Originally published: 31.12.17
Content Note for rape
This is a review of Octavia Butler’s Kindred and the construction of consent in the aftermath of #MeToo.
Content Note for rape
This is a review of Octavia Butler’s Kindred and the construction of consent in the aftermath of #MeToo.
Lisa Dando recently wrote in the Guardian about the closure of counselling services with histories of abuse, poverty and addiction.
“We supported women with complex needs. What will they do now?”
“One woman told me: “It was great to be in a safe environment and able to say things I wouldn’t normally feel able to voice, and to be heard in a completely non-judgmental way.’’ Another said it “helped to see that I wasn’t the problem. To recognise who I was and who I am. To break free and not be broken. To value myself in my future.””
This reminded me of an article I co-authored in 2011, which was published in Domestic Violence Clearinghouse, Australia.
It seems that women’s services continue to be under threat, and not only in Australia. Sadly this article is as relevant in 2018 as it was in 2011.
MairiVoice (Edit): I am an Australian radical feminist. I have had my blog for over a year now and write mostly about feminist political issues in Australia.I also run a feminist facebook page giving voice to radical feminism by sharing articles and interesting news. I have been a feminist for over 30 years and have been an activist around issues such as child sexual abuse, domestic violence and family law issues. I also love to read women’s books – both fiction and non-fiction – interested in feminist theory – and sometimes write about the books I am reading on my blog
This is the text of a keynote (and the inaugural Lincoln Lecture) delivered at the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies conference in Loughborough on June 12th 2018.
I am speaking today about sexual harassment and violence. It is difficult to speak about sexual harassment and violence; these are traumatic experiences, and survivors are subject to many forms of silencing. This is why ‘speaking out’ is crucial. We speak our truths publicly because problems need to be named, to be dealt with: and putting our trauma ‘out there’ is a way to avoid being consumed by it ‘in here’. But speech in this area is also vexed. Because of where and how we are able to speak our truths, because of how these truths constitute us as subjects and objects of discourse, and because of how our disclosures can be co-opted. We are also caught in a number of binaries and backlashes which position us or which we have to position against. There are binaries between men and women, between perpetrators and victims, which often map directly on to each other. There is a misogynistic, racist backlash from the so-called ‘alt’-right, and on the left what Sara Ahmed calls ‘progressive sexism’, which gives cover to sexual harassment and violence through critiques of neoliberalism and concerns about ‘moral panic.’ This is the context in which I share my thoughts about how sexual harassment and violence are ‘reckoned up’ in institutional and cultural economies. …
Alison Phipps: Genders, bodies, politics
We hear this over and over and over again. Every single time a male actor, athlete, musician, artist, politician, chef (and the list goes on) are alleged to be perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, the refrain is “oh, everyone knew”.
‘Everyone knew’ about the multiple allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape surrounding Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein; allegations that go back decades. Yet, no one (read men) in positions of power followed even the most basic protection regulations and laws around sexual harassment.
Everyone also ‘knew’ about Jimmy Savile’s predatory behaviour to children and women. Despite multiple allegations made to numerous people supposedly responsible for child protection and multiple reports to police, the media still didn’t want to publish the clear evidence of Savile’s sexually predatory behaviour even after he died. Everyone knew; no one talked.
Emily Maitlis recently spoke of her distress and frustration at the Criminal Justice System response to over 20 years of being stalked and I was asked to discuss the issue on BBC Radio 4’s PM Show.
The concept of the ‘good-enough’ mother, introduced by Winnicott (1965), is still in common use today in family law, and in health and social services. However, it is often misused to blame women for falling below expected standards of parenting rather using it in its intended context. It is often not understood that the concept of the good-enough mother was embedded in another concept: that of ‘the nursing triad’. Winnicott acknowledged that support for mothers is necessary to mothering. The author did not have an expectation that mothers could be ‘good-enough’ without the support of either the child’s father, or another supportive adult. On the contrary, Winnicott acknowledged that mothering would be very difficult without support: this was a concept that he applied to all mothers.
