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 hard to know where to start in describing just how harmful your tweets – expressing your attitude toward former footballers like Andy Woodward and Steve Walters who have so bravely talked about the abuse they endured – are.
In your interview on television this morning, you chose (eventually) to apologise for ‘offending’ people. Let me be immediately clear – what you (and many of your followers in response) expressed was actively harmful to victims of abuse: whatever ‘intention’ you may claim to have in wanting victims to come forward, your attitudes will be doing exactly the opposite. Your view (shared by so many) is part of the reason systemic abuse continues. Let me explain.
Whilst your tweets are not newsworthy, and should not have been treated as such, what they express is a very real homophobia that permeates attitudes toward both victims of abuse, and their abusers. However, as a public figure, your comments are bound to garner attention, and should therefore be addressed.
Your reference to abusers as ‘poofs’ (which you clarified after originally referring to them as ‘paedo’s’) illustrates both an ignorance of abusive behaviour and abuser dynamics: homosexuality plays no role in this. It may surprise you to learn that abusers are not primarily seeking sexual gratification, which is a by-product of (not the driver for) abuse. What abusers seek is power, and control, and children are easy targets for such people.
Similarly, the sexuality (or the perceived sexuality) of the child is not why the child is targeted by the abuser – but a child who is gay and is being abused will be suffering not only the terror of abuse, but the scorn of people like yourself because here too, you reveal your homophobia toward the victims themselves. LGBT children are particularly vulnerable to bullying and isolation. More than half of LGBT children and teenagers report being bullied for the sexual orientation. 96% report hearing homophobic comments like ‘poof’ (a word you are happy to use publicly) or ‘lezza’. 99% will hear comments like ‘that’s so gay’ in reference to something which is broken or defective.
Think about that for a moment, wont you?
By invoking so strongly a reaction to abuse which is rooted in false notions about sexuality, what you are really saying is ‘I am not an abuser, I am not a victim because I am not gay‘. You are distancing yourself from a perception of homosexuality because you are homophobic.
You did not ‘mis-speak’ when you used the word ‘wimps’ Mr Bristow. Your meaning was entirely clearly in the full context of what you said, and you seem happy to let the word ‘poof’ remain unacknowledged.
How then, does this encourage a child who is terrified for their life (and almost certainly the lives of their loved ones, given the type of threats typically made by abusers), to come forward?
Victim Blaming & Shaming:
There are simply no circumstances whatsoever in which the victim of abuse is ever responsible for the abusers behaviour – and this absolutely includes any past and future abuse perpetrated, whether the victim reports the abuse or not.
Many victims take years to report what has happened to them, precisely because there is an insidious belief that victims are ultimately responsible both for the abuse the suffered – and any future assaults perpetrated by their abuser.
Many of the following beliefs were clearly stated by you, or re-tweeted by you, in the last 36 hours:
“If they hadn’t been hanging around smoking/drinking/with the wrong crowd…”
“They were too sexually knowing for their age…”
“They should have spoken up sooner…”
“If they don’t report it, why should they expect justice?”
“If [male victims] were ‘real men’ they would have [insert ridiculous notion here]…”
In your particular case, being that the focus was on the male victims of a predatory serial abuser, the aggressiveness with which you expressed your view that they should ‘spoken sooner’, or sought out a chance to beat up the abuser, told those victims (and children currently suffering abuse) that it was, simply, their fault. The implicit and explicit assumption is that ‘real men’ don’t get abused.
What the hell is a ‘real man’ anyway?
Particularly for male victims, the context of what you both said and encouraged with re-tweets was so toxic in its expression of masculinity that I have to take really quite a deep breath at this point, because you clearly have absolutely no idea how abusive this is – or how it helps to enable both abuse of boys, and prevent help and healing being given.
Have you any idea what it is like to watch your sons agony and distress when they get told to ‘man up’ because they are expressing emotions or attitudes not considered ‘manly’ enough? Because they dare to be something other than a crude stereotype of ‘masculinity’? To watch the men that we love struggle in relationships, with mental health problems, because they feel shame that they might need help?
