything wrong. He probably thought the child ‘wanted it’. Maybe they were ‘provocative’. Maybe they gave him the ‘come on’. He wants to detract from his rape of a child, and describe it as sex, as it is more comfortable for him. How does that feel for you, aiding a child rapist to feel more comfortable?

Another questionable term used about children is ‘child prostitute’. The term ‘prostitute’ is debatable in itself; women prefer the term ‘sex worker’ (for those who believe it to be work, same as any other form of work), or ‘prostituted woman’, for those women who have their choices taken away from them and are prostituted by others who financially gain from the purchase of sexual activity. The term ‘child prostitute’ suggests consent – that the child made an active, conscious choice to engage in sexual activity where payment is received for said activity. Again, the argument against this is that the term ‘child’ negates that. No, it doesn’t. Name it – a ‘prostituted child’ a ‘child raped by men who pay for this service’. Let us not collude with the rape of children.

Kiddy fiddling‘. This is one of the worst phrases that we have ever heard. We’re pretty sure that we can leave that one there, with no need for further explanation.

‘Under age sex’. What does this term say? To us, it suggests that a young person is having sex under the age of consent (16 years, in the UK). We have worked extensively with children and young people, and know that they do, of course, have ‘under age sex’. However, the sex they have is usually with young people of a similar age and circumstance – using the term ‘under age sex’ to describe sexual activity after grooming, exploitation or coercion by an older and more powerful man is not under age sex. It is a crime, often prosecuted as ‘sexual activity with a child’. Using this term suggests consent and therefore takes responsibility away from the sex offender.

Paedophile is another term that came up when we asked for suggestions. It means ‘lover of children’. Do people who love children sexually abuse them? This is another term preferred by perpetrators, as they describe their sexual activity with children as part of their sexuality. This piece is not going to discuss that further, but there is research around this topic that can be found easily via Google. Using the language preferred by perpetrators helps them excuse, minimise and deny the abuse, and we’d not want any part of that. Lets call them what they are – child sexual abusers, instead.

Moving away from abuse of children to abuse of women. We found so many problematic terms, we are going to divide this section into Domestic Violence & Abuse (including rape and sexual abuses by partners/ex partners); Domestic Homicide/Murder and Sexual Violence & Abuse.

Domestic Violence & Abuse:

Tempestuous / Volatile / Acrimonious / Stormy / Tumultuous Relationship. Crime of Passion. Altercation. Lovers Tiff.  What do those words say to you? To us, they suggest that both parties are involved in the abuse. They suggest that the ‘volatility’ in the relationship is two-way, where both parties suffer physical and emotional harm from the other partner. It shares the blame with the victim without the perpetrator having to do anything. Nice work, huh? Using these terms aids that. Call a domestically violent and abusive relationship ‘volatile’? Your sympathy is with the perpetrator. You’re aiding him excusing his behaviour. In fact, you’re not aiding it – you’ve done it for him. How does that feel?

He is a ‘batterer’. She’s a ‘battered woman’. When we hear that term, the first image that comes into our head is of the local fish & chip shop! It completely ignores the emotional, psychological and financial abuse suffered by women. It dehumanises her and should be used with extreme caution. In our experience, it is rare to find a woman who suffers only physical abuse at the hands of their abusive partner. The other strands of abuse link closely in order for the man to gain, and retain, control over his partner.

Generally, when these terms are used, they mean domestic & sexual violence and abuse, perpetrated by men, against women. Why is it so hard to say that? What does it tell an abuser who physically assaults his wife, who then fights back by scratching his face? It tells him that it’s ok. It tells him that he has no need to provide excuses or explanations; we will do that work for him. It tells him that she is just as bad as him, and his behaviour is justified, without him having to acknowledge what he’s done. It tells him we understand. Life is difficult. Their relationship is ‘volatile’. We understand. It’s ok.

Actually, it’s not ok. Using those terms completely ignores the issue of power. He is likely to be more powerful than her – not just physically, but emotionally, too. After all, he doesn’t live in fear. He isn’t worried about disclosing to someone and finding an under-trained social worker on the doorstep talking about ‘leaving’ and ‘protecting the children’. He isn’t in fear that he may receive a text message that triggers an all-night assault because she’s “obviously having an affair”. He isn’t in fear that he may be killed, if he says the ‘wrong’ thing at the ‘wrong’ time. Lets not use language that gives him more power – after all, this contributes to his ongoing abuse of her, and we aren’t going to collude with that, are we?

Or are we? We also ask ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ Or ‘why does she put up with it?’. These questions are asked from a position of ignorance. How about we reframe the question? ‘Why doesn’t he stop abusing her?’. That question lays the blame in the appropriate place, with the responsibility on the perpetrator. Let us not make survivors and victims any more responsible than they already feel.

How about the term ‘gendered violence‘? Using this term acknowledges that DVA is a gendered issue, but it’s not specific enough. The problem is violence and abuse against women, perpetrated by men. Women are at much greater risk, and often they are abused because they are women. Using the term ‘gendered’ is a misnomer. If we are going to talk about gender, lets talk about it properly.

‘Interpersonal violence’. We understand interpersonal to describe relations between people, but this completely detracts from the closeness of the relationship. Domestic abusers don’t usually berate or assault their co-workers, friends, or other people they come into contact with – they abuse their intimate partners, ex-partners, mothers, sisters, children. Women they have power and control over. Interpersonal doesn’t cover the root causes and we suggest it is avoided unless you are discussing men who abuse most of those they come into contact with, not just those they are, or have been, emotionally connected to.

Domestic Homicide/Murder:

A ‘tragic, isolated incident’. Where to start with this one? It is indeed, tragic, when a man kills his partner or ex partner, and the children. It is certainly not an ‘isolated incident’. Abusive men do not kill their partners and children in a vacuum. There will have been an ongoing, systematic, campaign of abuse against the partner (and children, they are affected even if they don’t directly witness the abuse), over a number of months or years. There may have been reports to the police, possibly criminal charges or convictions in relation to DVA. Maybe she never reported him to the police and so her murder came ‘out of the blue’ or ‘couldn’t have been predicted’. Maybe the neighbours didn’t think it was any of their business. Maybe the police labelled it as a ‘domestic’ and didn’t offer the right support. Maybe there were ‘extenuating circumstances’. Maybe she ‘provoked’ him; perhaps she was leaving, or had left the relationship. Maybe it happened ‘behind closed doors’. Maybe it was considered ‘private’ or a ‘family matter’. Not so private now though, is it? Now, the woman and possibly her children are dead because we used terms that help us ignore the ongoing abuse which culminated in him killing them.

A ‘murder/suicide’. A ‘suicide pact’. Again, these terms are used to describe a family annihilator. We can say with certainty that the woman didn’t sign a ‘pact’ that resulted in the death of her and her children at the hands of a man who will have claimed to love them.

Rape and Sexual Abuse:

‘Date rape’. Because that’s not as bad as ‘stranger rape’, is it? She knew him, maybe she invited him in, maybe they’d had sex before and so he assumed that he could have sex with her again. Maybe she was drunk, had been flirting, leading him on…. The excuses are endless. Rape is rape, no matter what the relationship is between the perpetrator and the victim. Sexual contact needs informed and enthusiastic consent. No consent? No sex, or you’re a rapist.

‘Sex crime’ ‘having sex’ ‘sex case’ ‘sex scandal’ ‘sex controversy’. It’s hard to know where to start with these terms. If an allegation of rape, or sexual assault has been made, this is not about sex. Reframing the conversation means calling it what it is. Rape is not about sex, arousal or desire. It is about power and the need to control. Men do not rape women because they ‘cannot help it’. If they could stop if the police, or a man held a gun to their head, or the children walked into the room, they can stop if a woman doesn’t say yes. The only people who think all men are rapists, are other rapists. Let us not call them ‘sex crimes’ or any of the other tabloid-esque terms listed above. Let us call them what they are – rapists, sex offenders, men who sexually assault women.

There are terms that cover all of the above areas. They may crop up in family court proceedings; they may be used by professional organisations. They talk of ‘alleged abuse or violence’, even when there has been police contact and even prosecutions against the men, or where there is evidence of the individual act of abuse being part of a wider campaign against the woman. The perpetrator is described as being the woman’s ‘lover’, rather than partner or girlfriend. Why is this problematic? The term ‘lover’ suggests promiscuity. It suggests that there may be other ‘lovers’. Those promiscuous women invite violence, with their provocative and flirtatious behaviour. Violence against them isn’t as bad as it would be against a woman who fits the patriarchal-ideal of how a ‘decent’ (read: heteronormative) woman should behave.

