Autumn is drip dripping down my window pane and in true back-to-school spirit, I fully intend to drag myself out of my near-total blogging hiatus, with a few interesting developments on the way. But to get us started, this week we can revisit an old favourite.
As you may have seen, I had a piece in the Guardian yesterday, the latest volley in the ongoing campaign to drag some clarity out of the Crown Prosecution Service over the figures they describe – wrongly – as Violence Against Women and Girls.
As a brief recap for anyone joining this story late, last summer around 30 of us, including some of the most distinguished and respected charity heads and academics in the field of men’s welfare, signed an open letter criticising the CPS for presenting statistics on VAWG that secretly included many thousands of men and boys – around one in six of all victims. In the aftermath the UK Statistics Authority got involved, echoing our concerns. They instructed the CPS to rewrite the report with more honest clarity and also chided them, not only for the way the report had been written but also for the way the statistics had been presented to the press and, from there, to the public.
The re-written report was an improvement but, unsurprisingly, a bit of a cobbled together mess. The real test of progress would come in 2016 with the publication of the next annual report.
So, on Tuesday this week the new annual report was published. As my Guardian piece yesterday points out, it is still hugely problematic. Male victims are still being described and quantified under categories of crime called ‘Violence Against Women and Girls.’ Nonetheless there has undoubtedly been a massive step forward. Not only does the front page explicitly state “inclusive of data on men and boys” but (crucially) within the report itself, the gender ratios of victims and perpetrators are now stated clearly. So it becomes transparent that, for example, the victims of ‘trafficking and prostitution-related crimes’ are 60% female, 40% male; nearly a quarter of victims of ‘honour crimes’ are boys or men, as are one in six victims of domestic abuse. Anyone taking trouble to read the report would be left in no doubt that male victims are a significant minority of the crimes under discussion.
There is, unfortunately, another twist in this tale.
Reports like this tend to circulate in draft form for a few days or even weeks before they come out, and they are always accompanied by a note of strict embargo. I had a sneaky glimpse of the report before it was published, on a promise that I would tell no one before 00.01am on Tuesday September 6th. The actual report and the accompanying media release (dutifully including the important caveat that 17% of the victims in the data were men and boys) emerged sometime around 10am that morning – but that wasn’t when the news broke.
At about 10pm on the Monday night, two hours before the embargo elapsed and 12 hours before the report was published, the Guardian ran a long news story which took its information not from the report or even the press release, but directly from an interview with the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders herself. She had spoken to the paper’s reporter Sandra Laville, talking about the rise in prosecutions, the new offences of coercive control and revenge pornography and much else besides. One thing she appears to have failed to mention is… yes, you’ve guessed it…. that the statistics for victims of violence against women and girls do in fact include men and boys.
Late on Monday night I stared in incredulity as Twitter and Facebook began to circulate and animatedly discuss the details of the latest statistics on violence against women and girls. When I switched on my PC the next morning, the CPS report and press release still hadn’t been published, however all the leading newspapers and broadcasters including the BBC and Sky had already prepared and run their own news stories, quoting not the report, not the CPS press office, but the Guardian’s exclusive. Virtually none of them (the Mirror appeared to be the only exception) contained even a passing mention of the fact that the ‘women and girls’ in these statistics included male victims.
What happened next is predictable. By the time the actual press release and report were published, the journalists had already covered the issue and moved on to other stories. When the opinion writers and pundits lined up for the commentary pieces, of course they took their information from the news reports, not the actual publication.
I will leave it to you to decide whether you think this sorry story is a case of calculated skulduggery deliberately designed to cynically mislead the public about the true nature of so-called violence against women and girls, or lazy indifference to the actual facts. The most charitable explanation is that those involved were merely trying to convey a strong narrative about the problem of VAWG and didn’t want to confuse their audiences with inconvenient statistical details. Neither version should be considered acceptable.
The reasons why the CPS were obliged to rewrite their VAWG report last year were strong and irrefutable, and that is why our campaign was so quickly successful. However this sorry tale has revealed that obliging public bodies to recognise the existence of male victims of sexual violence, abuse and exploitation only gets you so far. For as long as the individuals involved continue to show abject indifference to the needs and wishes of male survivors, those men and boys will remain nothing more than an awkward afterthought.