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.
I also recommend that you read this by Scott Burnett, since Fry’s attack on trigger warnings and ‘infantilism’ was in the first instance focussed on the #RhodesMustFall campaign, which has been repeatedly misrepresented in the media and elsewhere by white British intellectuals and media commentators.
I am angry – it’s the kind of anger that initially flows like burning lava from the volcano and radiates heat for days and weeks afterward. I am angry because people with large media platforms, influence, power and the privilege that affords are repeatedly berating victims and survivors of abuse and rape for using – and requesting the use of – trigger warnings and content notes for written, oral and visual materials that reference abuse and rape. This has been largely directed at university students, but is increasingly common in public discourse and on social media. We are told that to use and request these is to want to be treated like children. We are berated for how they, supposedly, make debate and the free flow of ideas more difficult. We are accused of threatening their free speech.
What I hear is: “You victims are a problem. The way you say you need to manage your lives as a result of this abuse is an issue for us. It’s inconvenient, its troublesome. You are inconvenient – you are troublesome.”
And some of the strongest, most intelligent and generous people I know are having to justify something that they should never have to.
Like many others, I need trigger warnings and content notes. Their existence means I am less likely to experience panic attacks, nausea, migraines, nightmares or night terrors or – conversely – insomnia. All or some of those things happen when I experience flash backs to the abuse that was done to me as a child, or the rape and intimate partner violence I endured at the hands of an ex partner, or the emotional and psychological abuse I experienced during my marriage.
These things are real. They happened – and they had a profound effect on my mental health. Trigger warnings and content notes don’t change the reality of the abuse and violence I have encountered: very simply, they advise me that something I am about to read or see or hear might trigger those effects on my mental health that were the result of the assaults, violence and psychological abuse. Using them means I am more able to, for example, think clearly, unencumbered by panic attacks or nightmares.
They do not tell me I am going to be bloody offended.
Stephen Fry is a national icon. People love him – they love him for his bon viveur, his wit and his intelligence. He’s the host of choice for the BAFTA’s, for all those reasons. He makes intellectualism accessible. He has also been, for three years, the president of MIND, the best known mental health charity in the UK: following his own very public mental health battles, people now look to him as the public face – and voice – of awareness of mental health issues. When Stephen Fry talks about mental health, people trust that what he’s saying is right.
It should therefore be startlingly simple to understand (with a bit of clear thinking), that when Stephen Fry says that the feelings of abuse victims are ‘self pity’ and that ‘self pity’ is an ugly emotion, that a great many people will take on board the idea that victims and survivors are full of self pity and therefore ugly: and that is an outright lie.
One more lie to add the lies and myths about and abuse that we are constantly having to fight: because make no mistake, victims and survivors don’t just have to manage the results of what the abusers did – we have to do so in the face of a society that finds countless and innumerable ways to blame us, shame us, and at the same time, disbelieve us.
Yet understanding what trigger warnings are is not rocket science. Victims and survivors of abuse are not the only ones who need trigger warnings, and trigger warnings come in many forms – a warning about flashing lights before a television programme for example is helpful to those who suffer particular types of seizure.
Fry’s ‘apology’ for his words, therefore, ring hollow because we were not ‘offended’ by what he said. But horrified? Yes – horrified that someone whom the public trust to deliver factual information about mental health should say something which damages public perceptions and understandings of a community of people who already face from society such a lack of understanding and support. Fry’s words were not offensive. They were destructive and damaging.
What amazes me – when I see and hear all these supposedly clever people complain that ‘free speech’ is being attacked or that trigger warnings (and safe spaces) prevent people from being able to think (when the reverse is in fact the truth of the situation) – is that they are apparently not clever enough to find new and different ways to talk and think and grow ideas that do not, in the process, repeatedly re-traumatise victims and survivors.
“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.
