Let’s name the problem: the problem is patriarchy. It is patriarchy which enables, perpetuates and encourages male violence. Over eons, woven through systems political and religious, and whilst sometimes having to give a little ground in order to otherwise resiliently maintain the status quo, it has woven into our cultures, our systems and our communities the entrenched idea that men will always, and can only ever be expected, to ‘give in’ to the dictates of his primal, masculine, violent nature. And most especially of all, in terms of his sexual desires and appetites.
At every occurrence of male violence (in all its forms), society draws on a constant stream of excuses and justifications, and they are repeated ad nauseam – as an unthinking reflex, because essentially it is: we have been taught to provide the patriarchy with excuses, even trained to perform what is needed so that those who benefit the most from patriarchy, can thrive accordingly.
It’s why all of those excuses blame the victim.
And women over hundreds of years have heard every conceivable variation, in all its forms, of those ‘reasons’, which are excuses. And we internalised all of that.
When you live under a patriarchal structure, you internalise the oppression: and we examine more, or less, of that internalised patriarchy, depending upon our ability to survive it.
It was the patriarchy’s choice.
It wasn’t a red mist, or a *loss* of control when he punched and hit out. It was control he was exerting, not losing.
It was his choice.
It wasn’t anything you did, or did not do; or said, or did not say; or wore, or any other single thing about you.
It was his choice.
He didn’t do it because he felt overcome. He did it because it gave him dominance.
It was his choice.
And he didn’t do it because he had a penis.
He did it because he chose to.
And that was not *your* fault. It was his choice. It was his fault. He chose. And he chose it, because the patriarchy wants him to have those choices.
He didn’t do it because he had a penis. A penis is just.. muscle, tissue, blood, nerve endings, skin. A penis doesn’t choose.
We want justice – so we have to start overcoming some of our fear. A penis is just… muscle, tissue, blood, nerve endings, skin. Blaming that won’t give us justice.
Because I want him to take responsibility for his choices. All of them. Because that’s justice. Because they said it was our fault. And it wasn’t. It was theirs.
I want justice.
I want that for my children, for my sons and daughters and my children who are exploring which of those they are; I want that for for my sisters, my brothers, for my ancestors; I want that for a future I will never be a part of.
We dream of building a world where we are safe, free, and have nothing to fear from a man’s choices.
I know we’ve been taught to make excuses. We’ve been taught to blame ourselves. We’ve been taught to feel sorry, to forgive, and have pity, but not to expect justice.
It is some time since I last wrote anything in long form – and whilst it has been mere months in reality, I look at the glare of the blank white screen, eagerly consuming the the letters I type, and I smile at it like a long lost and much adored lover. I have missed writing intensely, but for many reasons it has been a long way down my list of priorities.
But I’ve had some thoughts crystallising in my mind of late.
I was at my PIP assessment today and I wanted to scrub myself with a wire brush after. I’m sure the chap who conducted the assessment is nice to his old Mum, and he seemed like the type of bloke who has a muscular, slightly ugly mutt at home he adores, and he wasn’t… unpleasant as such. Its just that he hasn’t had to sit on my side of the table and would probably be personally offended if I had told him I found the whole process utterly dehumanising. Because it wouldn’t matter how nice the person conducting the assessment is (or how truthful they may, or may not, turn out to be).
When you go to these assessments (or – if you need one, and have jumped the endless hoops you are required to jump through to get one – had a home visit), you go as the person with the disability/disabilities, and/or chronic illness, and/or mental health issues. Your physical/medical/mental health has prevented you from working for a whole host of reasons, the vast majority of which are not your fault. Nobody asks or wants to be disabled, chronically ill, depressed, addicted, be involved in life changing accidents, or the (repeated) victim of crime – or whatever unexpected life altering thing it is that you couldn’t possibly have seen coming. You sure as hell don’t want to be in that office discussing whether or not you wet yourself, or cannot with the best will in the world fill in a form without hyperventilating. And you would rather gauge your eyes out with a rusty spoon that sit there hoping the assessor will decide you are sick enough for some small amount of help, but you hope for it anyway because the alternative is being told you aren’t sick enough and should be working, and you’ve probably half killed yourself working for longer than you should of already, because you anyway live month to month and the roof has to stay over your families head.
You are only at that assessment because, metaphorically, your house is burning and the flames won’t go out.
But the benefit system as it is now is based on this simple premise: you have to prove you are on fire.
Its archaic – literally. The powerful, demanding that the powerless (who cannot conform to the prescribed behaviour set out by the powerful) prove their truthfulness/need for assistance by performing the claimed ‘weakness’* to the satisfaction of those with the power to help.
(*In this context, it is the powerful who perceive and promote the disability/illness etc as a weakness in a negative context. The idea of illness/disability/sexual and/or gender difference as a weakness or failing, is promoted by the powerful to maintain control).