Read more Winnicott’s ‘good-enough’ mother
That’s the reality millions of women across America face every day. In fact, 50% of all homeless women report that their homelessness stemmed from acts of domestic violence so severe their only options were to stay and die or leave and face homelessness.
Homelessness stemming from domestic violence is not discussed as frequently as it should be, but it’s one of the most pressing women’s issues of our time, as resources for fleeing women are scarce and access to medical care and food are constantly dwindling.
Read more DOMESTIC ABUSE’S TIES TO HOMELESSNESS IS A SERIOUS WOMEN’S ISSUE – @KATEHARVESTON #XISAFEMINISTISSUE
I’ve been working out if or how to write about #metoo. The hashtag was started over ten years ago by Tarana Burke to enable women in underprivileged communities who did not have access to rape crisis centers or counseling, to be able to share their stories of having been subjected to sexual assault. In the wake of the New Yorker publishing details of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assault of women across Hollywood (over a number of decades), actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to tweet their stories of sexual harassment. A million people have tweeted using the hashtag in the last few days, with many people also using it on Facebook.
The most wonderful Vicky Walker has written over at Premier “Harvey Weinstein isn’t just Hollywood. Men like him exist in our churches too”. Vicky’s piece, which included her own personal experiences of having been subjected to harassment by Christian men, has been commented on by a number of men. Peter tells us that, “I am concerned that this article is actually approaching the whole issue from the wrong perspective.” (What wisdom Paul has…) Whilst Paul tells us that, “Plenty of conjecture and personal anecdote but nowhere near enough sources to properly level the claim with credibility.” (I’m hoping Paul is going to commission a nationwide survey on harassment in churches to help us get the data he thinks is acceptable.)
This morning on the Today program I listened to a very interesting segment regarding deaths of children and young people in the criminal justic system. You can read more about it here:
The charity Inquest has worked with the Prison Reform Trust to produce a report
(called Fatally Flawed, can be found here) regarding deaths in custody, specifically those of children and young people under the age of 24. They report that in the past ten years 163 children and young people have died in the care of the state, mostly as a result of suicide (although there are cases where the cause of death was a result of, for example, the types of restraint used against them). Of those who died, two thirds of those under 18 and almost a third of those between 18 and 24 were being actively monitored for self harm and/or suicidal behaviour. Today’s coverage is as we await an announcement from the prisons minister, Jeremy Wright as to whether he will acquiesce to the charities’ request to hold a full independent enquiry. He has previously refused such calls, but has agreed to look at the request again.
Read more Why don’t women matter?, by @FeministBorgia
There is not much in the way of quality programmes on TV, so it was with some delight that I looked forward to last weekend when three of my favourite programmes – Broadchurch, Call the Midwife and Vera were going to be on ABC TV in Australia.
And each of them dealt with male violence against women.
In Broadchurch, Trish, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh is a victim of sexual assault. She portrays the trauma of rape very realistically and sympathetically, forgetting her name and many of the details of her experience.
We see the detail of the forensic investigation, such an intrusion in itself. The detectives, Ellie Miller played by Olivia Colman and Alec Hardy played by David Tennant, respond to Trish with compassion and sensitivity. The whole ambiance of these scenes acknowledges the trauma and pain of sexual assault.
“The considerable effort they have put into portraying the trauma of sexual assault sensitively and accurately is hugely welcome. Broadchurch, along with the likes of the BBC’s Apple Tree Yard, is helping to make significant strides in dispelling the myths and stereotypes around sexual violence.” Rowan Miller
Read more Broadchurch, Call the Midwife, Vera – Male Violence Against Women
Within hours of the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, people across social media were sharing images of those who were declared missing. Some of these were shared by family and friends who knew girls and women attending the concert, but who had not yet heard whether they were safe. These images were also being shared by those wanting to help – a desire borne out of genuine kindness. Unfortunately, by early Tuesday morning, media were already reporting that some of the images being shared were of people who were not at the concert. One of the first images we saw when we logged on to Twitter was of Nasar Ahmed, who died in November from an asthma attack at school. We immediately tweeted out asking people not to share images of children declared missing unless they knew that the source is real. At that point, we didn’t know the scale of the spiteful and cruel trolling. Then we were informed that another image being shared was of Jayden Parkinson who was murdered in 2013 by her boyfriend, who had a history of domestic violence. In the end, multiple false images were being shared; many of which originated from a thread on reddit where men were encouraging each other to deliberately and maliciously harm the families and friends of victims with ‘fake news’.