This links closely with the need to ‘other’ crimes of domestic & sexual violence and abuse. We use cultural differences as a cover for the fact that they are not ‘like us’. ‘Our’ men don’t gang rape women on buses who later die from their injuries, so severe was the attack. ‘Our’ men don’t sexually exploit children who are being ‘cared for’ by the Local Authority. They do.  We just choose to emphasise the cultural differences, not the similarities in relation to abuse.  It suits the narrative to other the abuse of women and girls, by describing sex offenders and rapists asmonsters.

We talk about ‘domestic violence’ in a way that detracts from other forms of ‘violence’. It’s only a ‘domestic’.

We’re not ‘prostitutes’ who are murdered – we’re different. We haven’t put ourselves at risk, or done an activity that is used to replace the word ‘woman’. ‘A prostitute was murdered‘ (read: not someone like you, don’t worry). We don’t say ‘a bank clerk was murdered’, do we? No. We say ‘woman’, as we should do.

We talk about ‘troubled families’ and the government throws millions of pounds to provide interventions based on flawed research.

We talk about harassment instead of stalking. We don’t link stalking to DSVA and so we can’t join the dots.

We talk about ‘sexual assault’ when what we mean is oral, vaginal or anal rape.

We talk about ‘innocent victims‘, as if somehow some victims are more deserving of our support than others

Othering violence and abuse against women is almost insidious. It seeps into all the reporting, the media coverage and day to day discussions. In some ways, it allows us to manage the fear that comes from being a girl or woman, and the constant risk assessing that is second nature to us.

So what terms should we use? We’ve used Domestic & Sexual Violence and Abuse as a catch-all, but we’re not sure it’s ideal.

We will not change the risk to all women unless we are using correct terms. The problem is men’s violence against women and children. Let us use the language of survivors and victims, not the language of perpetrators. When the UK Prime Minister uses the term ‘child pornography’, we know we have a lot of work to do.

Let us not waste the power that our words can have.

You can find out more about our campaign here.

Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]: This campaign is about changing the culture and language around violence against women and children.  We aim to challenge the view that men cannot help being violent and abusive towards women and children.  We want to challenge the view that women should attempt to ‘avoid’ abuse in order to not become a victim of it.  We challenge media reports of cases of violence against women and children where there is an almost wilful avoidance of the actual reasons for these acts.  Power, control, women and children being considered ‘possessions’ of men, and avoidance of personal responsibility all contribute to a societal structure that colludes with abusers and facilitates a safe space in which they can operate. This is what we are campaigning to change.

Why Page 3 is Porn and Why That’s Important by @HelenSaxby11

Cross-Posted with permission from Not the New in Brief

When you take it upon yourself to argue in favour of the No More page 3 Campaign, there are a few things that come up time and time again from detractors keen to defend their daily dose of soft porn. And one of the most frequent claims is that it’s not porn at all. This is interesting because it suggests that defenders (as I will now be calling them) think of porn as a bad thing, or at least as something that will be perceived as a bad thing, and they do not want to be associated with defending a bad thing. This is understandable, as the porn in question is available daily in the public space where it intrudes upon people who do not wish to see it, AND, crucially, children are exposed to it. Nobody wants to defend something that puts children and porn into the same sentence, do they?

A quick hike through some online dictionaries gives us a couple of definitions of porn :

‘creative activity of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire’, ‘pictures etc that show or describe naked people in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement’, ‘softcore generally contains nudity or partial nudity in sexually suggestive situations but not explicit sexual activity’.

Sort of seems to me like that might describe Page 3…

It is clear that Page 3 occupies the ‘soft’ end of the spectrum, but it is also clear that it is part of a continuum which has at its other end the really nasty hardcore gonzo stuff, and that it is this association which the defenders want to distance themselves from.

So, if it’s not porn what is it…?

I am frequently told that it is a celebration of beauty, and of female sexuality, and it is the admiration of these things that draws the fans. In order to distance themselves from the more grubby pornographic wank-fodder aspect of things, some fans wax lyrical about the beauty, bravery (?) and sexual freedom Page 3 represents, with the models as some sort of crusading heroines of repressed female sexuality, doing us all a favour with their body confidence and free spirit paving the way for sexual equality…

That’s just rubbish of course. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder sure enough, but for me it is always rooted in humanity. And the thing that makes these pictures porn rather than beauty is the lack of a human personality. If you were to ask someone to imagine a Page 3 picture most people would be able to come up with a picture in their mind, and most of these pictures would be remarkably similar. The models themselves have undoubtedly got various differing personalities but we are never allowed to see them on page 3. The whole point of the photos is to provide a blank canvas for fantasy, and this they do very well. The models have to fit a rather narrow stereotype of the currently fashionable body-shape, but other than that they could be anyone. They are interchangeable because they are not allowed any character of their own. This is de-humanising, and I can’t find that beautiful. This is the whole meaning of the word ‘objectification’, which is frequently bandied about unthinkingly, but actually means that a person is stripped of not just their clothes but also what it is that makes them human. Why would you do that? The only reason in this context is to provide a vehicle for sexual fantasy which is unencumbered by anything resembling an individual person with their messy and inconvenient needs.

If I wanted to celebrate beauty in a national newspaper I would want to PROMOTE what makes that individual beautiful in their own way, including their particular personality and character and all the things that go to make up a special human being.

So, it’s not beauty then…

ART! That’s the other thing! It’s art! This is another argument I have heard many times, and I would like to put that one to rest once and for all. Art, by definition, attempts to tell a truth about the world. There are varying degrees of success in this endeavour, but the greatest art illuminates a universal human truth, and the aim of all art is to search for and tell this truth. Porn, on the other hand, tells a lie. Even soft porn. The pose, the sultry expression in the eyes, the slightly parted lips, all tell the lie that the woman is sexually ready and available. It’s not true – she’s just getting paid to do it. It’s not art, it’s commerce. Now this wouldn’t matter so much if you just admitted it was porn and you used it to help you get your rocks off, but you can’t admit that and then defend its position in a daily newspaper seen by millions, without seeming a bit pervy.

Hence the sometimes hilarious tying-themselves-in-knots arguments about higher things like beauty and freedom of expression that some defenders spend hours of their free time trying to justify themselves with.

Page 3 is not an expression of free unfettered female sexuality, it’s not a celebration of beauty, it’s not art, IT’S A JOB. And it’s not even very well paid.

 

Not the News in Briefs: I blog mainly about the subject of Page 3 and the NoMore Page 3 Campaign. This might change once the campaign has been won. Although, maybe not…

Letter to my 21 Year Old Self

cross-posted with permission from Opinionated Planet

Today I found my diary from 1989.
Reading it, I finally saw how far I’d come, and how much I’d achieved. Within the year I would be married with a baby, and I was nowhere near mature enough to do either. I used to wonder why no one stopped me but then, remembering who I was in 1989, no one would actually have stood a chance at talking me out of either.
I had reached a stage in my life where I thought I was slowly recovering from my childhood and adolescence; both of which had been difficult and traumatic. I was out most nights, on the piss with a group of friends I have no contact with now.
My wages were earned doing a dead end job I detested. I wanted to be someone different. Someone interesting, clever, important.
I wanted to escape from home, from a family that seemed to either dislike me or be indifferent to me. A family who didn’t understand me at all. I didn’t look like a girl, I didn’t look how they wanted me to look.
I had a crew cut, boots, jeans. I was aggressive and mouthy. I drank pints at a time when women didn’t really (at least not in my town). I was obsessed with music and politics, looking for something I could align with, identify with and be part of. I had spent most of the 80′s fighting. On picket lines, on demos, in pubs. I was always angry, and that anger was my friend. It kept me alive and proved to me that I could feel.
Reading through my diary, I was transported back through time to the me at the end of the 80′s and it didn’t feel good. All the pain, anxiety and feelings of being lost came flooding back and I wanted more than anything to go back and tell that young woman just how much life will change.
So here it is.

Dear Cathy

I can see you really clearly in my mind and you are not at all how you think you are.

Firstly, you weigh about 10 stone and you think you’re fat. You’re not, and even if you were, it’s ok. You think you’re ugly and you dress to cover your body up but you don’t really know why. You will remember one day soon and it will be a difficult time. But you will survive. You are afraid and fearful of men and no wonder. Your last relationship did a lot of damage – both physically and emotionally – and although you took the blame for what happened to you, it wasn’t your fault. It was his choice to behave like that. It was his choice to hit you and hurt you. You are not to blame.

Any minute now you will bump into the man you will marry. It won’t last but it doesn’t matter. He’s a kind man and he will always be your friend and support you when life gets tough.

Remember how you wanted to be a social worker? Well you will be. You think you’re not clever enough to go to college and university but that’s only because your whole life has been full of people putting you down. You are clever enough and you will qualify and do a job you love. Believe it or not, you will go even further than that but I’ll let that be a surprise.