Yet no matter how archaic it is – and to some extent, irrespective of the ideologies attracted to this method of achieving and maintaining power and control – it perpetuates, re-invented in some new form every few decades, but surviving largely intact and otherwise unchanged no matter what century it is. And there is an uncomfortable truth at the centre of that.
When I was writing more regularly about my experiences of rape culture, I was then – and remain now – utterly perplexed by how normalised it is for victims and survivors not to be believed. There are those who would tell you that its simply hysteria to suggest that sexual abuse, assault, and rape are as much of a problem as they are. And whilst it means that those who should be taking responsibility are not, it is not the expected intransigence, arrogance or duplicity of a system that will of course seek to protect itself, that causes most perplexity. Or even, arguably, is the most difficult thing to resolve.
There is an extraordinarily simple reason why a rape victim needs to hear the words “I believe you”. If you believe them, then (setting aside, just for a moment, the positive impact on the victim), you have acknowledged that there is a problem. If you have acknowledged the problem, you are more likely to accept the problem needs to be resolved. If you accept the problem needs to be resolved, you are more likely to look positively at what will resolve that. Because whilst prevention is better than cure, you still need the cure.
But since prevention is better than cure – what happens if you believe that most people would rather swallow a bottle of castor oil than lie about being raped or abused, and that (however uncomfortable it might make you feel), the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual violence are telling the truth?
What happens when we all acknowledge that? And what’s stopping that?
The thing is – it isn’t just rape victims who need to be believed. That’s not the only systemic abuse problem. For disabled and chronically ill people the benefits system is inherently abusive, predicated as it is on the presumption of guilt. For Black/of colour/LGBTQ+ disabled and chronically ill people the problem is still more pronounced. The politics of belief around chronic illness and hidden disability is a minefield. You are reduced to someone who has to permanently prove yourself innocent of a crime that never occurred, far less was ever committed.
What happens when we believe black people and people of colour about racism, and about how we as white people, need to address our internalised racism and do something about it?
What happens when we believe trans women and trans men, believe that they are who they say they are and that they receive the abuse and discrimination they are telling us they receive?
What happens when we believe the refugees who tell us of the brutality and wars they are escaping?
What happens when we actually do think of the children, and believe them when they say they are being abused?
What would happen, if we chose to believe them all?
The uncomfortable truth is this: we choose to believe the victims we are comfortable believing. And we choose to acknowledge the oppression’s we are comfortable enough to acknowledge.
And whilst its the system that sells the lie, it only keeps working because people keep believing it. And all of us do, at one level or other: some people will believe disabled people about the how the benefit system is killing people – but not a person of colour when they say that something is racist, and won’t believe the refugee escaping war and brutality; and some people will believe disabled people and people of colour, but won’t believe that trans women are women and trans men are men . Or they will believe a person can be gay – but not bi. Or accept all that, but won’t believe that the respectable man up the road with the good reputation could possibly be an abuser, and will tell you how terrible it is that he has to live with that accusation…
And the still more uncomfortable truth is this – because we choose to believe some people are living under oppressive systems, but do not, cannot or will not believe the same of others – the cycle of abuse across the multiple layers of society continues. It might be chipped away at, in piecemeal fashion – but you only have to look around you to understand that the foundations of that system remain as strongly entrenched as ever, and that all we have successfully and systemically managed to do is disbelieve black people, rape victim, the disabled, trans people, LGBQ people, women, the sick and refugees.
We believe who we are comfortable believing. We believe those who don’t challenge our world view – and we definitely don’t believe those who challenge more profoundly our view of ourselves. We believe those we perceive as being acceptable to believe.
And we can choose to ask ourselves why we don’t believe the black person, or the disabled person or the trans person, or the refugee – and then answer that honestly, or not.
Because belief is a choice. So the perplexity remains.
Locker room talk – that’s all it is, of course! how foolish of us silly women to think that there was any reason to feel threatened, belittled, commodified, harassed, worried, frightened, angry, fed up, pissed off when you’ve been doing that thing that’s ‘just’ ‘locker room talk.’
Oh, wait – whats that? It was childish. Oh, I see – well that all makes perfect sense of course. Little boys do silly things and nobody picks them up on it, so really its our fault as mothers, because how can fathers and uncles and friends possibly help pick you up on it when its not their fault for being childish either, right?
Nooo, there’s ‘nothing creepy’ about inviting your little brother and his mate to gawp whilst you do some girl who must have been up for it, because they all are, right? And anyway, you couldn’t help it that you were being childish; and how can there be anything even remotely rapey about receiving a text from a friend that he’s ‘got a girl’ and heading down to meet them because that’s the same thing as invite from her?
Hey – if you are ‘childish’ you can’t possibly be expected to understand that’s not the same thing as consent, can you?
And you cannot possibly be expected to take any responsibility at all because that’s the most unreasonable thing of all, isn’t it?
Its just talk – you were just being childish. Nothing really…
But you know what really, really pisses me off, when you get right down to it?
Society buys that crap. I guess it’s easier to convince yourself that the wrong is excusable, when putting the injustice right is too much like realising how much you played a part in the injustice in the first place.
