Tom Harris – The Man Who Thinks Teenage Mothers Have An ‘Army’: Narrative Matters 2

These days, I kind of expect politicians of any ilk to at some say something which has absolutely no basis in fact whatsoever, especially when they are talking about people on benefit. It says something about the Labour Party that it’s political representatives are just as likely to verbally bash, maul and shame anyone who isn’t middle class enough to have 2 cars in the drive of their semi-detatched, whilst living the ‘aspirational’ life we are apparantly supposed to be living to qualify as worthy of being – at the very least – listened to by our MP’s. (For ‘aspirational’ of course, that means ‘be like them’, which is generally white, and pretty well off with lots and lots of stuff in a great big house).

So whose bashing who today then? Well step up Tom Harris, Labour MP and either the most un-informed reactionary in the Labour ranks, or the most wilfully stupid: possibley both. I haven’t decided yet. (And if you really want to read this rage-inducing stupidity then you can read it here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/05/welfare-children ).

You see, according to Mr Harris, there’s ‘an army of teenage mothers’ ‘living off the state’ out there, who ‘absolutely no ambition for themselves’ and who have ‘..been indoctrinated with the lie that they’ll never amount to anything’. (And some idiot politician telling them that they should be bloody ashamed of themselves for being loose, immoral scroungers is really going to solve that, isn’t it?)

Let’s start with the lie that Mr Harris has clearly been indocrinated with – or possibley he know’s is a lie and is simply being wilfull in his spreading of said lie, this ‘army’ of teenage mothers. This is – as Gingerbread (A) will be happy to tell him – a complete myth. Less than 2% of single mothers are teenagers. Let that sink in for a moment. That doesn’t really sound like ‘an army’ to me. It sounds like a rather small amount actually.

Of course, Mr Harris has a couple of anecdotes to back up this ridiculous, baseless horse sh*t – the young teenage girl in the bed opposite his wife on the delivery of their son (whose age, sexual proclivity and moral centre he sees fit to sit in judgement on), and a couple of young mothers outside of a record shop. Quite an army that. I can see how that would make him a little scared of those loose young girls sleeping around all over the place and reproducing little sproglets in order to grab at the houses and money they don’t have the wit or will to go and work for themselves.

This is all framed in a narrative of purity and righteousness that would be sickening from the mouth of a Tory, yet manages to sound positively vile from him.  His wife, you see, was properly and virtuously married at the time of the birth of their child, and his own ‘poor hardworking’ parents were so horrified by unemployment that they started their own buisness and very properly hauled themselves up by their bootstraps to provide for their family. Which is lovely, but I’m really not sure how that gives Mr Harris the right to make judgements on young women, about whose lives he knows absolutely sod all.

Never mind that he perpetuates yet more lies about those dependant on welfare, and I strongly suggest he educates himself about this, because frankly he really does not have a clue.  He could start with ‘The Lies We Tell Ourselves: Ending Comfortable Myths About Poverty’ – here’s a handy link: http://www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Truth-And-Lies-Report-smaller.pdf

It is irresponsible – at best – when a politician speaks in such a manner: that he tries to shame young women is appalling. That he frames in such bigotry and ignorence is utterly irresponsible. Not that we should expect anything less from a politician of course.

(A) http://www.gingerbread.org.uk/content/365/Statistics

Sources quoted by Gingerbread

  1. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
  2. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
  3. Figure produced for Gingerbread by the Fertility and Family Analysis Unit, Office of National Statistic and derived from the Annual Population Survey (APS), (Labour Force Survey plus boost), 2009 data
  4. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
  5. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
  6. Working and Workless Households, 2012, Table P. ONS Statistical Bulletin, August 2012
  7. Families with children in Britain: Findings from the 2008 Families and children study (FACS), Table 3.2. Department for Work and Pensions, 2010
  8. Households Below Average Income, An analysis of the income distribution 1994/95 – 2009/10, Table 4.1ts. Department for Work and Pensions, 2011
  9. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
  10. Leaving Lone Parenthood: Analysis of the repartnering patterns of lone mothers in the U.K. Skew, A., Berrington, A., Falkingham, J. 2008, on data from 2005
  11. Derived from Households and Families, Social Trends 41, Table 6 & 7. ONS, 2011. Data from 2009
  12. Analysis of Labour Force Survey data from June 2006 produced for Gingerbread by ONS
  13. Divorces in England and Wales 2009. ONS Statistical Bulletin, February 2011
  14. General Household Survey 2007, Table 3.6. ONS, 2009
  15. General Lifestyle Survey, 2009, Table 3.6. ONS, 2011
  16. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
  17. Households Below Average Income, An analysis of the income distribution 1994/95 – 2009/10, Table 4.14ts. Department for Work and Pensions, 2011
  18. Households Below Average Income, An analysis of the income distribution 1994/95 – 2009/10, Table 4.11ts. Department for Work and Pensions, 2011
  19. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 6.3. DWP, 2010
  20. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 9.1. DWP, 2010
  21. English Housing Survey, Household Report 2009 – 10, Table 3.6. Department for Communities and Local Government, 2011
  22. Wealth in Great Britain. Main Results from the Wealth and Assets Survey 2006/08, p.108. ONS, 2009
  23. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 8.8. DWP, 2010
  24. Family Resource Survey UK, 2008-2009, Table 4.10. Department for Work and Pensions, 2010
  25. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 3.2. DWP, 2010
  26. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 12.5. DWP, 2010
  27. Working and Workless Households, 2012, Table P. ONS Statistical Bulletin, August 2012
  28. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 16.5. DWP, 2010
  29. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 16.1. DWP, 2010
  30. Childcare and early years survey of parents 2009, p.83. NatCen/Department for Education, 2010. Research Report DFE-RR054
  31. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 15.1. DWP, 2010
  32. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 15.4b. DWP, 2010
  33. Child Support Agency national statistics, June 2011. CMEC/DWP, 2011
  34. Parliamentary Question, Hansard 24/03/2011, col 1242W
  35. PQ response to Karen Buck, March 2011, Letter from Stephen Geraghty (CMEC), 17/3/11 Col 566W
  36. Problematic contact after separation and divorce. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2008
  37. I’m not saying it was easy…Contact problems in separated families. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2009
  38. I’m not saying it was easy…Contact problems in separated families. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2009
  39. Problematic contact after separation and divorce. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2008
  40. I’m not saying it was easy . . . Contact problems in separated families. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2009
  41. Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being. Mooney, A., Oliver, C., Smith, M. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009
  42. Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being. Mooney, A., Oliver, C., Smith, M. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009
  43. Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being. Mooney, A., Oliver, C., Smith, M. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009