Ok, you know that feeling you have? The one where you don’t quite fit in with everyone else, the one that makes you feel abnormal and weird, the one that tells you to keep trying to conform? Don’t worry, one day you will let those feelings out and be yourself. You will meet a woman who fills all the gaps in your life. Someone who knows you without you ever saying anything. You will be happy and have a home filled with laughter and joy and warmth.

Your mothers still around I’m afraid but you are so much braver now. You don’t let her bully you anymore and you can cope with her appalling viciousness because you have someone else fighting your corner. You won’t change the way she sees you so stop trying.

You will get pregnant next year and have a baby who grows into a clever, funny, kind and wonderful man. You will be a great mum. You think you won’t, but you will. Your capacity for love is so much greater than you think it is. You aren’t ruined or broken, you are far stronger and more resilient than you ever dreamed.

Keep your head up and remember, everything passes.

Good luck.

Cath.

Chained

Cross-posted with permission from Splashes of Colour in your Dreams

 

<br /><br />
Chained</p><br />
<p>This sociopolitical art piece depicts how girls and women are weighed down by the social pressures to perform femininity, and adhere to beauty standards.<br /><br />
The feminine gender role is pretty. A girl or woman might not realise the weight of this ball and chain, because she is so used to it. She might look at it and rejoice in how pretty it is. That does not stop it being a burden that slows her down.

Chained

This sociopolitical art piece depicts how girls and women are weighed down by the social pressures to perform femininity, and adhere to beauty standards.

The feminine gender role is pretty. A girl or woman might not realise the weight of this ball and chain, because she is so used to it. She might look at it and rejoice in how pretty it is. That does not stop it being a burden that slows her down.

 

Cross-posted with permission from Splashes of Colour in your Dreams

Twitter: @acrosstheaether

“PUT AWAY THE SHOPPING CART AND PICK UP A SHOVEL” – WHO TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR ISSUES WITH CHURCH?

Cross-Posted with permission from We Mixed Our Drinks

We Mixed Our Drinks I write about feminism, politics, the media and Christianity, with the odd post about something else completely unrelated thrown in. My politics are left-wing, I happily call myself a feminist and am also an evangelical Christian (n.b. evangelicalism is not the same as fundamentalism, fact fans). Building a bridge between feminism and Christianity is important to me; people from both camps often view the other with suspicion although I firmly believe that the two are compatible. I am passionate about gender equality in the church [@boudledidge]

What would you say would be a really good reason for leaving a church? Pastor and blogger Aaron Loy* has five reasons he thinks are really bad, but I don’t think I agree with him.

No doubt, as a pastor and church planter Aaron Loy has heard the concerns and complaints of many members of his congregation. And this post must have been borne out of a certain amount of frustration at concerns and complaints that he can’t fully address or resolve, because some of that responsibility lies with someone else, even the complainant themselves. But my own concern is that just as we can be pretty one-sided in the way we look at issues in our church life, his response to this was just as one-sided and actually comes across as dismissive and patronising, hurtful to those dealing with the issues he lists, and even going as far as to remove responsibility and accountability from leaders.

Discussing the post on Twitter, someone I know commented that it read “too much like cajoling someone to stay in an abusive relationship”.

As I read through Loy’s five “really bad reasons”, my first reaction was to become steadily more irritated. Not because I think we need to move churches at the slightest hint of conflict or dissatisfaction, but because of how I’d feel if I received these answers in response to raising a concern. Under “I’m not being fed”, he writes:

“Do pastors have a responsibility to steward the scriptures and care for their church spiritually? You bet they do.”

This, however, doesn’t stop him believing that the access to “substance” we have through books and the internet makes it a “cop-out” to expect to get what we want or feel we need, teaching-wise, on a Sunday morning. I’d say it’s just as much of a cop-out to respond to people concerned about the quality or depth of teaching by telling them to go and get it elsewhere when they might not have the first clue where to start. I believe that a church with the resources to do so has a responsibility to serve its congregation, teaching-wise, at different stages of their faith life. Not by offering these opportunities only to those who are being mentored and trained on some sort of leadership track, but with teaching days, evenings, weekends, papers. There is a difference between spoon-feeding the selfish and ignoring valid concerns about teaching.

Many people spend many years of their lives serving the church and “contributing” to their community, but I also believe there are times when this is not possible, and a bit of consumption of something, anything, is exactly what’s needed. That could be down to illness, work pressures, or parenting pressures. From personal experience, I know that when you’re going through a stage like that and feel that “contributing” is a struggle, and people to give you the impression that you must give more, do more, expend more of yourself, it can make you feel resentful and cynical.

Not everyone feels comfortable in the same sort of church set-up, and it’s here that I worry about Loy’s response to his second point – “It’s getting too big”.

“If you have a problem with big churches, you really wouldn’t have liked the first church and you definitely won’t like heaven. To be frank, if you have a problem with the inevitable growth that happens when lives are changed by the gospel, you have some serious repenting to do.”

Feeling comfortable in a smaller group of people, in a quieter and more intimate church service or community has got nothing to do with having a problem with people’s lives being changed by the gospel, and I think that’s actually quite a nasty way of framing it. On one hand I can see his point about people being dissatisfied when ‘things aren’t how they used to be’ because they are resistant to any sort of change. But small churches and the people who prefer to worship in them, are not ‘wrong’. This point also seemed to highlight the oft-discussed divide between extroverted and introverted churchgoers, and the way that extrovert characteristics are often prized by Christian culture. For some people, large groups, noise and crowds are emotionally draining and a huge source of anxiety.

Do they need to be ordered to ‘repent’ as well?

I’m not going to argue with Loy’s point on “I don’t agree with everything that’s being preached”; that’s fair enough. But his fourth “really bad reason”, “My needs aren’t being met”, needs some looking at. Again it’s important to note there are two sides to every story. No-one can totally have their needs met by a church. But when someone speaks to a church leader about a concern they have, it should not be dismissed as a question of needing to “put away the shopping cart and pick up a shovel”. What is the need and why isn’t it being met? Can the church help? Is it a petty request or gripe, or an issue where someone needs pastoral support? Is it an issue that has been raised numerous times by numerous different people? If so, it might be time to consider change.

I know that the issues Loy has identified must be a source of frustration for countless church leaders who are working hard and doing their best and trying to accommodate people, but it goes both ways. After reading his post, I felt his overriding message was “Don’t try to implicate the church, its leaders, or the way it has dealt with issues – the problem is YOU. If you were less selfish, less needy, and more willing to suck it up and give more rather than expect something in return, you wouldn;’t be in this mess.”

We all have issues with the church. Sometimes these issues can and should be addressed. Sometimes, we need to talk them through and understand that we have to take some responsibility for solving these issues (sometimes we truly are the victims of something terrible, other times, we’re not and need to keep things in perspective), or that we need to look at them from a different angle and see the nuance.

Aaron Loy’s “really bad reasons” might not be the greatest of reasons for leaving a church. But his responses to them are exactly the reasons I have often been fearful of raising church-related issues with people: that in doing so, I would be dismissed and given the impression that the problem lies only with me and my selfishness. People I know have experienced it too, in conversations with church leaders and even in response to blog posts. It is perhaps one of the most common sights below the line in some corners of the Christian blogosphere – someone writes about a negative experience with church; someone else rushes to tell them that they’re actually the one at fault. When we address the issues that arise on our journeys of faith, the reaction of the church should not be to absolve itself of any responsibility, but to see both sides of the story and think about what could be done to help.

*who I had never come across before today – which leads me to say that I don’t regularly read his blog or know about anything else he has written on this subject. I felt the post discussed here was problematic and hurtful, and felt moved to explain why.

 

We Mixed Our Drinks I write about feminism, politics, the media and Christianity, with the odd post about something else completely unrelated thrown in. My politics are left-wing, I happily call myself a feminist and am also an evangelical Christian (n.b. evangelicalism is not the same as fundamentalism, fact fans). Building a bridge between feminism and Christianity is important to me; people from both camps often view the other with suspicion although I firmly believe that the two are compatible. I am passionate about gender equality in the church [@boudledidge]

Seven Years

Cross -posted with permission From a Whisper to a Roar

It is almost seven years exactly.

Seven years since I walked into that school and felt all of the pride and excitement that comes with starting the job of your dreams.  Especially after returning to university to get there.  Giving up a professional income to study for this because THIS is where your heart is.  Where all of the best things can happen.  The classroom.  And it was mine.

Seven years since I moved into my first real home on my own.  Not a granny flat or weirdo share house.  Mine.   Two bedroom unit I would pay for with my dream job in the school I had chosen, in the beautiful small suburb on the edge of town.

I was in a relationship.  I had my home.  I was happy.  All my ducks were in a row.