A young 15 year old girl gets a crush on a teacher. She makes her crush known to the teacher concerned, a married man who has one child with his wife and another on the way. Instead of making sensible choices in order to protect the child, he chooses instead to use the girl’s crush and abuse her trust in him: he has sex with her (a problem because she is 15 and he is an adult) at the school and at his home. Because she has a crush on the teacher, the girl believes the activity to be acceptable. She wants to ‘feel special’ – like many young vulnerable girls, she wants to feel loved. She ascribes romantic ideals to the ‘relationship’ and says it was ‘written in the stars’.
The teacher denies it and calls the girl a liar. Her ‘friends’ call her a ‘stalker’. The judge calls her manipulative, and also says that she is a ‘stalker’ who groomed the teacher.
The teacher is described as a ‘well respected man’, of ‘exemplary character’, that he was ‘under pressure’ and ‘gave in to temptation’.
And once again the sympathy, focus and attention is given to the abuser, whilst adults who should know better think that the child who was exploited by the adult because of her crush is somehow in possession of special powers; that she is, in fact, assumed to have power because of the adults desire to exploit her. She is not understood as, treated as or respected for being the victim.
The teacher is even affirmed by the judge, and the media frame the abusive, exploitative behaviour of an adult male as an affair – as a forbidden relationship that got found out.
She was 15. If anyone truly believes that a grown man’s desire to exploit her for his personal benefit somehow gives her ‘power’ in that dynamic, then you need to ask yourself why you think that.
This post is one of the most personal I have written, and yet at the same time is not really about me. Nevertheless it discusses rape so I urge you first and foremost to take care of yourselves.
I am cis-gendered. When gender and genitals, or gender and sex, are conflated, it is not I who is hurt by it. By sharing this, my small hope is that I can help and support – not hinder or speak for or over – the transgender sisters, gender queer and gender fluid folk whose identities are too often questioned . (If I fail to get that balance right, please tell me.) There is another woman I want particularly to stand in solidarity with today too…
@Martiabernathey A woman who has been raped or otherwise violated or threatened with a penis has fair reason to feel unsafe around penises.
Although I don’t follow the writer Sarah Ditum on twitter, I saw this tweet a little while after she had sent it, and for some time now it has been on my mind – or rather, how to frame a response to it has been on my mind. Whilst I had been aware of a feminism that framed rape in such a context I had rarely seen it put so bluntly. However I wasn’t sure if I could find the language for how it troubled me, without either attacking Ditum (which would be counter productive and needless given that we had almost no previous interaction), or talking over the transgender women whose narrative is their own to frame.
Tacking rape culture – calling it out, speaking up, joining my voices with other women’s to challenge it and break it down to help work toward a society where everyone can live more safely – is something I have been doing more and more recently. There are many reasons why I have become more engaged in that conversation, not the least of them being that I was raped repeatedly by a former boyfriend during an abusive relationship. More accurately, it was less to do with the fact of being raped than it was about not being believed, and the attitudes which I (like so many other women) have faced as we struggle to process when they try and deal with what has happened to them.
I chose not to report what happened. We weren’t living together, and it was harder even than now for women raped by their partners to get justice: marital rape had only just become illegal following the 1991 R v R ruling, and the prevailing attitude within law enforcement to domestic abuse and rape not exactly encouraging. Yet whilst I knew that the chances of a conviction were remote, this was not the prevailing reason why I chose not to report.
One of the things which I am most grateful to twitter for is how it has helped me both re-engage with my feminism, and helped to confront within myself both how white and cis-normative it had been. My relationship with feminism (not unlike many women) has been complicated, and it was my Christian faith which also played a big part in helping to re-frame it. Like many women of faith, we find no contradiction at all between the call of Christ and our feminism. And like Christ, the call of standing with and for ‘the least of these’ sharpens both our praxis and narrative as feminists.