Lord, there is nothing more systemically and outrageously lazy as those simply cannot be bothered. And the cruelty of it should make you spit fire.
But I’m just some silly hysterical woman who should shut up an put up because anything else is so darned unreasonable of me.
By a twist of fate, this week will see both the sentencing of Adam Johnson and the appeal hearing for Ched Evans. So it’s going to be a tough week. It’s always a tough week if you are a victim or survivor of course – some item in the news, some deliberately cruel attack or comment on social media, some careless stupid remark from someone you know: the salt that inflames the wounds that are never quite healed.
But this week will be particularly tough. For the young women who were raped, abused and then maligned publically by Evans, Johnson and their ‘supporters’, this will not be a week that ‘draws a line under it all’. At best it will be another step they must take after too many other steps before it. At worst it will be another occasion which will afford their abusers and rapists, and their well paid legal teams, opportunity to malign and smear them. The woman raped by Ched Evans has already had to relieve her nightmare in preparation for this further appeal – after 5 years of being tried by public mob, of being moved repeatedly to try and protect her. The girl abused by Adam Johnson is no doubt aware of the disgusting things being said by his fans and supporters: I fear what may yet come for her. Whatever sentence Johnson is handed, the mob will be no more inclined to compassion for her than they were for Evans victim.
So my first thoughts and prayers are with them tonight, and what they will endure this week. To them I repeat: I believe you. I send you all my love. We all do – everyone of us who did or did not report send all our best hopes and whatever strength we have to spare.
And it will be a hard week for all victims and survivors, on or off social media. The victim blaming, the shaming, the brutal cruelty that people spew because they think that rape or abuse is about sex, and don’t understand or don’t care that its about power, and the exercise of that power through humiliation and brutality.
I send my love to you too: I believe you. And that means that whatever you have to do to get through this week, to cope when the wounds are inflamed or made raw by the salt society rubs in with abandon – do not apologise for it. Don’t justify it, don’t explain it. You owe nobody that. You don’t have to engage, you don’t have to speak. And should you choose silence I will stand with you in your silence.
And if you want or need to shout from the rooftops at the vicious cruelty and injustice of it all, or scream in rage at maelstrom of sharp and stinging voices whose words carry salt – I will raise my voice and shout and scream with you.
Whatever the outcome of those legal proceedings this week, we who walk through the battle scarred land that is rape culture know only too well what we must each to do survive it. And however you need to negotiate that terrain, we will carry each other. In love, and hope and faith.
On March 24th, Adam Johnson – formally of Sunderland AFC – will be sentenced for sexual activity with a 15 year old girl.
Given the ‘success’ of the public Ched Evans campaign to force another appeal, even after several failed appeals, it was little wonder that Adam Johnson’s family have similarly launched their own public campaign for ‘justice’ for the football player, despite his own confession that he was guilty of the crime of grooming the young girl and ‘kissing’ her – in other words, that he, as an adult, abused her.
At this point, I am not going to concern myself with that campaign directly – whether the family can, or cannot, face up to the enormity of the crime Johnson committed is not what I want to discuss here. How spouses and families react to, and deal with, the discovery that a loved one is an abuser deserves is it’s own discussion, and one that we should have.
What I want to discuss is how others are expressing their ‘support’ – and more tellingly, their sympathy – with Johnson, and some of the persistent myths (or frightening ignorance) which inform those opinions.
“There are 2 sides to every story…”
No. This was not an ‘affair’ – Johnson wasn’t being ‘unfaithful’ to his now former partner. He was an adult, who took advantage of a young, vulnerable and impressionable girl: he knew how young she was and it put him in a position of power. This was a young girl, who was abused. There was nothing ‘romantic’ happening here: the child was used – and then, because people are horribly predictable – vilified by her abuser, which give permission to the abusers supporters to do the same. (Some of the appalling comments on the facebook page and twitter about the young girl will not be repeated here: suffice to say that they are vile).
Just as with the victim of Ched Evans, the young girl found herself targeted through social media: the person with the power is not the victim. The power that is accorded the abuser whilst they are targeting their victims continues to be accorded the abuser even after their criminal and abusive behaviour has been revealed.
There are not ‘2 sides’ to abuse: there is the abuser and the abusers victim.
“I know he’s been an idiot/I know he messed up, but…”
This line of justification probably makes me the angriest, because it erases the trauma of the victim, blames the victim for the situation, and treats abuse as something inevitable. (“Well, its not like he could really help it, is it…?”)
Sex does not equal power. A young person is not a sex object. (And that this needs to be said is sickening).
The real power lies entirely and exclusively with the adult abuser.
“She knew what she was doing…”
No. She was groomed – this young girl, starstruck by her football hero, had her trust and admiration for him abused completely.
And that was a conscious decision which he made, in full possession of the fact of her age.
Was she ‘flattered’ by his ‘attentions’? Yes.