Seven years since the school year started but I see now that by that day, I was on his radar.  He was a predator from very early on, if he has ever been any other way, I couldn’t say.  Certainly the gossip from those on his interviewing panel were that his references were questionable.  Inappropriate relations with staff, in general, were part of his MO.  But hey, they knew him.  He was a Nice Guy.  Further complicating my experience, the power plays and existing alliances amongst such a small, long term staff list would ensure I would not get any of the support that was rightfully mine when the time came; ethically, morally, legally or as the profession standard.

Seven years I have tortured myself.  First with denial – This revolting creature could not possibly be serious?  But I will never forget how he asked for a ‘team photo’ on school photo day and as they took the shots his hand slid down my back and squeezed my buttock.  But I look so happy in the photos.  My hair was shiny, my eyes bright.  My belief that I was in the right place with important work to do with students as a caring, empathic teacher was at peak level then.  And I fought it’s demise every step of the way.  Then I tortured myself with the guilt andshame spiral that I’d come to know well working in welfare with child survivors of sexual abuse.  No amount of reasoning and research means a thing when you feel so stupid and trapped in your own skin.  That theoretical knowledge probably makes it worse in some ways.  Another thing to beat yourself with.  How could I miss the signs?  How could I be fooled?  How did I get to this?  I am an educated adult in a fair country in 2007.  I am a Union member who knows my rights by heart.  I can talk.  I know who to tell.  How the hell can you have all of that and still sit at the bottom of your running shower every night and wail?  How?

It really has been seven years of screaming into people’s faces as they stare blankly ahead and pretend they can’t hear me.  I did it that first night.  We had the children on a school camp, you see.  While you wondered how your kids were on their first big camp away, they were tucked up in bed but the most senior teachers were both in a dark room with me.  One trying to remove my pyjamas, one joking about how I was young and “probably giving HIM an erection” as I fought him off and yelled about how much trouble he would be in.  She was awake.  She did hear me.  I fucking told her I was upset about it when he left the room and she said, “He’s just an affectionate guy” – hard to say in your sleep.

I just had to stop for a bit.  Seven years and it still hurts.  It is still hard to believe that two primary school teachers acted in that way with kids asleep in the cabins beside us.  He was supposed to be in a cabin on the other side of the camp.  With the fathers who had volunteered to assist.  On this camp so far away from home.  No car.  Only HIS car.

I am in awe of the human mind, how it worked to get me through that camp.  That whole year with HIM, in the office next to my classroom, only windows between us. Six months later, after he was sent home and the Police became involved.  As the Principal held a staff meeting to tell everyone that HE was suspended due to accusations by a staff member.  And the room fell in on top of me.  (Protocol that can be found on a Google search clearly states that this meeting should not have taken place, staff should NOT have been told but apparently the Principal should not be reprimanded because “he was new to the job”.)  I printed out the guidelines for him, you know.  Highlighted what he had to do next and the ‘chain of command’, if you will.  I spoon fed it. I knew enough to have little faith in either his abilities or interest.  And he pretended I hadn’t. Because they went to school together as kids.  He knew HIS wife.  HE was immature but harmless, couldn’t I see that?  They were both just NICE GUYS.

For seven years I have heard that.  From every level of the hierarchy.  I have been questioned, cross examined, shamed, blamed and talked about.  I worked for another two years (because I’m stubborn, and I truly believed in Right and Wrong) but this followed me.  Like they told me it would.  When I sat in her office, broken down, desperate, and asked the Principal for help as HIS frightening behaviour was breaking all kinds of LAWS (I thought that would scare him into action HAHAHAHAHA) and he stated very simply, “If you make this known outside these walls, your career will be ruined.  Mud.  Sticks.” I still thought he was being dramatic, or referring to other difficulties.  I did not realise that what he actually meant was that the three of them together would almost kill me from the inside out.  That he would laughwhen a temp agency called to ask if I had worked there before.  That I would become unemployable because someone with authority over me in the workplace decided that he would have me, body and mind, whether I wanted that or not.  Every time I got the guts (or pissed off enough) to say something I was “being unprofessional” and “should reconsider whether I am suitable for the job”.  Said the ‘new to the job’ principal.  Was he also new to planet Earth and Australian Law?

For seven years I have known that the only option for me was to fight.  At times I had nothing left.  I considered how I could stop the insanity…only one way that I could see.  Then I would decide again that they couldn’t have all of me, the pricks.  I didn’t try to wipe myself out in defiance because that would be too much of a gift to them.  All gone.  Nothing for them to worry about.  I wanted them to have something to worry about.

For seven years I imagined bloody revenge.  Fiery vengeance.  Sometimes violent retribution.  What else can you do?  I did take myself to a counselor then and ask if I was becoming a psychopath, had I crossed the line?  What had I become?  (It’s particularly disconcerting when the targets inhabit primary schools, really makes you feel fucked up)  Just a normal person after trauma, apparently.  Using anything that my brilliant mind could dig up to release some of that pain.  I don’t think you can ever be the same though, after a mind shift like that.  My tolerance for hearing about other people’s trauma is much lower.  I am enraged.  Angry.  Sick to fucking death of sexual violence and manipulation and victim blaming bullshit.

It has been less than seven years since I first called my union representative and put this scenario to them.  Probably about three years since I saw a lawyer.  The union works with this law firm to aid employees financially and legally in a way I cannot emphasise strongly enough to you.  Join your goddamn union and investigate your rights at work.  That wasn’t enough to help me, true, but I have utilized those venues in the only way they are available to some of us – with the impending threat of a public hearing.  Seeking some financial compensation.  Not to get rich.  Hahahaha you don’t choose Workcover to get rich, kids.  Turns out you have to be a bit of a sadist, or one tough mother.  It’s brutal.  For bringing Rape and Stalking charges against your boss…faaaaark.

Even with all of the evidence that I had, the Police and Court documents, countless psychiatric examinations by strangers and sharp legal representation to face their scary lawyers…seven years to come to an end.  Three years of constant legal action.  He pled guilty, right?  Still three years for that to be recognised.  To prove that I was damaged by what we agree he did.  Prove damage enough that I might get some recognition in the eyes of…well…anyone.  I wasn’t fussy by now.  Only one option.  I had to fight for it.  I knew I couldn’t go on any other way.

Yesterday, I got the call.  My lawyer.  Her voice happy and light.  It IS over.  I’ve taken it to the limit and the other side has made an offer that indicates I was indeed the victim of some hellish wrongdoing.  There was a tussle, mind.  Some initial offers which were insulting to the person reading them out and all of us.  This kind of settlement could’ve meant a much higher one should I have been forced into  jury trial to prove employer negligence.  It could also have meant the same, or less.  Depends on the jury.  It would have meant more public knowledge and opportunities for more abuse and pain for me.  I was willing because I wanted to prove a point but I’m pretty bloody glad that I don’t have to, as I’m sure anyone would be.  Seven years is enough.

Turns out that there is no precedent for this scenario in workplace/employer law to get this far.  Has a boss sexually assaulted an employee?  Well, yes.  Was it like this?  Did everyone involved lie, bully and blacklist the victim?  Was that person able to fight this long?  Nope.  When I first called the union they did say, “Um, I don’t know where to start.  This is a new one for us!”

I wanted to make a mark on the world, you know.  And I hope I do it in other ways, too.  But in these circumstances, I have had a big win.

What I am hoping for is that this seven years and yesterday’s outcome serve as a warning to employers and other staff (especially THIS employer) that rape, sexual assault, stalking, harassment and gossip ARE WRONG, EVEN IN YOUR ISOLATED WORKPLACE!  A Duty of Care exists even if you choose to think that young women are “dick teases” who “bring it upon themselves”.  (Yes, direct quotes).  If an employer in the future only acts out of fear for his own hide rather than being a lawful and ethical professional, so be it.  As long as someone’s silent suffering is minimised or prevented.  The moral revolution necessary and thorough smashing of the patriarchy that enables this shit must come also but that’s work far beyond the capacity of the utter bastards in my story.  It was of course their strongest weapon.

If there happens to be another asshole out there preying on a Bright Young Thing who dreams of Making A Difference (and I think we know there is), and she has to call her union rep or a lawyer one day, I want to make sure they know there is a precedent in this area.  You are not lost in the woods entirely.  Because I tried my best to slash my way through and I think I left a trail with a little light.  It’s yours if you need it and I’ll be here somewhere if you need directions.  Funnily enough, in about seven weeks I don’t have to be an anonymous shell anymore.

 

Cross -posted with permission From a Whisper to a Roar who can be found on Twitter here.

My Feminist Parenting by @HisFeministMama

Following my recent personal experience with the great and knowledgeable trolls of internetlandia, I feel the need to share some information. It appears that when people use the term “Feminist Parenting” they attach a whole world of incorrect and oppressive misinformation.