CeCe: Punished for not being killed? (TW)

“I wont let the actions of hateful people detour or distract me. I will continue on my path to loving myself, and others. But most importantly, to continue in my pursuit of happiness.”

~ CeCe McDonald

“People are being killed out there, and CeCe is being punished for not being killed.”

~ Mara Keisling, National Center for Transgender Equality.

This is a story about a young woman who, along with her friends one evening, was attacked whilst enjoying an evening out. It is the story of victim blaming in extremis; of a young, bright, well-loved trans woman of colour who was very possibly victimized for being African-American LBGTQ.

First, a little context: in 2010, 44% of those murdered in LBGTQH related hate crimes (US) were trans women. In a country where 2% of the population are likely to find themselves jailed at some point in their life, 21% of trans women, and 47% trans women of colour report being arrested and incarcerated. As Rai’vyn Cross – a friend of CeCe’s – told Democracy Now on April 27th 2012, threats and harassment are a ‘day-to-day’ occurence.

It was certainly the case on 5th June 2011. CeCe, along with four friends (all of whom were African-American), were out in Minneapolis one evening and walking past Schooner Tavern. At least four white men outside the bar began shouting abuse at the friends. One of them – Dean Schmitz – called out “look at that boy dressed like a girl tucking her dick in.” CeCe and her friends were walking away, but Molly Flaherty smashed a glass in CeCe’s face, resulting in an injury that required 11 stitches. Fighting ensued as her friends tried to defend her, and although CeCe tried to walk away, Schmitz followed her. Feeling scared and threatened, CeCe took a pair of scissors from her bag and in the ensuing scuffle, Schmitz was stabbed in the chest and died from his wounds. A court transcript of the facts can be found here:

http://www.motherjones.com/documents/356409-mcdonald-chrishaun-11-16485-5-2-12-plea

Despite the injury to her face, and her insistence that the wounds inflicted on Schmitz were in self-defense – CeCe was arrested that night. No one else was arrested – none of the white men who shouted the transphobic, racist and anti-gay verbal abuse, and certainly not Molly Flaherty, who smashed CeCe in the face with a glass.

CeCe’s defense team, based at the Legal Rights Centre – http://www.legalrightscenter.org/News.html – had a number of problems to contend with.

  • They were unable to submit details of Dean Schmitz’s swastika tatoo*, or his previous criminal record
  • The judge ruled that defense could not provide expert witnesses to the every day violence experienced by transgendered people – despite the evidence of the racist and transphobic abuse that CeCe and her friends experienced.

*“At times he can be like that, yes…It depends on his mood, unfortunately,”

~ Charles Pelfrey, Schmitz’s brother

In fact, CeCe herself was no stranger to that violence – she had experienced this even at the hands of her own family, and you can read about that, in her own words, here: http://supportcece.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/pursuit-of-happiness-3/  (Trigger Warning)

You can also read CeCe’s testimony during her trial here: http://supportcece.wordpress.com/?attachment_id=1661

That CeCe and her friends were on the receiving end of a racist, transphobic attack is in little doubt.  It is possible that CeCe pled guilty to the lesser manslaughter charge because her legal team were unable to provide the evidence to prove that she was acting in self-defense when Schmitz was stabbed.  (Her legal team have pointed out the lesser charge to which she pled guilty is often given where the prosecution are aware of the more than a little culpability on the part of the person killed). She is serving out her sentence in the men’s facility at St Cloud MN., and that brings its own dangers and concerns.