Did she have an crush on this adult football player, who played for the club to which she had given her support for most of her young life? I don’t doubt it.
Does that equate to ‘knowing what she was doing?’
Does the suggestion that she did, help to justify the behaviour of the man who groomed and abused her, and does it act to diminish his guilt and his behaviour?
Does the suggestion that ‘she knew what she was doing’ erase her trauma, and make it more easier and more comfortable for people to look away and ignore it?
“He wouldn’t be getting such a harsh sentence if he wasn’t famous.”
The problem with this reasoning is it assumes that his ‘fame’ as a football player is not part of the context of either the crime that he committed, or his behaviour toward his victim after he had been charged with that crime.
For a start, it takes no account of how Johnson’s power and status as a famous football player, put him in a position to groom and abuse his victim. As Detective Inspector Aelfwynn Sampson said: “…Johnson exploited his position as a local hero to take advantage of a young and impressionable girl.”
UPDATE: In the sentencing remarks (which you can read here) the judge highlights this directly.
“…but it was because you were at that time a respected Sunderland football player that you were able to commit these offences.”
It ignores how Johnson’s fame led to supporters harassing his victim through social media – and we have seen this before, the baying mob attacking the victim because their ‘hero’ has been caught out for their abusive behaviour.
And the ‘hero’s’ silence on that is tacit approval of that behaviour.
It is very unlikely that – even in the event that Johnson is sentenced to 10 years – that he will serve that full period. He is more likely to be out of prison half that time, on good behaviour. And should he choose to appeal, as was indicated by his lawyer and his families decision to set up a public appeal group on facebook, then his fame (and the money that has provided him) will buy him a great deal of support.
Support to which his victim will have no such access.
This is all starting to sound horribly familiar.
And all of this – all of it – is just some of what we mean by ‘rape culture’: where the abuser, the rapist, the groomer, the criminal, is offered sympathy and support which helps to diminish and reduce his guilt and culpability: this happens because of the erasure of the victims’ trauma by means of the explicit and implicit beliefs in the victims’ culpability for the crime they have endured.
So if you have ever thought or uttered any of the above – then you have supported rape culture.
And if you think that is harsh, condemnatory or judgemental – you would be right.
Update: In the sentencing remarks, the judge highlights the concerns raised by both the prosecution and counsellor appointed to the victim with regard to the public abuse the victim has endured, both from peers and via social media (and this would include the Facebook page run ostensibly by Adam Johnson’s sister, and which gives a platform to some of the worst of that abuse).
I have a report from Joanne Rubbi, a Sexual Abuse Child and Adolescent Psychotherapeutic Counsellor who has been providing support and counselling for her anxiety, depression and harmful thoughts as a consequence of what has happened, by which is meant not only the sexual abuse she suffered but the responses she has received from her peers and members of the public. M has experienced sadness, anger, fear and confusion which have impacted on her sleeping and eating patterns, suffering bad dreams and night terrors and, as a consequence low mood, tiredness and physical symptoms such as nausea and weight loss. M has suffered a loss of self-esteem and, I note, a loss of trust in others.
I note that, whilst many of these difficult consequences of this offending are no uncommon in cases involving sexual abuse there appears to be clear evidence that those consequences have been somewhat exacerbated in the present case because of your status, the widespread knowledge of the case in the area in which M lives and the apparent knowledge of M’s identity which has led to her receiving abuse and insults, from her peers and from members of the public. Whilst it is of course not suggested that you have orchestrated any of this abuse, your standing and your offending are the only reason that this child has suffered abuse far beyond that which might be expected in other cases of a similar nature. That is an unusual and particular feature of the harm suffered by M and her life has been adversely affected in the past year and such effect is ongoing. note that, whilst many of these difficult consequences of this offending are not
Following the horrific public abuse (which has not ceased) endured by Ched Evans victim, we must address how abuse is perpetuated by those who claim to ‘support’ their so-called hero’s, and what might be done to prevent it in the future. And with an official statement on an appeal by Adam Johnson imminent, it must be addressed.
Forgiveness – from almost the first moments of his ministry – was at the heart of what Jesus did and said: the forgiveness that he spoke of and practised was profound: indeed it was so revolutionary, so alarming that disciples, followers and nay-sayers alike wrestled with it, poking and prodding at it with a mixture of horror, suspicion and wonder. For it was not just the rampant forgiveness of others which so awed those around him: Jesus actively sought – and seeks – the same generosity of forgiveness from those who follow him.
The religious rules made by men to protect themselves, and which made the mad, the bad, the crippled and women ‘unsuitable’ for consideration of humanity and compassion, were held up to the light and found wanting. These were rules impossible to live by if you were poor, or sick, or not a man. The rich and joyful forgiveness of God, through Jesus, did not just wipe clean the hearts of those forgiven: it challenged societies attitudes. The gates of the kingdom, once denied to those most in need by the rule of men, were thrown open by God.