To begin, and this must be the vein through which any further discussion on Feminist Parenting runs,Feminist Parenting is different in every situation, every family and within every parent-child bond (arguably, parenting can be further sliced as being different with every interaction we have with our children or ourselves as parents). But, in essence: my feminist parenting is just that. It is mine.

In our house, Feminist Parenting means:

1. we actively sought out research and information about birth, and did what we could to ensure that my choices were communicated throughout the experience.

2. my partner supported me throughout pregnancy and childbirth. He respected the choices and decisions that I made about my body.

3. when our son was born we began parenting gently and with mindful attachment. I have discussed before the connections between attachment and feminism. Read bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody or connect with other Attached-Feminist parents to learn more.

4. despite my decision to leave my job as a teacher, we view my work as a parent equal, and as valuable as the work my son’s father does in his paid employment.

5. I strive to teach my son about oppression when it is appropriate and contextual. Got that? Being a Feminist Parent has zero to do with dogma or indoctrination. Everything we do is contextual and developmentally appropriate. Example: If my son wants to play with a doll he does. Because his sex assignment should have zero to do with what toys he plays with, books he reads or activities he is involved in. If he wants to play with trucks (and trust me, he does) he should and will.

6. my partner and I practice shared parenting. Despite working outside the home, Aodhan’s father is 100% involved in raising and parenting our child. We celebrate fatherhood as being caring and nurturing and really no different than mothering (minus the biologically ability to breastfeed and birth – if these are possible or chosen)

7. we welcome into our family a worldview that is inclusive, loving of all and intersectional. I strive to ensure that my child sees a reality that isn’t limited to our cis-heteronormative, white world. I do this through story-telling, songs and play. This does matter.

8. we practice gentle discipline. We do this not only because it is our instinct, but because we believe the research around gentle discipline, and as teachers we have first hand experience: we know that through kindness, respect and communication, people come to much better understandings. As a Feminist, I am also critical of any type of oppressive control, and thus work against it in the parenting that I do.

9. I neither hide, nor excuse my Feminist beliefs in family discussions. Aodhan’s father is an ally and celebrates me as the Feminist I am. He is proud to be raising another ally.

10. I continue to read, learn from, and connect with other Feminists – both parents and child-free.

Perhaps the most obvious element of Feminist Parenting is that I am a Feminist. I believe in discovering a world where we are free of rape-culture and where there are no more barriers, glass ceilings or ‘in spite ofs’. I believe in a time when people are loved and supported for the unique and wonderful people that they are. I raise Aodhan the way that I do because I want him to care deeply for others – no matter who they are or where they have come from. I raise Aodhan the way that I do because I want Aodhan to love HIMSELF, no matter who he is, who he loves or what choices he makes in his life. I do not ask that Aodhan be a Feminist, nor that he be an ally. I ask that he grow up in a home where love is paramount and acceptance is vital.

That is my Feminist Parenting. It isn’t perfect, and neither are we.

 

Our Feminist Playschool: feminist discussion while mothering tweets as @HisFeministMama

Infertility, patriarchy, profit and me, or: “KERCHING!” – Infertility and woman blaming, woman shaming, woman controlling

Cross-posted with permission from Karen Ingala Smith

I awoke this morning to what I thought was good news: a campaign to raise awareness of the relationship between a woman’s age and infertility.

I’m 45. I’d assumed that I’d become pregnant when the time was right. The time felt right when I was around 36 years old; I believed I’d been a mixture of lucky (not to have had an unplanned pregnancy, to have had a decent-enough education, to have a challenging and rewarding job, to have a home/mortgage and to have met someone I wanted to share life and parenthood with), unlucky (it had taken a while and a few ‘not so great choices’) and sensible (it had all taken effort). The ages 38 to 41 brought the delights of temperature/ovulation charts, followed by drugs to control ovulation and eventually four failed IVF attempts, one reaching the dazzling ‘success’ of an early miscarriage; complete with a side order of giving up alcohol and caffeine, vitamin and mineral supplements, losing weight, acupuncture and – and it pains me to admit this – listening to awful visualisation CDs, surrounding myself with ‘fertility colours’ and a strategically placed piece of rose crystal (no, not internally). I’m going to blame the mind altering ovulation and IVF drugs for my descent into those, please allow me and also grant me lifelong forgiveness for any adverse reaction that I might have to the phrase ‘positive mental attitude’. I’m now, jointly with my partner, about twenty thousand pounds lighter in pocket. 1

The years between the ages of 40 and 44 were not easy ones for me, with grief, loss, depression, jealously, bitterness, emptiness and despondency the companions of dwindling hope. I found out that our first IVF attempt hadn’t worked the day before my 40th birthday. I can still see where I was when I received that phone-call.

I didn’t have a seamless transition into acceptance of childlessness but one Saturday morning, in February 2012 came across this piece by Jody Day on her work to set up Gateway Women, and – once I’d stopped sobbing – I contacted her and eventually enrolled on her group work programme. It set me free, allowed me to move on.2

I’ll probably never know why I didn’t get pregnant, none of the testing involved with infertility treatment found any problems, I have ‘unexplained infertility’ but certainly age is a – if not the – most likely significant contributory factor. Fast forward to this morning and the issue of women, age and fertility being discussed on the radio and in social media and I was pleased. Pleased because I genuinely believe that there is insufficient attention paid to infertility, in society, in education and also in feminist discourse on women and reproduction.

However there are awareness-raising campaigns and ‘awareness-raising’ campaigns. The one people were talking about this morning is part of First Response’s “Get Britain Fertile”, campaign and is purportedly about warning those women who want to and are able to delay motherhood about the risks of doing so. First Response is a registered trademark of Church & Dwight Co. Inc., a £1.7 billion ($2.6 billion) company with headquarters in New Jersey, USA with brands including Arm & Hammer, Trojan, Nair, Oxi Clean, Orajel, Lady’s Choice and First Response. Whether they knew it or not, people were talking about an awareness raising campaign that is funded by a multi-million pound company that also trades in diet foods and hair removing products, products that rely upon misogyny created self loathing like chips need potatoes. The campaign is lent legitimacy through the backing of Zita West, the self-called “UK’s no. 1 for preconception planning, natural fertility, assisted fertility, pregnancy coaching and post-natal support”. I found three active UK companies registered is her name, all selling fertility products and treatments.3 In other words, this awareness raising campaign is about selling products through the medium of raising awareness. There doesn’t appear to be any of this messy business stuff referred to in the campaign.

When I think about raising awareness of issues relating to women, age and fertility, I want us to be talking about the facts. Whilst the average age of a first-time mother has been increasing, a woman’s fertility peaks in her early to mid-twenties after which it begins to decline, this is true of both natural and assisted conception. Three out of four men and women overestimate by five years the rapid decline in women’s fertility at 35 not 40.

When I think about raising awareness of issues relating to women and fertility, I want us to be talking about how women are judged for getting pregnant too young, for getting pregnant without a long term and male partner, for getting pregnant or failing to get pregnant when too old, for getting pregnant and remaining in or leaving paid employment, for only having one child, for having too many children, for having abortions, for staying in abusive relationships or leaving and breaking up ‘happy families’. Teenage mothers, single mothers, lesbian mothers, older mothers, women who work, women who stay at home, woman who have ‘x’ number of children, childless women, women who leave, women who stay –whether through choice or lack of choice- what unites us is that according to someone, we’re doing it wrong!

When we’re looking at why some women are delaying the age at which they have children and why some choose to have them as soon as they can, we need to look at how hard we make it for women to afford to be able to have children, how hard it is to have children and rewarding paid employment, how expensive and for many, unaffordable, childcare is, why for some young women their aspirations do not go beyond motherhood or why for some a child is seen as the solution to their sense of isolation, loneliness and worthlessness. We need to look at equality issues, we need to show the concept of ‘reverse-Darwinism’ – the panic about the trend for women with higher levels of education to have children in later life and fewer of them (and therefore more likely to face infertility) – the contempt it deserves, whilst looking at what we can do to support women of any social background in their decisions to have, or not to have children and to be able to plan the size of their families.

We need to look at the roles of men in raising families and at the effects of their ages, their jobs, their contributions in the home. We need to look at gender stereotypes and their impact on family life, relationships and woman and men’s ‘choices’. We need to make it no big deal for families to be made of people in same sex relationships whether or not they have children.

We need a global perspective. We need to look at poverty, inequality and fertility rates and ensure the relationship between higher birth rates and countries with lower GDPs and higher gender inequality, are seen as problems of international poverty inequality and gender inequality.

