Nigella, blame culture and why society turns a blind eye to Domestic Abuse by @rachelhorman

(Cross-Posted with permission from Rachel Horman)

The recent pictures that undoubtedly appear to show Nigella Lawson being physically assaulted by her husband in public are shocking and outrageous.  What is even more outrageous is the fact that no-one intervened.  Had she had her handbag stolen you can rest assured that many of the on-lookers would have gone to her aid to prevent it happening and pursued the thief.  Had she been assaulted by a passer by; again someone would have helped.

So why then do people treat domestic abuse differently? I believe that it is society’s dismissive attitude towards domestic violence, even when committed in public, that allows it to infect our communities and that this same attitude is translated into poor police investigations and inadequate sentencing. The answer? Blame.

Society points its judgemental finger at victims of domestic abuse, apportioning blame with the victim.  A similar attitude is also often present in cases of rape.  ‘She must have done something to deserve it?  Why doesn’t she leave him?  She must like it.’

We don’t do this with other crimes.  We don’t blame people for flaunting their phones, jewellery or handbags in public and say that they were asking for it when they are stolen.  We treat the offence as a crime, concentrate on bringing the offender to justice and rarely give a second thought to what kind of person the victim is.

Even with photographs showing Charles Saatchi clearly gripping Nigella Lawson by the throat several times, pulling her nose and her looking frightened and tearful many commentators and members of the public are still not able to describe what happened as a crime so it is hardly surprising that no-one saw fit to intervene.

Several newspapers described it as ‘an alleged attack’ which in the face of the evidence of the photographs suggests that they believe that domestic violence isn’t an attack or a crime but “just a domestic.”  A journalist on Radio 2 claimed that he wouldn’t class it as a crime and said that it was wrong to intervene in such circumstances as ‘you don’t know the background or what has happened before.’

In my view this translates as – domestic abuse is acceptable and she may have deserved it.

Another commented that Saatchi could have ‘been checking her throat for cancer’! I’m unclear as to why the commentator felt that checking for cancer may also require Saatchi to drag her nose and argue in an aggressive manner but I may be missing something.

The most ridiculous explanation however came from Saatchi himself who described it as ‘a playful tiff’.  To anyone working in domestic abuse this denial and minimisation is very common and a known risk factor in assessing risk from the perpetrator.  If Saatchi is prepared to do that in public then I do wonder what on earth he does when he’s actually angry and behind closed doors.  Domestic abuse incidents are rarely one-offs.

This episode should raise public awareness of the fact that domestic abuse is not just confined to council estates.  It permeates every section of society.  In my experience I have found that it tends to be middle class women who are the least likely to report it to the police or other agencies due to feelings of shame and heavier financial consequences (albeit temporary) if they separate.  I have acted for the wives of all kinds of professionals – doctors, lawyers, magistrates, accountants, police and even clergy, many of the victims being professional women in their own right.

If a woman with independent wealth, power and intelligence can be a victim then we all can.  Domestic abuse is the most insidious of all crimes and women often don’t realise that they are experiencing it until its too late and their confidence is battered, they feel frightened and intimidated and don’t feel able to get out of it.

It is then the victim rather than the perpetrator who is once again judged and blamed by society.  If I had a pound for every time someone asked me ‘why don’t they leave?’ I would have retired and made a large donation to Women’s Aid.  Instead of asking why doesn’t she leave, we should be asking – why is he violent to her? Why is he being aggressive? Why isn’t he being prosecuted? Why hasn’t he received a proportionate sentence from the courts?

Until blame is removed from victims and laid firmly at the door of perpetrators society will continue to turn a blind eye to domestic abuse even if the victim is Nigella Lawson.

 

(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…..

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.

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…

#16Days: Erasing The Victims of Men’s Violence, by Frothy Dragon

Cross-posted with permission from Frothy Dragon and the Patriarchal Stone

We hear the statistic so frequently. In the UK, two women a week are killed by a current or former partner, and in most cases, there is documented proof of abuse in the relationship.