Hull City Council has recently published a Domestic Homicide Review[i] (DHR) into the murder of Christina Spillane, also known as Christina Randell. The conclusion in the Executive Summary of the full report stated ‘Nothing has come to light during the review that would suggest that [Christina Spillane’s] death could have been predicted or prevented.’
On 5th December 2013, Christina Spillane had phoned the police and in the course of describing threatening and aggressive behaviour from Deland Allman, her partner of over 20 years, she told them that he was going to kill her. The claim that nothing suggested her murder could have been predicted is not just wrong, it is doing one of the things that DHRs are supposed to avoid: writing the voice of the victim out of her own narrative. Christina had herself predicted that Allman was going to kill her and she told this to the police the first time there was any recorded contact between her and them. Also, women are more likely to underestimate the risk they face from a violent partner than overestimate it. Her fears should not have been ignored whilst she was still alive, let alone after she had been killed.
The conclusion of the executive summary of the DHR, contrary to several examples given in the body of the report, states ‘There is nothing to indicate there were any barriers to reporting and advice and information was given to [Christina] regarding services but these were not taken up.’ This belies any understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence and abuse. 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes and almost 1 in 10 will suffer domestic violence in any given year. Most women will never make any sort of formal report, to the police or any other service, statutory or otherwise, but most of them would be able to explain why they haven’t, exactly because of the multitude of barriers to doing so: shame, feeling it’s your own fault, not wanting to admit there’s a problem, feeling knackered enough and demoralised by the abuse and not being able to face telling a stranger about it, feeling judged, feeling more afraid of the unknown future than the known present or past. These are just a few examples from a much longer list of possibilities. On one occasion that the police were called to respond to Allman’s violence against Christina, their adult child had told the police that their mother, Christina ‘was too scared to call the police.’ That the panel of people assembled for the domestic homicide review panel declined to identify this, or any other significant barriers to reporting in the report’s conclusion, is a shockingly bad omission.
Research published in 2012 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission showed that 95% of women using women’s services preferred to receive them from a women only-organisation. Another report ‘Islands in the Stream’ by London Metropolitan University also stressed the importance of independent organisations. The domestic violence and abuse service in Hull is provided by Hull Domestic Abuse Partnership, a multi-agency response within the council’s community safety function. This is not an independent woman-only organisation. It is remiss that the DHR report does not consider whether this might be a barrier to reporting. Indeed it only reinforces the suggestion that too many statutory commissioners are happy to ignore what women tell us about the services they most value and furthermore, that independent women’s organisations are often undervalued and their importance side-lined.
For Christina there were additional problems: she had problematic substance use and a long history of involvement in prostitution. The review details that she had a criminal record including ‘prostitute loitering and prostitute soliciting’ but does not consider even in passing that this may have affected her behaviour, choices, beliefs about herself or relationship with ‘the authorities’. By failing to look at this, the inclusion of this information in the review risks merely inviting judgment of her character, the expectation of which is itself a barrier to accessing support. Indeed a report by nia found that prostitution-specific criminal records have a profound and specific negative impact on women, massively influencing how they expect to be viewed by others. Additionally, involvement in prostitution itself is a homicide risk factor. The Femicide Census found that of women who were involved in prostitution and killed between 2009 and 2015, almost 20% had been killed by a current or former partner, suggesting prostitution must be recognised as not just a risk factor for or form of male violence, but also as a risk factor for intimate partner violence including homicide. There is no indication in the DHR that anyone on the review panel had an expertise in understanding the impacts of prostitution upon women and considered this a barrier.