TV presenter Kate Garraway fronts the new campaign; she said that she “agreed to become Ambassador to the campaign” because “I want to alert women to start thinking about their fertility at a younger age than our generation did. They should get prepared and make informed choices early so there is no chance of sleepwalking into infertility.’ According to a report in the Telegraph, as part of the campaign, Garraway spent a day being transformed into a heavily pregnant 70 year-old by a prosthetic make-up artist, to “shock and provoke debate about how old is too old to have a baby”.

kate garraway old pregnant women article-2326293-19D52D22000005DC-611_306x450

The thing is I’ve never met anyone who planned or plans to delay having a baby into their 70ies. Women’s fertility declines through their 30ies and 40ies, what’s the point in an awareness campaign featuring a woman supposedly in her 70ies? Isn’t this confusing the message? Isn’t it telling women that they don’t want to delay motherhood until their 70ies, not that they cannot? The only way that this photo has impact is by exaggeration based on misogyny, the special misogyny reserved for older women in a society where women are valued by what they look like and an ideal of beauty rooted in youth.

This new campaign is not about raising awareness of the relationship between women’s age and infertility; it’s not about supporting women to make informed choices and making society more supportive of women’s choices. This campaign is about persuading women to start spending money on fertility treatment at a younger age and it relies upon misogyny to do so.

Footnotes

1 Yes, I know that not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to make the choice to spend a lot of money on unsuccessful fertility treatment.

2 Gateway Women was hugely beneficial for me, and I’d encourage any woman struggling with issues around childlessness by circumstance not choice to find out more: gateway-women.com

I’d also like to acknowledge that the support of Jodie and the group that I was part of contributed to me daring to start blogging.

3 They’re not legally required to disclose their annual turnover and I wasn’t able to find it.

 

Karen Ingala also runs the Counting Dead Women campaign which demands a:

a fit-for-purpose record of fatal male violence against women.  I want to see the connections between the different forms of fatal male violence against women.  I want to see a homicide review for every sexist murder.  I want the government to fund an independently run Femicide Observatory, where relationships between victim and perpetrator and social, cultural and psychological issues are analysed.

World Leprosy Day

What is leprosy? 

Leprosy is a mildly infectious disease caused by a bacillus – mycobacterium leprae – that’s related to tuberculosis. It multiplies really slowly, which means that symptoms of the disease can take up to 30 years to appear. It starts by damaging the small nerves in the skin’s surface, which can result in discoloured patches of skin with no feeling

If left untreated, leprosy then goes on to damage the large nerves in the elbows, wrists, knees and ankles. This can lead to loss of sensation in the hands and feet, meaning that affected people can no longer feel pain and are liable to injure themselves more easily. Unhealed injuries and infections can lead to the shortening and deterioration of fingers and toes and ultimately, amputation may be needed. Leprosy can also damage nerves in the face causing the eyelid muscles to stop working, which can lead to blindness.

How is leprosy spread?

It is most likely that it’s an airborne disease, but due to the fact it’s an extremely complex disease that is difficult to understand, it is not entirely clear. It is not, however, spread by physical contact.

How common is leprosy now?

The last case of indigenous leprosy in the UK was diagnosed in 1798, so many people believe that it has been eradicated. That’s not the case. In 2012, 232,857 people were newly diagnosed with the disease. Over half of these new cases (134,752) were found in India, with Brazil and Indonesia having the second and third highest numbers of new diagnoses (WHO, Aug 2013). Leprosy is found in more than 100 countries today. There are about three million people living with permanent disability as a result of leprosy

Is there a cure?

Yes! The cure for leprosy is a course of tablets called multidrug therapy (MDT), which has been available since 1982. It’s a combination of three drugs taken for six to 12 months. But while treatment stops the infection immediately, it cannot turn the clock back in terms of disability.

A clawed hand or ‘drop foot’, caused by muscle paralysis, can be restored with surgery. Surgery, however, cannot restore the feeling to hands and feet meaning they are easily injured. The blink mechanism can also be restored by surgery. But once eyesight has been lost, tragically nothing can be done to reverse the situation.

What are the stigmas associated with leprosy?

Leprosy has been, since ancient times, one of the most stigmatising diseases known. Many different cultures and religions have, through the centuries, interpreted the disease as a curse or punishment for some misdeed carried out in a past life or by a family member. Misinformation about the way leprosy is spread also contributes to stigma – people might fear touching someone affected by leprosy even though it cannot be contracted by physical contact, and many people also believe that it is incurable.

The inclusion of people with disabilities in society is an enormous issue worldwide. We know that people affected by leprosy were seen as ‘unclean’ in Biblical times, but this stigma still persists today. It’s only in the last few decades that many countries have stopped forcibly confining leprosy patients to institutions or colonies. Today, there are still many leprosy colonies and communities in existence.

Stigma today manifests in many ways. It might mean that a person is thrown out of the family home and shunned by relatives, or indeed their entire community – hence the existence of entire villages of people affected by leprosy. It might mean that a child is told by a teacher that he or she can no longer go to school. It might mean that people refuse to buy goods from a person affected by leprosy. Leprosy can present barriers to education and employment, but also marriage and family life. In India, leprosy is grounds for divorce (Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939; Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872; Indian Divorce Act, 1869).

The many ways people are affected by leprosy means that our work at The Leprosy Mission must be wide-ranging.

Why is it wrong to use the word leper?

The word ‘leper’ has historically been used to describe someone affected by leprosy, but it is a very derogatory and disablist word that people with the disease find extremely offensive. It’s a word that’s associated with stigma – how many times have you heard people use it to mean that they felt or were treated like an outcast? The World Health Organisation has underlined the importance of not using the word, and the BBC notes this in its style guide.

Are women and girls disproportionately affected by leprosy?

Women and girls are not disproportionately affected by the disease itself, but they are often disproportionately affected by its knock-on effects. In male-dominated societies, women affected by disability can be particularly vulnerable. Women with leprosy are at risk of violence from their husbands or male family members, and we also meet many women whose husbands have left them or thrown them out of the house because they have the disease. As women, it may then be more difficult for them to get a job and support their children. Girls may then be more likely to drop out of school so that they can help their mothers.

We have also worked with women who have become involved in sex work as a result of feeling they have no other way to earn money. Some of our projects have worked specifically with women, recognising that they are disadvantaged in particular ways.

How did you get involved with The Leprosy Mission?

I had been aware of the organisation for some time as it is based close to where I live. I had been keen to work in communications for a development organisation for some time and was delighted to join the team in 2011.

How can others help your organisation?

People can of course directly support our work financially, but one thing I’m working on at the moment is really raising awareness of leprosy and the fact that it still has a huge impact on people’s lives today. You can help simply by spreading the word and making others aware that leprosy isn’t something to make jokes about, or something from history. We’ve produced some resources for World Leprosy Day 2014 to help with this – share our leprosy facts and watch our video, which tells you all you need to know about the disease and about our work in less than three minutes.

There are many other ways to help – through volunteering, fundraising, and through our Gifts for Life, where purchasing a gift for a loved one will directly impact someone affected by leprosy.

Find out more online, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Our very long Autism journey and how we’ve been let down along the way

Cross-posted with permission from bottomfacedotcom

I have M.E, FMS and suffer from chronic anaemia. On top of these problems I am also on a medication regime which includes 4 different medicines which cause fatigue. Meanwhile, my son has autism and ADHD. It’s 6am and he’s only just fallen asleep. At 9am I am supposed to home educate him.

Almost 3 years ago I had to remove him from school. He was being bullied, every day having to cope with being called a “retard”, “mental” and a “moron” and having children doing horrible things to him such as pulling his trousers down in the playground. In addition to this the school had made the aim of him writing just 3 words per day. He was quickly falling behind his peers.

When he was in Infant school, a wonderful school with a play based curriculum, he coped relatively well. They accessed a lot of advice from the local special school and he spent one day per week there. They used several interventions. Giving him his own desk, a reward box, TA support, a special box, sensory toys, a laptop, a private white board, visual schedule and many other things. Despite consistent meetings between the infant school, ourselves and the junior’s regarding his transition, as well as the infant school giving the junior school all of his equipment, the junior school did not put any of these interventions into place. We made frequent complaints to the junior school who told us he was settling in fine and much better than they expected. Of course this was in the first month when little work but many settling in activities were implemented. Then things took a turn for the worse and his Independent Education Plans began to reveal that there was trouble in paradise. Yet, they still didn’t reintroduce the interventions previously used and had lost the equipment given to him. We bought some equipment ourselves and took it into the school, but it still hadn’t been used properly. Things came to a head when his teacher in a very difficult meeting, angrily told us he was unteachable it was then that we decided to remove him from school.