As a quick note, non-abusive men do not kill their former or current partners. Non-abusive men do not use intimidation or threats against women’s lives to ensure their wishes are met. Just because abuse isn’t documented in some of these murders, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. It merely wasn’t recorded. So when people tell me a man who has murdered his current or former partner was ‘such a nice guy’, I call bullshit.

But the two women a week statistic is a lie. These statistics aren’t being exaggerated, or overestimated, much as those who hate women would like to claim otherwise. Instead, they ignore 60 – 83% of domestic violence related deaths.

On Monday, an acquaintance of mine raised the subject of suicides in relation to domestic abuse; an area which seems to be largely ignored. I found a statistic that sent me reeling into a state of shock; that 30 women a day attempt suicide in order to escape domestic violence. For those who were wondering, that works out to 210 a week, or 480 during the 16 Days of Activism.

Of those 210 attempts each week, between 3 and 10 women successfully commit suicide. I’ve found conflicting statistics, with Enfield’s Health and Wellbeing service stating the higher number. [x] Yet these women’s deaths are largely ignored when measuring the extent of men’s violence against women. Men may actively kill two women a week, but their violence is factored in to at least five deaths nationally a week. We serve the victims of men’s violence no justice if we ignore those killed by suicide.

We need better discussion around the invisible fatalities of men’s violence. We need for women to know that there is support out there; not just in relation to domestic violence, but with regards to suicide and helping these women to survive. We need for those involved in helping women who are experiencing domestic violence, or who have done in the past, to be aware of the number of women who attempt suicide daily. We need those who help victims and survivors of domestic abuse to know the warning signs in relation to suicide,and for them to receive training in how to help women who are contemplating suicide. And we need to hold men accountable when their violence is a factor in a woman’s attempt to take her own life, whether she survives the attempt or not.

But most of all, we need to give these women hope. And we need to let them know that they are not alone.

Further reading:

Refuge: Taking Lives campaign –
http://refuge.org.uk/takinglives/

Enfield Health and Well-Being: Domestic Violence – http://www.enfield.gov.uk/healthandwellbeing/info/15/enfield_place/187/domestic_violence

Rape Victim calls for law change as three women a week commit suicide to escape violent partners –
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/rape-victim-calls-law-change-2644286

Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage and ‘Honour’ Based Violence –
Volume 2

Victim’s suicide leads to fight for new law-
http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Victim-s-suicide-leads-fight-new-law/story-19996117-detail/story.html

Refuge call for 16 days of fundraising against domestic violence –
http://www.feministtimes.com/refuge-calls-for-16-days-of-fundraising-against-domestic-violence/

Frothy Dragon and the Patriarchal Stone I Got 99 Problems, And The Fact You’re Still Calling Me A Bitch Is One [@FrothyDragon]

Three Years in Prison Without Trial for a Miscarriage, by Cath Andrews

Cross-posted from Hiding Under the Bed is not the answer

Virginia, a young indigenous women from Guerrero, suffered a miscarriage in 2009. Since then she has been in prison in Huamuxtitlan, Guanajuato, charged with murder. There has never been an autopsy to determine the cause of fetal death. All judicial proceedings against Virginia have been carried in out in Spanish and she was not offered a translator who could explain proceeding in her native Nahuatl. Neither did she have access to a defense lawyer who could speak her language.

In January this year, thanks to the work of the NGO Las Libres and the volunteer law students from the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica (CIDE) in Mexico City, a federal judge ruled that her human rights had not been respected. In the light of the fact that there was no evidence to support the charge against her, the judge also ordered that she should be released. However, this has not happened. Instead, the local judge re-issued a warrant for her arrest on the same charges.

Verónica Cruz, director of Las Libres, told news agencies that this new warrant was a “reprisal” against Virginia for exposing the abuses committed by the judicial authorities in Huamuxtitlan. She also observed that her plight was the result of the “triple discrimination” Virginia has been subjected to in the judicial process as a poor, indigenous woman.

As I reported last week, this “triple discrimination” is sadly the norm for the Mexican justice system. However, in the case of Virginia, there is also a further difficulty. Guanajuato is one of the most conservative states in Mexico. It was one of the first states to reform its constitution in 2010 in to declare that the right to life began at conception. As I reported recently, its governor has openly opposed federal directives which oblige health service providers to grant abortions to women who have suffered sexual assault.