These were rules which cared nothing for justice, mercy and faith and the same righteous anger which had swept the money lenders from the temple rose to greet the makers of men’s rule:
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves…” Matthew 23: 1-4 & 13-15
Fast forward a couple of thousand years: Christians have apparently embraced forgiveness, seemingly willing to forgive with the same generosity of spirit that Christ called us to. But man’s penchant for the laws and rules that make him comfortable has not been eradicated, and nowhere is this more obvious than in how Christian Churches respond to abuse and rape. Here we see that the abusers are ‘forgiven’ – or rather excused – and those who are the powerless and the victims are treated as though they have done something for which they should be forgiven, but they are not, and for them there is no love, and not even meagre crumbs of pity from the table.
To be abused is to endure physical, emotional, psychic and spiritual invasion. To recover and find some healing following such trauma can take a lifetime. Those coping with that process should be able to find a lifetime of love and patience from those who claim to be followers of Christ, for Jesus had that to give. Instead, even if they are believed, victims find instead that their trauma is dismissed, or they are blamed and shamed, despised and ridiculed. The world is already awash with lack of understanding and victim blaming, but there is no safe haven in the body of Christ, for victims are not only met with the same attitude in the church but are then faced with still greater load, for they are told that they must forgive their invaders, their rapists and abusers, in the name of being a ‘proper’ Christian. And if they don’t forgive, then they are guilty – of bitterness, of resentfulness, of lack of faith, of wanting vengeance. Forgiveness has become a rule, a law to be followed, in order to access the gates of the kingdom of Heaven: victims must bow to the rule of man (including their abusers) before they can reach God.
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.
It is time to end the warped teaching of forgiveness in its current form, twisted as it has become under the patriarchal church. We can no longer allow to be used to keep the powerful comfortable and the abusers excused. It is time to reclaim it, be willing to be challenged again by God and dig more deeply than we have ever done before, and find this beautiful and precious wonder that is true forgiveness.
We must acknowledge that abusers are making a choice when they abuse, and that only they are responsible for the choices they make – and we must learn to stop making excuses for them. They can help it, and there is no stress, or worry, or addiction or depression that can excuse their dreadful choices. We must acknowledge that their victims deserve belief, and love and care for the rest of their lives, and that their safety must be our priority. We must be willing to be uncomfortable, disturbed, and as righteously angry as God about terrible harm and damage that abuse does. We must desire to hear the screams of anguish and agony and learn that it is not a lack of faith, or a desire to hold on to that which hurts, which causes those tears to fall weeks, or months, or years later. We must learn all this – and yet more.
And then maybe, maybe, we will start to learn what forgiveness truly is.
“Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.” George Washington
Conscience: The inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct and motives, impelling one toward right actions – the complex of ethical and moral principles that controls and inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual.
I wasn’t surprised because what Ched Evans has access to is money – a very great deal of it, care of his future Father-in-Law Karl Massey. He is also a pampered young man with an inexhaustible ability to play the victim. Like many spoiled and pampered young men with too little discipline, and access to too much money (and the power that provides), he is someone who, thanks to Massey, can afford to buy expensive legal muscle and flex it to the fullest possible extent.
But his actions that night – and since – suggests a man who is happy to indulge in behaviour which at best can only be described as sleazy. Consider: at no time has Evans ever, in any way – either explicitly or implicitly – addressed the presence of his two friends that night who filmed either McDonald and/or Evans and the victim. There is no suggestion that she was ever made aware of that at the time, far less given the opportunity to agree to it.
Further: Evans has not at any time stated that his belief that he had consent was based on any form of communication – verbally or otherwise – from the victim. Therefore is the only communication, on which Evans bases his claim, the text sent to him by McDonald? A text from your mate that says ‘he’s got a bird’ is not consent from the victim. Is it unreasonable to infer then that Evans believed that his friend had procured a woman for him, and that’s this was what he understand the text to mean?
And moreover: Despite claiming to be ‘sorry’ for the appalling impact of the events, and the brutal hunting of his victim, he has apparently done nothing to change the horrific way in which his ‘campaign’ website has determinedly sought to criminalise and undermine a young woman who has been robbed of her identity, her life and her family – and her dignity and peace of mind.
So far, the privilege Evans had as a footballer and the access to wealth and influence that obtained has bought Evans many things. It has so far failed to by him a conscience.
“…Evans has not at any time stated that his belief that he had consent was based on any form of communication – verbally or otherwise – from the victim.”
I had spent more time on the ‘front sheet’ copy of the appeal transcript than on the full copy: Evans does, in fact, claim verbal consent from his victim, at the time of him entering the hotel room. And the timing of this is important because this raises further questions, which are deeply troubling.
There is still no indication that the victim gave consent to McDonald to send the text that brought Evans to that hotel room. So at the point at which Evans entered that hotel room, the victim was in the most vulnerable possible position: she is very likely incapacitated (and one jury and 2 appeal courts have decided that she was incapable of giving consent due to intoxication) – and she is in a room, naked, with 2 physically strong men. Even if she hadn’t been incapacitated through drink, she was in an immensely vulnerable position and I would consider it highly questionable that she would have had “..the freedom and capacity..” to make the choice to say no with any certainty of her safety.