Due to staff cuts, and funding shortages, my son only received his final diagnosis last year. When he was 5 we requested for him to be assessed for autism. When he was 6 we finally had an “Options meeting”. This was where they would perform a pre-assessment to decide whether they thought it was worth putting him forward for full assessment. Me, my husband, and my son’s SENCO, attended a meeting with a CAHMS doctor. She said to us that he was probably autistic, but due to funding cuts and the fact that we were coping was there really a need for him to go on to full assessment, could she not, instead, write a letter saying he was probably autistic and could we not use that instead? The three of us insisted that it would be entirely inadequate. We were then placed on a waiting list for the formal assessment. Due to staff repeatedly leaving and often not being replaced we had to wait another 3 years for this assessment to begin, which then took 9 months to complete. All this while he was having the struggles in his life and had to leave school at the age of 7. Eventually he was given a diagnosis of classic autism, for which he met all diagnostic criteria, and combined type ADHD, he had to fulfil 6/18 of the criteria for this diagnosis, he met 15. The staff dealing with him could not believe it took so long for such an obvious diagnosis to be made, unaware of the structural problems which had delayed this. As well as his diagnosis it is thought that he may have dyslexia and dyscalculia, though it has been decided that it is not worth the expense of testing because the interventions will be the same either way.

When he was 8 I became too ill I decided I could no longer physically cope with home educating him. He spent long days being taught by the internet, or lying in bed with me for his lessons. Everywhere I went I was told he couldn’t be statemented from home. I was told that he would have to go back to a mainstream school where they would eventually statement him. That was an impossible answer for us. There was no way we could place him back into the same situation again. So we struggled on: him having an education that was inadequate but better than the alternative and me struggling every day to do my best but feeling incredibly ill. Eventually when he was 9 and undergoing his formal assessment his mental health nurse looked into the situation for us and discovered that he could be statemented at home.

In the summer we began the statementing process. This is still ongoing. It has involved assessments with both an education psychologist, and a paediatrician and we have had to fill in many, many forms gathering evidence from the last few years from the wildest places. Midway through this process, we were told we had to begin searching for a school. I emailed every single school in the area. Almost none of them had places. Eventually we found a couple which did. We looked around the schools, one of them immediately brought up the matter of money. Did we know that the schools have to find the first £6000 of a statement now and that taking on statemented children is a large burden on school budgets? They were unimpressed with his level of need to an extent that we did not want to place our child in that situation. The next school we found were much more enthusiastic. My husband visited the school who told him they would take on my son before the statement was completed and help us fill it in. They had numerous facilities that could be used to help him with his autism and they would love to have him. This sounded like the answer to our dreams and shortly afterwards we sent him for a visit to the school. He loved it and they continued the rhetoric to him, telling him he’d be welcome there and would he like to come back for a trial lesson. As he left my husband left the proposed statement with them so they could better understand his needs. The next day I emailed them asking when he could go in for his trial lessons. They emailed back. Some issues had been raised from reading the proposed statement and so they would need to have a meeting with me. The meeting was scheduled for a month later. In statementing time this was significant, it meant that they would no longer be able to help us write it.

I went along to the meeting, still hopeful, but nervous. They hadn’t realised his needs were so significant and they weren’t sure he could keep up in a school such as theirs where different years worked together. It wasn’t long before that conversation happened. They wondered if we knew that funding had changed for statemented children and did we know that they would have to foot the bill for the first £6000 which would be a huge burden on the school’s budget. My heart sank. I asked them to be honest with me and tell me if they thought they couldn’t fulfil his needs. They couldn’t legally answer this directly but told me that statements don’t work the way we think and that if he was, for instance, given a statement for 1:1 support for 20 hours a week, this would probably actually involve about 5 hours of 1:1, some small group work and the rest being used for other children within the school who need help. Knowing how much I struggle to get my son to stay on task, the fact that he can’t write for himself, and that even with a predictive text writing programme on his laptop it still takes him an hour to COPY a paragraph, and hours to do so when he is making the information up from scratch, this would be entirely inappropriate. They also wondered if he wouldn’t be better served by attending a special school to help him get into a special senior school which he would clearly need. This sounded like a pragmatic way of giving us more reason not to send him there. Nonetheless, I had no other options and so arranged for him to have a trial lesson, which was arranged for over a month in the future. I tried to calmly tell my son that he probably wouldn’t go there but we had to keep our options open, however, they had sold it to him so well at his previous visit, my warnings were not going in. He went for the trial lesson and my husband had a chat with them were again they attempted to dissuade us from sending him to the school.

As our last option we managed to get a meeting with our local special school. Alas they only gave us 10 minutes of their time and so we have little understanding of whether the school is appropriate or whether they can accommodate him. They don’t really want to talk to us at all until his statement is complete. His Educational Psychologist said that he is possibly too intelligent for special school, and that the chances of him making progress there are very slim, but that at least he wouldn’t have to cope with being called a “retard” and the transition would therefore be easier.

This lead to me to write to our MP. I told him that we were concerned that schools were being dissuaded from enrolling children with SEN due to the funding changes and explained what had happened to us. He wrote back to us with one letter from one of the ministers with the DfE who assured us this wasn’t happening, despite us having direct experience of it ourselves, and another letter from a senior member at the LEA who again told him this wasn’t happening, despite us having direct experience of it, but also that they were preparing a statement that they thought we would be very happy with and that we were to expect to receive it by mid-December. It didn’t arrive. I’ve also written back to my MP informing him that this isn’t the case, and that we know it is happening because it’s the very reason we can’t find a school for our son. We have not been offered assistance as a result of these letters, I have simply been managed and fed spin which goes against my direct experience. Yesterday I emailed the LEA asking them when we would finally receive it and they said, miraculously, that they just happened to be working on it that day. Hopefully we will finally receive it soon and we can begin again in our search for a school, though this time we will only be looking at special schools, which are few and very far between.

My son turned 10 a fortnight again. I cannot believe that we started all of this so long ago and yet we’re still so far away from meeting a resolution. He is now on medication which stops him pacing the hallway and spinning as much but which has done nothing for his concentration and absences which is why we made the decision to try medication in the first place. I am sick and exhausted, and scared and frustrated and perpetually guilty. I used to believe that every child had a right to an education. I used to believe that the state systems would not leave someone who is as sick as I am to home educate a child, badly due to lack of energy. He is barely socialised because I can’t get him out of the house. I’m reliant on my husband taking time off work and my father who has several life-limiting conditions himself. My husband also has a disability, and recently had to have an operation on a flesh eating enzyme emitting tumour. None of us are coping. None of us are being adequately supported for any of our varying conditions and needs. We are a burden on the state who act as if their only commitment is to manage us and make us go away. Every step along the way we have tried to act like dedicated parents, we have crossed every T and dotted ever I. We have fought tooth and nail for every little thing we have received and we have received very little.

Right now I am so exhausted. I don’t know if either I or my son will be capable of teaching and learning today, which is another little step backwards on a long path of moving backwards. I am not receiving carer support from the state: because of funding cuts I no longer fulfilled the criteria. But the good news on everyone’s lips is that I have another slightly older son who can be a child carer! My doctor wants me to push adult services again, I don’t even know if I have the energy to do the pushing anymore. Most days my son now even has to make his own sandwiches, and if I don’t have a drink handy (normally something woefully bad for you like coke) I can go a whole day without a drink. None of this is adequate. I’m quite sure our human rights are being trampled on and I’m beginning to wonder if this government believes that people with disabilities are even human enough to be owed them.

bottomfacedotcom: proud owner of lady parts. Lucy tweets at @LUBottom. She also has an etsy page: Little Shop of Vulvas

The science behind sex differences is still in dispute

Cross-posted with permission from Feminist Borgia who blogs occasionally about feminism, rape culture and games [@feministborgia].

In November 2013 a study was published in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA’ (link here for those interested http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/11/27/1316909110, the full paper will be available on open access in May 2014) titled, ‘Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain’. Now if you don’t know what a connectome is, don’t worry, the term was only coined in around 2005. It refers to a map of neural connections in the brain, and it exists as a way of trying to connect the physical structure of the brain with its function (if you are interested there is more on this here  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connectome). Fancy new terminology aside, the purpose of the study was to measure structural connections within the brains of just below 1000 young people (aged 8 to 22) and their results showed some interesting differences. Using a technique called diffusion tensor imaging (an MRI technique that measures the restricted diffusion of water) they found that after the age of 13 there were significant differences in how the brains of men and women were connected. In the study men’s brains were found to connect more within a given hemisphere. and women’s had great cross connectivity (seen below the connectome maps published, showing the male brain in blue and the female brain in orange:
Image

As you can see, the male brain shows more longitudal connections whilst the female brains shows more transverse connections.
The abstract for the study states, ‘the results suggest that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes’, having earlier noted that ‘Males have better motor and spatial abilities, whereas females have superior memory and social cognition skills’.