On 1st February 2015, almost two years and two months after telling the police that she feared Allman would kill her, Christina Spillane was found dead. Allman had stabbed her three times and strangled her in an assault of such force that the blade had snapped. She was 51. Far from there being ‘Nothing [that had] come to light during the review that would suggest that [Christina Spillane’s] death could have been predicted or prevented.’ as concluded in the executive summary, there had been a number of indicators of serious risk: escalating violence, threats to kill, reports of strangulation, separation, expression of suicidal thoughts by Allman, and male entitlement/possessiveness indicated by Allman’s belief that Christina was ‘having an affair’. Christina had spoken to the police, her GP, her drugs support agency, a support provider for women offenders and A&E between calling the police in December 2013 and her murder on the eve of 1st February 2015. It is simply incorrect to state that support ‘was not taken up’. Another interpretation is that Christina Spillane was desperately afraid and made multiple disclosures as she sought to find a route to safety, was facing multiple barriers to accessing specialist services and was failed by those that may have been able to help.
Frank Mullane, CEO of AAFDA, a charity set up to support families of victims of domestic homicide in memory of his sister and nephew who were murdered by their husband/father, says that the “victim’s perspective should permeate these reviews throughout”. The DHR in to the murder of Christina Spillane sorely failed to achieve this aim
No-one but the perpetrator, Deland Allman, bears responsibility for killing Christina. It is not the purpose of a DHR to redirect blame from violent killers (usually men) who make choices to end (usually women’s) lives. But if DHRs are to fulfil the functions of contributing to a better understanding and the prevention of domestic violence and abuse, they cannot be a hand-washing exercise. They need to ask big questions, there needs to be a robust challenge to victim blaming and they must endeavour to see things from a victim’s (usually woman’s) perspective. If we want them to be part of what makes a difference, we need to make sure that we hear what victims of violence tell us, rather than use them as a means of absolving us from taking responsibility for the differences that we might have been able to make.
[i] Since 2001, local authorities have been required to undertake and usually publish reports on Domestic Homicide Reviews (DHRs) where the death of a person aged 16 or over has, or appears to have, resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by a relative, household member or someone they have been in an intimate relationship with. The purposes of the reviews, which should be chaired by an independent person with relevant expertise, include establishing and applying what lessons are to be learned from the ways that agencies work to safeguard victims and also, to contribute to a better understanding of and the prevention of domestic violence and abuse.
When a rageaholic is the nation’s Prince Charming, young girls learn abuse is part of the fairy tale. Josh Murray, an emotional abuser, won 2014’s The Bachelorette when Andi Dorfman accepted his proposal. But several months later they ended their engagement. She’s since written a book called It’s Not Okay: Turning Heartbreak Into Happily Never After. In it, she details Josh’s verbal abuse, calling it “the most volatile and fucked up relationship of my life.” At one point she was concerned enough for her safety to tell her friend Nikki Ferrell that if she turned up dead, Josh did it. Andi says she was “trapped in a relationship that made her feel utterly worthless and dismally defeated.” Sounds like a dream come true, right?
After an interview, David Moyes said to Vicki Sparks ‘You were just getting a wee bit naughty at the end there, so just watch yourself. You still might get a slap even though you’re a woman”. Later, after apologising and referring to the incident as a mistake, Moyes said “I’ve apologised to the girl.”
It sounds to me like his mistake is that the words that came out of his mouth revealed a sexist attitude that he would prefer had been kept hidden. Moyes’ later reference to Vicki Sparks as a ‘girl’ is a further indication that, the 53-year-old male does not see this professional adult human female as an equal.
Read more David Moyes – Banter? A mistake? Or a glimpse into the inner world of just another sexist bloke? by @K_IngalaSmith
Before the age of 20 Austrian Hedy Lamarr had left school, become a famous actress, married a Nazi arms manufacturer and become the first actress to simulate an orgasm on screen. Ten years later she defected to the side of allies where she invented and sold a communication technology to the US Navy that is still used by the entire US military to this day as well as in Wifi, GPS, Bluetooth and almost every single modern communication device.