So, just to recap: At the time of writing this, Ched Evans remains a convicted rapist.
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.1 Corinthians 1: 20-25
In the last few months, the Church of England and the Methodist Church have been grappling with the issue of historic abuse – that is, where children, women or vulnerable adults were abused by a minister, priest or lay church worker and the response to those victims of sexual, physical or emotional abuse saw them silenced, ignored or further victimised. In many cases, clergy against whom allegations had been made were protected, and continued to remain in trusted positions of care and leadership.
The Methodist Church chose to undergo an extensive independent review, the groundwork for which was laid over the course of 2010-2011, and which took a little over year to complete between 2013 and 2014. The resulting report, which was published in May of this year, was called ‘Courage, Cost and Hope’.
“On behalf of the Methodist Church in Britain I want to express an unreserved apology for the failure of its current and earlier processes fully to protect children, young people and adults from physical and sexual abuse inflicted by some ministers in Full Connexion and members of the Methodist Church. That abuse has been inflicted by some Methodists on children, young people and adults is and will remain a deep source of grief and shame to the Church.
“We have not always listened properly to those abused or cared for them, and this is deeply regrettable. In respect of these things we have, as a Christian Church, clearly failed to live in ways that glorify God and honour Christ.Methodist Church 28 May 2015
Certainly the tone and approach of the Methodist church is substantively humble and penitent: there was a clear determination to thoroughly review responses and procedures, and recognise where proper safeguarding procedures were not properly carried out, or did not occur at all. What makes the report so important however, is that it attempts to honestly to explore how culture (explicitly the role of how those with power have abused it, and implicitly how misogyny and sexism drive that power imbalance) have both created – and perpetuated – the environment in which the abuse occurred and continued. Whilst not without its flaws, there is much about the report which is to be welcomed – it emphasises at several points how important it is that victims are heard, how their trauma and distress are increased when they do not feel heard, and how vital it is that having spoken they receive consistent and committed support having reported.
Once a disclosure has been made careful thought should be given to who provides support to the survivor/ victim. This should be a dedicated resource, ie not shared with others involved, and someone who can carry the role in the long term. A number of responses identified major difficulties that had arisen because the minister tried to support both the victim and the perpetrator. Any preference for a particular supporter expressed by a survivor/victim should be met whenever possible.
One of the key themes of the report is the importance of continued learning, and again, this is to be welcomed: it tried to address uncomfortable truths, recognising for example that even where a report of abuse is made and no charge and/or conviction results, that this does not mean abuse did not take place (p 33), and that ‘A good understanding and analysis of the power dynamics in the particular situation will be vital.’ (p 34).
How far this report will help to impact on the change of culture required can only be assessed in the long term, and it takes more than a report and changes in procedure to achieve that change of which the report rightly identifies is required.
One of the key elements to the necessary to change, which whilst touched on often is never explicitly stated, is the very thing which victims most require if they are going to be able to speak out – and it is the very thing which they are they most commonly denied: they are not believed.
The perpetrator is described as being very charismatic and members of the church find it hard to believe he is potentially harmful. [Case Study 9]
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong 1 Corinthians 1:27
Whilst the report by the Methodist Church highlights the need to distinguish between support for the victim and any potential ministry to the abuser, the CofE report conflated both from the beginning, reaching for trite theology and palatable answers. There was no recognition at all of power structures in abusive relationships, lacked focus and discipline – painting as did with brush strokes far too broad – and was rightly criticised by survivors for its lack of scrutiny.
Whilst there may have been good intent in the self investigation, the report was a mess and had no impact, other than that to further frustrate survivors. In part, this is because an institution cannot investigate itself; whether there was any real stomach to address the reality of abuse in the church is debatable.
But something vital is being lost already, as we plead to our church leaders to ensure the CofE opens itself up fully to an independent review, as the Methodists have now done: right now, as I write this, there are children and women and vulnerable adults being abused by ministers of the church; there are people in trusted positions of leadership who (known to the authorities or not) have watched, or do watch, abusive indecent images of children; there are victims of rape who can find no solace in the church, and spouses of lay and ministerial servants who are struggling under the yoke of physical, emotional and mental violence.
Right now. Not at some point in the past, when the managerial speak of a ‘safeguarding policy’ had yet to enter the lexicon of church language. But now. Today. This minute.
And its because, for all the safeguarding policies, for all the protocols and procedures, for all the layer upon layer of policy – if they were to speak up, people wouldn’t believe them. Protocol might be followed, but the church won’t be there for them, supporting them, hearing them, believing them, because our culture hasn’t even begun to acknowledge, to learn, to understand why it happened then, or why it’s still happening now.
Every day that goes by where the leaders, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, don’t announce that an independent review is going to happen, is another day that victims of abuse are told that they don’t matter enough – that they are not believed.