A 2006 study (US) found that 59% of transgender prisoners reported being raped or sexually assaulted. For Alexis Giraldo, who was repeatedly raped whilst in Folsom State Prison in California, it’s simple:

“They are doing people wrong, and they are covering it up.”

http://inthesetimes.com/article/3372/transgendered_behind_bars/

There has not been a great deal of coverage of this case. However Mother Jones covered this in great detail and you can read that here: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/05/cece-mcdonald-transgender-hate-crime-murder

It was also covered by the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KJOD_SYWKtI

You can also read the blog set up by CeCe’s supporters here: http://supportcece.wordpress.com

What CeCe is dealing with is not unusual for any trans woman of colour in the US – but it speaks of a system that not only systematically ‘others’ these women, but effectively and categorically blames them for the abuse they suffer. CeCe did not seek a fight – she actively tried to walk away from it. But in that moment that she felt her life was in danger, her decision to try to defend herself cost her dearly.  It certainly cost her liberty and freedom.

Dear Jerry Hayes, The REAL Uncomfortable Truth About Rape and Why you should apologise…

Dear Jerry Hayes

My twitter time line exploded on Thursday night. As did I, in an almost-literal re-creation of Mr Creosote from Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life’: not from eating too much food though – but from hearing too much un-varnished rape apologism. The reason for the twitter storm is because you said something really awful, denied that you said it, ignored some very public facts and have now gone on to blog about rape, claiming that your view is an ‘uncomfortable truth.

So I am going to deal with what was said, why it has upset lots of people, and why you really do need to apologize for it.

First your opening remarks, in response to the question about whether accused people should be anonymous:

I’ve been prosecuting and defending rape’s and serious sexual offenses for over thirty years. The fact is I am firmly of the view that if you are accused of a sexual offense, particularly with rape, particularly with children, you should be anonymous until after that trial. Because the stigma is just, well, it’s worse than murder. I have seen people who have been acquitted – perhaps when I’ve defended them – erm, hah-hah little plug…

(Yes. That’s right. In the middle of a discussion on the subject of rape and child abuse, you plugged your services and made a joke about it. Sensitive, much?) But moving on…

…the stigma sticks with them for life, everyone says ‘Oh, there’s no smoke without fire’.. and there’s, I know, a movement a people who say ‘Well it stop’s women from coming forward’ – it doesn’t stop women from coming forward, we’ve gone a long long long way from all the old idea’s about rape and they are treated very very well…

And at this point I have to stop for a moment. Partly because if I try to explain to you about the stigma of being abused and raped I will end up getting a bit emotional and I want to deal with facts as much as possible.

So here’s what what happened, and what was actually said, (and if you want to check me, be my guest: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01sffvs/Question_Time_09_05_2013/   and it starts at around the 42 minute mark) –

A member of the audience decided to take to task the notion that it is ‘easier’ for a woman to come forward to speak about rape, and that it is really hard to prosecute someone for rape. You cut her off mid-sentence to say that ‘it is honestly not the case’, but the audience member pressed her point by quoting the statistic that there were 95,000 reported  (important to emphasise that word) rapes which were prosecuted last year – and barely 900 convictions, and how does that show that it’s easier for women to come forward. That’s right Jerry: that figure she quoted you was based on those rape allegations which were brought to trial.

Those figures don’t just come from Rape Crisis, but are backed up by the CPS’s own figures. The 2011 CPS report on VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) showed a 38% rise from 2006/7 to 2010-11 in prosecutions of rape and domestic violence cases: up from 68,930 (of reported incidents) to 95, 257 (of reported incidents). If you don’t believe either the audience member, or me, or Rape Crisis then at least believe the CPS.

In your blog post you say:

I have been accused of saying that rape victims are liars. Not only did I not say or suggest this, I certainly don’t think it.

What you said (and again, pop along to BBC iPlayer and watch it again if you must) was this:

You can’t say there were 95,000 rapes because clearly they weren’t raped because the person wasn’t prosecuted.

Yes Jerry, that is exactly the same thing as calling rape victims liars.

To say such a stupid, crass, pig ignorant thing like ‘clearly they weren’t raped because the person wasn’t prosecuted’ is to demonstrate quite spectacularly not only an appalling ignorance of the facts, but is a quite spectacular example of the old idea’s about rape which you claimed just a few minutes before we come such ‘a long long way’ from.

Further, it is perpetuating the very same myths about false rape,  that the report issued by Keir Starmer and the CPS in March, are trying to dismantle. That report (which Stella Creasy tweeted out to you and you so casually dismissed) makes the very necessary point that not getting a conviction for rape is absolutely not because the victim was not raped. That report makes it clear that false rape allegations make up just 0.02% of all reported rapes.

Your blog post (which requires a trigger warning for rape victims so loud it would be heard from Mars) only makes what you said worse. Victims characters cannot be trashed?? Try telling that to Ched Evan’s victim (as just one random example).

So yes, of course you should apologize.

If you want to blog about the ‘uncomfortable truth’ about rape, I suggest you find out what the uncomfortable truth is first.

But if you want to insist you have nothing to apologize for, in the face of your own words and the overwhelming evidence, at least refrain from throwing words like ‘defamatory’ around on twitter to those who sought to call you out for the wrong you did.

Yours (most) sincerely

@aliwilkin