Read more Hedy Lamarr – Military Contractor, Inventor of Wifi, Hollywood Bombshell 1913-2000
I found this article while searching for information about the Oromo goddess Atete on a scholarly database. Here the southern Ethiopian goddess hardly appears in her own right, most of the Oromo having (incompletely) converted to Islam or Christianity. Yet she has survived in women’s domain, especially in a ceremonial period around birth, known as Qanafa, which remains sacrosanct. The women fiercely defend this time sacred to Atete and, although they are abused at other times, militantly confront men who commit abuse during the Qanafa seclusion. Much of the information available about Atete revolves around these ritualized female protests rather than the actual rites of the goddess.
Jeylan W. Hussein. “A Cultural Representation of Women in the Oromo Society.” African Study Monographs 25 (3), October 2004, pp 103-147 Online:
Oromo scholar Jeylan Hussein outlines the decline in women’s status in recent history, losses that have accelerated since conversions to Christianity (pushed by the dominant Amhara group) and Islam (embraced by many as a means of resisting these traditional enemies of the Oromo). He cites testimony of elders and historical records that indicate that women’s status was better in earlier times and that gender inequality hardened in the colonial era. [108-9]
It’s not that the old laws weren’t patriarchal. Oromo society was already patrilineal, with a harsh sexual double standard that stigmatized females and practiced boy-preference. Men who could afford it married several women, and senior wives ranked far above additional wives and concubines. Hussein analyzes numerous proverbs, showing how they describe women as inferior beings, as weak, fickle, irrational. They overwhelmingly depict women as men’s chattel. Several proverbs advocate beating wives, and compare them to donkeys and horses who could be tamed and beaten at will. As Hussein summarizes, Oromo sayings prescribe male mastery and female subordination. [121-28]
Suppressed Histories Archive: The Suppressed Histories Archives uncovers the realities of women’s lives, internationally and across time, asking questions about patriarchy and slavery, conquest and aboriginality. About mother-right, female spheres of power, indigenous philosophies of spirit– and the historical chemistry of their repression. Even more important, their role in resisting oppression. A global perspective on women’s history offers fresh and diverse conceptions of women’s power, as well as of men and gender borders. It overturns stereotypes of race and class, and the structures of domination that enforce them. It digs under the usual story of lords and rulers, looking for hidden strands, and reweaves knowledge from the divided fields of history, archaeology, linguistics and folk tradition. So we cast a wide arc, looking for patterns and gaps and contradictions which, where vested power interests are at stake, are trigger points for controversy. Some of the flashpoints are women’s power; neolithic female figurines; gender-egalitarian mother-right cultures; patriarchy; witch-hunts; “heresies” such as goddess veneration or shamans; and the rise and fall of empires, including the doctrines of supremacy and inferiority that prop up all systems of domination.
Mandy Dunford has been a victim of serious stalking for almost 10 years and her experience of the Criminal Justice system highlights many of the problems still facing victims of stalking and domestic abuse. The issue was recently featured on BBC Breakfast when both Mandy and I discussed the terrible way in which she and hundreds of other victims are being let down (Click here to watch the interview).
Mandy was treated badly by the police when she reported the stalking with the police failing to take it seriously and one officer even sexually assaulting her when he went to see her. The police failed to take appropriate action and Mandy felt – like many stalking victims – that her only option was to investigate the matter herself and gather her own evidence so she was forced to set up CCTV cameras. We don’t expect victims of other crimes to do this yet it happens constantly to victims of stalking. It is what we pay our police to do. Stalking victims will have experienced on average over 100 incidents before they even make a report to the police so it is vital that this crime is taken seriously particularly when you consider that 1:2 domestic abuse stalkers will carry out the threats they make and that the vast majority of domestic violence homicides involve stalking. It is what Paladin – National Stalking Advocacy Service refer to as “murder in slow motion”.
Mandy’s perpetrator was eventually arrested and charged with a number of offences including several firearms offences and several sexual offences as part of his behaviour had involved standing close to her home, naked, whilst watching her through binoculars and masturbating. Yes, exactly.
Did I mention that the stalking had been going on for 10 years??
Whilst the court did impose a custodial sentence – mainly due to the firearms offences – they failed to protect Mandy with an appropriate protective order. This is another all too common situation for victims of stalking and domestic abuse. In Mandy’s case because of the sexual offences a SOPO was made (Sexual Offences Prevention Order). Unfortunately Mandy was not consulted around the wording of the order and its terms were changed by the judge without reference to her which allowed him to return to live next to her and allowed him to approach very close to her property. This would never have been allowed had he lived next door to a school in my view.