It is time for those in power in the Church to submit to an independent review of historic and current abuse – for the Archbishop of Canterbury to stop making comforting noises and work without ceasing in order to make that happen. It is time – it is long past time.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God
This post references comments made about rape and rape victims which attach blame to victims and perpetuate rape culture. Self care is crucial, so this post carries both a content note and trigger warning.
Six months ago, BBC Radio Norfolk presenter made comments with regard to the debate around Ched Evan’s attempted return to professional football which – justifiably – caused serious controversy. Complaints were filed, and the matter was investigated was investigated by Ofcom.
Ofcom have announced the results of that investigation: they have concluded that the comments were ‘offensive’ and ‘not justified by the context of the show’ but that the BBC had ‘minimized’ the offense.
And as far as they are concerned, that’s that.
Except its not, because the on-air apology that Nick Conrad made later about his comments clearly indicated that he both failed to grasp the extent to which his remarks blame victims of rape and assault, and that his remarks (which were made to a large regional audience) treated myths about rape as fact and, therefore, were an expression of rape culture.
It’s important to break down the ways in which Conrad’s comments reflected ignorance about what rape is, validated rape culture and blamed rape victims. It is equally important to remember that this is in the context of discussing a convicted rapist whose victim was entirely unable to give consent (hence rape) and who – since the initial conviction and Evan’s release on license – has had to come under police protection, being given secret one secret identity after another to try and protect her from those who have sought to hunt her down on Evans behalf.
He opened with this:
“I think women need to be more aware of a man’s sexual desire that when you’re in that position that you are about to engage in sexual activity there’s a huge amount of energy in the male body, there’s a huge amount of will and intent, and it’s very difficult for many men to say no when they are whipped up into a bit of a storm. And it’s the old adage about if you yank a dog’s tail then don’t be surprised when it bites you..”
In the first instance, Conrad assumes that the basis of rape is sex. It’s not. Rape is an act of aggression and domination: it is an abuse of power, that occurs when a choice is made by the man to initiate and continue to assault the victim when no consent has been given, or has been withdrawn.
All men are perfectly capable of self control: they are under no compulsion at any stage to initiate or continue with any sexual act at any stage. Because lets face it, if it were simply about a sexual urge, a quick flogging of the bishop would suffice.
This is an issue of consent, which Conrad is clearly confused about. He might find it helpful to read this, which may make it clearer for him.
These comments also play into the old trope of a woman being a ‘prick tease’ – a woman dressing for attention but ‘not prepared to see it through’, for example. In fact the clothes that a victim is wearing has little or nothing to do with the act of rape, and given the context of the discussion – and the nightmare that Evans victim has endured – this makes such comments particularly revolting.
“One wonders if women need to be a little bit more mindful of that and the feminists who have hijacked… Hijacked maybe a bit of a strong word..jump on these arguments and appear to be quite anti-men. (They) Neglect that very important part of the argument, even though it’s a reduced part of the argument and the onus has to be on the men and the men have to be condemned if a woman says no and they persist then that’s absolutely abhorrent…”
“…if you tease, if you jump into bed naked with a man if you give him all the signals and then he acts upon them then you are partially responsible and of course it is a grey area and there will be cases where you wanted to go certain distance and not go any further and the man is absolutely wrong but if..”
This gets to the heart of the biggest issue in these conversations: those who, having no understanding of what consent is and being unaware of their own overwhelming sense of entitlement, assume that women – (and that means all women, not just those who are cis gender) – revoke any right to decide what happens with our own bodies because of the clothes worn, or the alcohol consumed.
And that’s rape culture.
We want to be able to say ‘no’ without fear: we want to be able to say ‘no’, and not be frightened that our bodies will still be taken and used without reference to our own decisions, or that someone won’t take advantage when the ability to choose and make decisions has been clouded for whatever reason.
And that is how it should be.
This is something that mostly men (Conrad included) seem to struggle with; that when it comes to rape and assault – the onus is always with the rapist. It really is: there is no ‘grey’ area here, no ‘blurred’ lines: once consent has been withdrawn, if consent has not clearly been given, where consent has been refused – that’s it. Access Denied. End of Story. There are no ‘if’s’.
Conrad is a BBC presenter, and his audience may not be national, but it is a large one: since the problem is one of his understanding about consent, about his understanding of a woman’s right to autonomy over her body, about the tropes he used to belittle women in general, what is required is a recognition from Conrad directly that his words did blame victims: stating after the event that victims ‘are in no way to blame’ does nothing to address just how profoundly he stated otherwise during the course of that broadcast.
What is required is a full recognition by Conrad that he engaged in victim blaming, and presented views that were the very essence of rape culture.
Stating that the presence of a representative from End Violence Against Women helped to ‘minimize the offence’ is exactly the same thing as passing the buck, and letting Conrad off the hook, and expecting women to once again clear up the mess left by a man.
And it would be nice if, just once, the BBC were prepared to take some responsibility for this sort of thing.