And whilst I struggle to understand why some people want to define women in conservative ways, and deny to women who they are because of being assigned male at birth, I have to be honest and say that it was not for that reason initially that Ditum’s tweet bothered me so much. Nor was it the fact that my ex-boyfriend also used numerous objects to rape me with, although memories reared their head when I read it. It was because it was so entirely at odds with what I thought even the most ardent anti-trans feminist understood: that rape is not a crime of sex, but a crime based of the abuse of power.
My ex raped me. He could have chosen not to. He could have chosen to walk away, to sod off somewhere and find a more constructive channel for his never-ending quest for control; he chose instead to manipulate me and demonstrate power over me. He could have chosen to question why he wanted those things, he could have chosen to explore within himself why he wanted my humiliation through repeated violations, rather than my comfort and happiness.
Instead he made a choice to hurt me because that was what he wanted. His penis didn’t make that decision. He did. Reducing men’s decision to rape to the random behaviour of a set of genitalia diminishes what rape is, and makes it harder for its victims to name the problem and reclaim the agency and autonomy being raped has taken from them.
But I am not the only woman who has been raped, for whom such penis-orientated attitudes have made the ability to find comfort and community so much harder, even amongst other women. In a sense, Ditum’s comment was just the visible tip of the iceberg of dangerous and bad assumptions which make it harder for women to be believed, even by other women.
But the truly appalling aspect of this is not that McCullum is transgender. It is that that focus on this aspect (which happened because feminists forgot what rape is truly about), took away the support that should have been accorded to her wife.
When we think that rape is about genitals and sex, we don’t just make stopping it harder. We make it harder for the victim, for the one person we are supposed to be there for. I know that we all want rape to stop. We all want rape culture dismantled so that the women and children on the receiving end of rape and abuse to be safer than we were. We want rapes victims to have all the support they deserve so that they can heal.
But we won’t do that if we are not honest, with ourselves and with each other. If we want to ‘name the problem’ then we actually have to understand it so that we can name it correctly: it was a man who raped me, not a penis; and it was a woman who raped M, not a penis. The name of the problem is not ‘penis’.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” George Orwell
Freedom of speech – that is, the right to express an opinion without restraint, or fear of being censored – is something which people value. The fundamental ability to be able to give voice to our individuality, to speak what we think without fear of sanctions, intimidation or threats of violence, and express beliefs however unpopular, is something we all prize.
Given that this is a right that white cis-gendered men have little problem accessing here in the West, and a right that they have indeed taken for granted, the irony of a privileged white man voicing concerns that freedom of speech is under attack because some women have called out a rape myth is.. well, really very unedifying . As trans* and cis gendered women on the internet know only too well, being able to speak without fear of being targeted by people who have no problem threatening them physically and sexually, and abusing them on the grounds of gender, race and sexuality is still a right which has yet to be acknowledged – let alone accorded.
However it is specifically his remarks at the start of last nights ‘This Week’ programme – on which he is a weekly panellist – that I am addressing.
Essentially Portillo felt that the ‘twittersphere’ (who by implication are some sort of nameless mob) had levered an apology by itimidation from the BBC for Michael Buerke’s remarks, that this was an issue of free speech which the BBC had a duty to preserve, and that these storms of protest acted to limit what people could say.[Note: Once it is available on iPlayer again (for some reason it is currently not available), you will be able to listen to what he says, but I think that what I have given here is a fair summation.]
First – and foremost – the reason that Michael Buerke’s comments caused such upset and were rightly challenged both by individuals and groups such as Rape Crisis and Ending Victimisation and Blame, was because they are well worn, and highly damaging, rape myths which effectively lay the blame for the rape on the behaviour of the victim. In the context of the way in which victims of rape generally – and the woman raped by Ched Evans specifically in this particular instance – face condemnation and judgement because of those myths, challenging comments which were at best insensitive was the right thing to do.
In order to live in a world where everyone can be safe and free, and individuals free to speak, there are times where we must understand where our priorities lay – and we must not be afraid to stand by those priorities. The BBC were right to issue an apology.