The police accepted that Mandy would be at risk of serious harm due to the lack of protection afforded by the SOPO but said that they were powerless to do anything to help other than give her £5000 to build a “panic room” aka a prison cell in her own home.
Remind me who the victim in this case is again…?
Mandy is being assisted by Paladin who have been advocating on her behalf and the police have recently agreed to refer the case back to court to have the terms of the order altered. Unlike restraining orders it is not possible for a victim to apply to the court to change the terms of a SOPO so Mandy has been powerless in this regard. Let’s hope that this time the judge takes a more victim centred approach to it rather than concentrating on the perpetrator’s wish to return to home where he would be able to continue his reign of terror.
I represent victims on a regular basis to obtain properly worded protective orders in the civil courts to plug the gaps left by the useless orders sometimes handed out in the criminal courts.
Victims deserve properly worded protective orders to ensure that they are not re-victimised by feeling that they have to move away as the perpetrator is allowed to return to live next door to them. This is a common situation as stalkers will go out of their way to find accommodation near to their victim and all too often it is the victim who has to move again and again as the stalker tracks them down. This constant moving is then used by social services and the family courts as a stick to beat the victim with as they are accused of putting the welfare of the child at risk by keeping moving even though the father (who is often the perpetrator) is not criticised or held to account for his actions.
The criminal and family courts need to take the issue of domestic abuse and stalking far more seriously and stop colluding with the perpetrator as it is putting women at risk of serious harm and homicide.
Rachel Horman: Feminist 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…..
There was a tremendous amount of outrage about the appalling media coverage of the murder of Clodagh Hawe and her three sons in September. Unfortunately, this level of grossly inappropriate and inaccurate representation of family annihilators is not an aberration.
Mark Short Sr. murdered his wife Megan and their children — 8-year-old Lianna, 5-year-old Mark Jr., and 2-year-old Willow. He also killed the dog. Time magazine covered their murder with this headline:
Pennsylvania Father Took His Kids to a Theme Park Before Killing Them
Because murdering your children and your wife is somehow a lesser evil if you treat them to a day out in a theme park first.
Read more The murders of Clodagh Hawe and Megan Short by @EVB_Now
Not too long ago, Brock Turner, a Stanford student, raped a woman who was inebriated. The judge gave him to a meager sentence saying he has too much potential and did not want to ruin his life.
Last week, an exact copy cat case occurred. Austin Wilkerson, a University of Colorado student, offered to take his inebriated friend back to her dorm. Instead of escorting her to safety, he took his chances with her and raped her without her consent. He was let off with a light sentence too, despite confessing that he “digitally and orally penetrated” the woman while he “wasn’t getting much of a response from her.”
Read more Its Time to Change the Narrative on Victim Blaming by @rupandemehta
Violence against women is often in the news. Its prevalence in society makes it a ‘hot topic’ for reporters and its complex nature makes it an interesting issue for feature writers. However, the fact that violence against women is so complex can mean that even journalists with the best of intentions can misrepresent some of the issues and perpetuate myths that are harmful to women.
On the other hand, good reporting can play a vital role in increasing understanding of violence against women and challenging its place in our society. And many journalists and bloggers produce high quality work which confronts violence and gender inequality.
We believe that their hard work deserves to be recognised, which is why Zero Tolerance with the support of NUJ Scotland, White Ribbon Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Engender, Everyday Victim Blaming, Women 50:50, Rape Crisis Scotland, Women for Independence and the Scottish Refugee Council are pleased to present the fourth annual Write to End Violence award for excellence in journalism. We are also pleased to announce the Sunday Herald will be working with us as our media partner.
This award seeks to drive up standards in journalism by rewarding those committed to furthering the cause of gender equality through their work. It is open to all those writing in Scotland, and there are categories open to both paid and unpaid writing. Articles and blogs must be published between 01/09/15 and 01/09/16.
Read more The Scottish Write to End Violence Against Women and Girls Award!