I have been thinking, a lot, about ‘call out culture’ recently: as a Christian and a feminist, there is a tension that exists between challenging the entrenched norms that perpetuate oppression, and practising the grace and forgiveness I am called to. Criticism and self-reflection are vital tools when your conversation and activism is focussed on aspects of patriarchal and kyriarchal structures of hierarchy and power. Often it means discussing complex and painful issues, and whilst challenging the entrenched myths and norms [both interior to, and exterior of the self] which perpetuate oppressions, how do we do that without falling to self-righteous finger pointing, or failing to speak up when justice demands it?
Critiques of call out culture can be nuanced, and reflective of the context in which our lives are lived – Flavia Dzodan’s essay on the subject for Tiger Beatdown 4 years ago remains one of the best on the issue: it is thought provoking, placing the era of blogging and social media in the context of the emergence of ‘reality show’ programming, examining the performativity of call outs and asking serious questions about what motivates people collectively and individually. (And if you haven’t read it yet, I would recommend that you do).
On the other end of the spectrum was the infamous Michelle Goldberg piece, which itself became a focus of ‘calling out’: it’s juxtaposition of ‘toxicity’ with black women and women of colour was indicative, not only of how white feminism can use words like ‘intersectional’ without a comprehensive understanding of the necessity of de-colonializing self, but how accurate Dzodan’s earlier piece had been. When call out’s are about performance in an era of Big Brother TV, magical intent and calcified liberal social politics, we act and react in the context of the cis-white-hetro-normative systems, losing sight of how other people are being subsumed in a society which forces us to clamber over one another in an un-winnable race to survive.
What, then, are we ‘calling out’? Just sexism? Or are we asking not only others to look at their words and behaviour, but ourselves as well? As Dzodan’s piece challenges us – for whose benefit do we make these call out’s?
I have been meditating on this in the context of how Jesus spoke about the last and the first – or those at the ‘bottom’ of the social heap, and those at the ‘top’ of it. In Matthew 20: 10 – 16 NRSV:
‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
Jesus topsy turvy kingdom has always profoundly spoken to me in my own calling of standing for and with the most marginalised : how God upends human systems of power and privilege, and puts the very least (in the eyes of the world) at the very top.
In the context of the work of feminism, I wondered, what might that look like?
Feminism has, through it’s many evolutions and theories, sought to challenge and dismantle the patriarchal and kyriarchal structures which diminish and oppress women in the many and varied ways which it exerts it’s oppression and rabid authority. Feminism, whether driven by intellectual theory or grass roots activism, is built on ‘calling out’ the harmful and violent expressions of patriarchy. It might be street harassment, rape and intimate partner violence or equal pay; it might be purity culture, victim blaming, or challenging an on line article or news story.
Whatever it is, feminism is born of the need to ‘call out’ patriarchy: to challenge it, stand up to it, and to demand it relinquish its grip on society.
There are subtle ways in which patriarchy exerts itself, and how it does so has changed over time: this was brought in to stark relief to me recently during a conversation with a friend whom I have known for some years. It came up that – for her – the word ‘queer’ has incredibly negative connotations, but not because she is homophobic, quite the opposite. Having watched a close family member have to cope with what used to be called ‘queer bashing’, having loved and supported them unconditionally, her understanding of that word is within an abusive context.
Now, for myself and many others who identify as queer, the reclaiming that has occurred of that word is positive and life giving: but not for my friend. That word brings threats of danger and abuse to the family member she loves dearly. Two or three decades ago, being LGBT and hearing that word called out would have frozen you with fear down to your very marrow. (Actually, sometimes I am not sure that has changed so very much).
When she raised this with me, my first reaction could have been even more damaging – I could have simply told her not to be silly, that the word meant something positive now: but that would have been to erase her experience and that of her much loved gay family member who endured such horrible abuse.
In one simple sense, this is what it all comes down to: recognising the experience of another human being, acknowledging their own story and their own hurt and respecting that. Had I overlaid my own experience of that word on to her, I would have hurt her tremendously – but by stepping back, by hearing her without pre-conceptions, by simply saying ‘sorry’ for using that word (whatever my intention) our conversation (which could have been hurtful to both of us) was instead encouraging and uplifting for us both.
And we knew each other much better.
Suppose for a moment, that you are cis gender and a transgender woman is trying to explain to you why she feels erased by other women – what should your first reaction be, as a human being? To listen to her – or to ask her to put her own feelings aside and prioritise your feelings?
Perhaps you are white, and a black person or person of colour is trying to explain why something you did not acknowledge as racist or appropriative, is exactly that – what should your first reaction be, as a human being?
Perhaps you are straight, and a person who is gay or bi-sexual is trying to explain something about their experience of the world which you do not understand – what should your first reaction be, as a human being?
You might be a man, wondering if women are spending too much time complaining about how they are treated – but when so many are treated with violence, verbally, physically and emotionally, should that be your first reaction as a human being?