The publication of this paper resulted in a number of excitable and fairly familiar newspaper headlines.
The Telegraph announced boldly ‘Brains of men and women are poles apart’, (demonstrating once and for all that broadsheets aren’t immune to headline puns) telling us that women’s brains are set up to have better memories (for anniversaries!) and gauge social situations better while men’s brains coordinate their actions with their senses, so can navigate better (not to mention be better at parking cars).

The Independent declared these differences, ‘could explain why men are ‘better at map reading”.
The Belfast Telegraph gets the prize for the best reporting on this, by first reminding us that ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ before going on to declare that the study has shown ‘men and women’s brains are wired in completely different ways, as if they were species from different planets.’

With the possible exception of the Belfast Telegraph (who seem to have got themselves hopelessly overexcited), you can’t place too much fault on the reporting here. It is a clear cut case of ‘science says’, and in this case has the benefits of a peer reviewed journal to back it up. The study itself made reference to differences in male and female behaviours, stating that men have better ‘motor and spacial abilities’ whereas women show, ‘superior memory and social cognition’. Unfortunately, whilst this paper may make that claim, the preceding study (of which the participants of this study were a subset) does not back that up (abstract here http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/neu/26/2/251/). Of the 26 behavioural measures made for comparison (for example executive control, memory, reasoning, spatial processing, sensorimotor skills, and social cognition), 11 showed sex differences that were non existent, or as small as 53:47 (the expected sex outperforming the opposite only 53% of the time), Even in those areas where the differences are meant to be the greatest (spatial or social awareness) the performance difference was only 60:40-a measurable and noticeable difference for sure, but hardly enough to declare difference species.

My problem is not with this study or with their results, but rather with the way the conclusions have been drawn, and with the extrapolations. They have shown interesting differences in how men’s and women’s brains connect with themselves, but then rather than taking any further interesting steps, drilling down further into the data, they have attached some male/female stereotypes and called it job done. One of the authors has even suggested that the ‘hard wired’ differences found could explain the ‘gut feelings’ that women demonstrate more than men, and which makes them good mothers (‘intuition’ and ‘mothering’, or indeed ‘nurturing’ was not in fact measured in this study).

There could be other reasons than ‘men are better at map reading’ for the differences observed. Men’s brains are frequently bigger than women’s brains, the difference in the wiring could be due to physical necessity (there are also studies on this).

Then there’s the most interesting part of the study that has been the least discussed: the structural differences are not observed in a significant manner until after age 13. And we have to ask ourselves why. One of the proposed explanations is that this is the approximate average age for the development of secondary sexual characteristics. There are massive changes in the body, hormones flooding everything, the logic seems to be that the brain changes at this time too. However there is a better explanation, and one less routed in speculation. See, there’s this thing called neuroplasticity. It refers to the changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour or environment. Literally as you learn, your brain changes shape. Then we have to bear in mind that gender as a social construct is learned. It is taught. Little girls aren’t born liking pink. They are taught that girls like pink, and that they are a girl, therefore they then like pink. You put those two things together and what you end up with is the possibility that, rather than being innate, related to the release of hormones at puberty, the structural differences in the brains are programmed in by telling girls that boys are boisterous and girls play nice, that boys are good at maths and girls are caring, that boys build things and girls decorate them. But no mention is made in the study of any consideration of gendered activities in their subjects, or indeed any activities that may (and in fact do) influence how our brains are wired.

If you take this into account, the claim that ‘sex differences are hard wired’ seems a little less proven than it was before.

I am very fond of saying ‘peer reviewed journal or it didn’t happen’. But we have to be able to treat even these studies critically. Their data may be fixed and immutable (tho that is not always the case) but the conclusions have more room for movement. And the people making those conclusions are not immune from sexism.

The study may have shown that men and women’s brains connect differently. But it hasn’t shown why. And it hasn’t shown that the differences are innate. It has shown they are learned. ‘Men and women are taught to be different’ is a less interesting conclusions perhaps, but it is a more truthful one.

 

Post script: If you are interested in this subject, may I recommend the very excellent Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. Her article on this study was also very useful to me https://theconversation.com/new-insights-into-gendered-brain-wiring-or-a-perfect-case-study-in-neurosexism-21083

 

Cross-posted with permission from Feminist Borgia who blogs occasionally about feminism, rape culture and games [@feministborgia].

 

See also: Extra, Extra! Scientists Misunderstand their own Research by @Marstrina

A Tale of Lovely People!

Cross-posted with permission from JemJaBella

I have just taken a break from the chaos of downstairs (Karl + kids + all that entails) to move some money around and make sure cash is in the right place so that I can pay my car tax & cover the childcare bill that comes out tomorrow (Oliver starts nursery this month) and I happened upon a £10 transfer into my account from a lady I met in a café.

On Christmas Eve we’d popped out for some last minute shopping in Ironbridge and had stopped for lunch in a café. As they don’t accept debit cards, I had to do battle with their cash machine. First it spat a receipt at me, and then it gave me £20 despite me requesting £30. I assume it was a mistake *I’d* made and left it alone.

Nearly an hour later as we were getting ready to leave, I overheard a lady mention to her friend that the cash machine had given her an extra £10. I honestly nearly left it – because what are the chances it was my £10? – but £10 is half a week’s shopping here! I popped onto the chair next to her and explained my situation. She was perfectly lovely about it, and said that she’d check her bank balance when she got home so that she didn’t accidentally give £10 away that was hers and lose out. I gave her my business card and my bank details and left it at that.

Few hours later, by which time I’d forgotten about the whole thing, she rang me up to confirm that she’d paid me the £10. This woman, who would probably never see me again, took the time out of her day on Christmas Eve to look at her account and make that transfer. How nice is that?

The other lovely people don’t involve me eavesdropping and interrupting a conversation(!) but rather just some old fashioned manners. To get me out of my snot-filled misery yesterday, we all went out to Shrewsbury on the park and ride (gist: park your car on the outskirts of town, get a bus to the middle so as not to clog up centre with vehicles). I was carrying Oliver in the R&R, as usual, and despite the bus being rammed with people there and back, 4 gentlemen offered me their seat. Although I turned them down as I’m fine standing, just being offered was nice :)

The Ian Watkins case – is rape ever ok?

Cross-posted with permission from Delusions of Candour

Trigger warning: child abuse, rape, sexual assault.

Today the former rock star Ian Watkins was sentenced to 29 years in prison for sexual offences against children, including the attempted rape of a 10 month old baby (news article here). He must serve a minimum of two thirds of his sentence before being considered for parole. His two co-defendants, mothers of children that Watkins abused, were sentenced to 14 years and 17 years. They cannot be named for legal reasons; to do so would be to identify their children who, as victims if sexual crimes, have their identities protected by law.

The public has understandably been filled with horror and anger towards Watkins. This is particularly evident on social media sites and discussion forums. But some take that anger a step further, a step too far. They exult that Watkins is likely to be attacked in prison, and gleefully hope that he will be raped. This is not ok. In fact this is very far from ok.

Rape is never acceptable, no matter the circumstances.

When I worked as a forensic scientist I spent a lot of my time working in the digital forensics section, extracting data from electronic devices seized from suspects and/or victims in criminal cases. This data included images and videos and it was part of my job to examine and watch every media file that was extracted. This meant that I often had to watch videos of rapes, sexual assaults and child abuse. It was, to say the least, deeply unpleasant. I understand the disgust and almost indescribable revulsion that seeing such abuse evokes and it makes me angry as hell.

But you cannot on one hand say that rape is abhorrent, vile, a despicable act, and on the other hand wish it on someone else. “Rape is never ok – oh, unless it’s someone I don’t like who’s being raped. Then it’s fine”. It just doesn’t make sense. And in the same way that no law-abiding man, woman or child deserves to be raped, no alleged or convicted criminal does either.

No-one ever deserves to be raped.

When I was a student I occasionally moved in the same circles as Watkins, going to the same parties and clubs. I was one of the early fans of his band, Lostprophets and he always seemed to be a decent man, a normal man. But he clearly isn’t and today I feel the same fury, horror and disgust towards him as anyone else. I understand the urge to hurt him as he has hurt others but I don’t feel it.

These pro-rape sentiments contribute to the normalisation of what is a revolting act, designed to degrade, humiliate and control. After all, if it’s ok to rape a child-abuser is it ok to rape a murderer? A burglar? Someone who’s annoyed you? No. Rape is never an excusable act and there is never a justifiable reason for it.

So if you’re one of those who think that Watkins and his ilk deserve to be raped, stop and think for a moment. You may be part of the problem, not the solution.

Delusions of Candour: I blog about mental health, motherhood and topical issues.