Guanajuato has a long track record of imprisoning women for miscarriages and still-births. As is the case with Virginia, the strategy of the judicial authorities is to charge them with murder –which can be punished with sentences as long as 25 years– rather than for procuring an abortion, which has a five-year tariff. Two years ago, Las Libres and students from the CIDE law school successfully championed the cases of six women who had been in prison for as long as eight years. Like Virginia they were convicted of murder after losing their pregnancies. None of the women jailed had actually procured an abortion; rather each one had suffered a miscarriage, which due to family circumstances, poverty and/or ignorance they had tried to conceal. Once they had been forced to seek medical attention, one of the people who attended them (doctor/social worker) had then made the accusation with the relevant authorities. All of the women were from the poorest areas of the state and lived in conditions of poverty and social marginalization. They were unable to neither defend themselves personally against such charges nor pay someone competent to do it for them.

Cruz is certain that Virginia can be absolved if only the judicial process could be concluded. The fact that she is merely charged and not formally sentenced means that there is a limit to what her defense lawyers are able to do. It is evident that the local authorities in Huamuxtitlan know this and are purposely dragging their feet to stall the case being sentenced. As a result, Virigina has now been in prison for three years.

As I wrote last week, life is extremely difficult inside prison for women such as Virginia who don’t speak Spanish and are far away from home and access to support networks. It is testament to the deep misogyny of Mexican society that its most vulnerable women are treated in this way.

An edited version of this article was published on e-feminist

Hiding Under the Bed is not the Answer is the blog of historian of Mexican politics Cath Andrews who also writes for e-feminist and Toda historia es contemporánea. She tweets at @Andrews_Cath

What should you wear to Slutwalk?, by @marstrina

Cross-posted from: It's not a Zero Sum Game
Originally published: 24.05.11

I have a very complicated relationship with the amount of coverage or display that my skin gets. I think most women of my background or similar – secular feminists who grew up in a traditional, religious society – would recognise the dilemmas that I had with seemingly frivolous things like skirt length while growing up.

In Jerusalem, where I grew up, what a woman wears immediately speaks volumes about her religion, her values, even her politics. Whether your skirt brushes the ground (settler), is modestly below the knee (conservative), is a voluminous part of a Mother Hubbard-like dress (orthodox) or is revealingly short (secular) gives clues to other parts of your life: what you eat (kosher/treif), who you vote for (left/right), where and when you socialise (at home or in a club on a Friday night), your sexual politics (patriarchal/permissive). The signs are not infallible, but they are ubiquitous and strong in a way that simply doesn’t exist in the secular west, except for the most pious Jewish or Muslim women. And people in Israel routinely use these signs to facilitate everyday interactions, like knowing whether to shake hands with a woman, ask her for her number, ask her for directions, all kinds of normal stuff. It’s not stereotyping (much), it’s common sense.


Read more What should you wear to Slutwalk?, by @marstrina

“The reason so many rapists get off is because there is a grey area”, by @Herbeatittude

Cross-posted from: Herbs and Hags
Originally published: 06.12.12

When you sit there with your friends and the subject of rape comes up, this is one of the most persistent rape myths that they put forward. OK maybe that’s just my friends. I apologise for them in advance and I’m working on getting new ones, I promise.

The idea that there are “grey areas” in women’s bodily integrity; that perfectly nice men are confused by the assumption that if you want to enter another human being’s body, then you ought to be 100% sure that they want you there and you ought to check that that’s the case, is surprisingly widespread and accepted even among people who are reasonably educated, lefty, progressive in their views on all other subjects. The grey area myth, tells us that normally-functioning compos-mentis men who are allowed out unsupervised, can’t be expected to know that they need to check another human being wants them in her body, because of the famous grey area which confuses them and makes them into accidental rapists, who may have done the wrong thing, but surely don’t deserve jail?
Read more “The reason so many rapists get off is because there is a grey area”, by @Herbeatittude