Biopower: Joining the dots from sexual violence to genital mutilation

My current dead-tree companion is Amalendu Misra’s new book The Landscape of Silence: Sexual Violence Against Men in War. it is a fine, scholarly work that documents the gruesome extent of sexual violation of men and boys through history, but mostly in current and recent conflicts, from the Congo and the Balkans to Latin America and Abu Ghraib. More importantly Misra, a senior policics lecturer at the University of Lancaster, attempts to contextualise, theorise and (as is the current academic fashion) ‘problematise’ the phenomenon.

A key question in this area is why warring parties so often resort to sexualised torture, abuse and mutilation when objectively speaking, it would be much more quick and simple to put a bullet in the head of their victim? One central answer to that question, Misra suggests, is Foucault’s concept of biopower. [Read more…]

Why Corbyn’s silent National Anthem does actually matter

The idiocy of the British media over the past few days has been hysterical, in both senses. It is rather ironic that after all the dire warnings about Jeremy Corbyn taking us back to the eighties, it has actually been the media doing that, recreating a ridiculous moral panic over Michael Foot’s choice of coat at the Cenotaph with all the enthusiasm and attention to detail of a chapter of the Sealed Knot. This is so like living through 1982 again that I am contemplating popping down to the bookies and putting a tenner on Renée and Renato to be Christmas number one.

Like most on the left, I have spent the past 12 hours or so laughing and shaking my head at the silliness of it all. However last night, as I laid my head on my pillow and turned out the lights, it suddenly occurred to me that I was wrong. This is not just Hanna-Barbera silliness, Corbyn declining to move his lips along to the National Anthem does actually matter. It is important. It is deeply symbolic. Just not in the way that everyone from the Sun to the BBC is insisting. [Read more…]

A vibrator can’t mow the lawn: On the ethics of sex robots

Niska was definitely my favourite character in Channel 4’s recent sci-fi drama, Humans. She was the beautiful but terrifyingly violent synthetic lifeform who applied her emergent consciousness to wreak dreadful retribution on the more sadistic and perverted homo sapiens.

Her victims had not been abusing other people, but insentient ‘synths’. Nonetheless it was hard to resist cheering as she beat seven shades out of the customers at a ‘smash club’, who had paid hard cash to physically brutalise synthetic humans or the customer in a neo-brothel who wanted her to adopt the persona of a small child while he raped her.
I thought of Niska when reading about the launch of the Campaign Against Sex Robots. Initiated by academic ethicist Dr Kathleen Richardson of Leicester’s De Montfort University, the campaign asserts that: “robots are a product of human consciousness and creativity and human power relationships are reflected in the production, design and proposed uses of these robots. As a result, we oppose any efforts to develop robots that will contribute to gender inequalities in society.”

Most science fiction in this realm, from Westworld and Blade Runner to Humans, focuses on the development of artificial consciousness, a prospect which remains so distant as to be almost irrelevant. However the development of sex robots which simulate consciousness and human interaction is already with us, albeit in rough and ready early stages. A company is already manufactiuring ‘Roxxxy’ – marketed as the world’s first sex robot, and claims the order book is full already. It is this type of development, Richardson argues, which may bolster traditional gender stereotypes of women as a ‘sex class’ as radical feminist theory would posit.

This may seem far fetched. There is, after all, no obvious moral demarcation between the synthetic robot, the rubber sex doll and the humble vibrator. Some will argue that the hi-tech sex robot is nothing more than an expensive masturbation aid and therefore harmless if not outright healthy. This argument begins to crumble when one considers the ethics of a sex robot with the appearance and mannerisms of a young child. I’m sure I am not alone in finding that concept repulsive and distressing. Why? Because these issues are not just simply utilitarian, but cut to the essence of our sense of self. It is precisely our ability to exercise restraint and responsibility which, in large part, comprises our shared humanity. The argument against sex robots is less to do with how we abuse an inanimate object than in how we risk degrading ourselves in the process.

That said, I have some serious concerns with the positions set out by Richardson and her colleagues. Central to her argument is that the development of sex robots replicates the dynamics of prostitution. The problem with asserting that a sex robot is akin to a prostitute is the corollary – it implies that a sex worker is little more than a robot, devoid of agency or, crucially, the ability to consent. This will not only be considered deeply offensive and ignorant by sex workers themselves, but strikes me as a profoundly dangerous line of thinking when there are still those around who seem to believe a sex worker cannot withdraw consent or be raped.

It is rarely wise or effective to reach for a legal ban when considering new frontiers of technology and human sexuality. I won’t be signing up to the Campaign Against Sex Robots any time soon. Nonetheless I am grateful there are those wrestling with the ethics of these developments while the lovely Niska resides safely in fiction.

Has Chicago Sun-Times published the worst article about sexual violence ever written?

On Satuday, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell published an article that on first reading made me feel physically, viscerally sick. By the next morning my shock had drifted into anger and outrage. Only today, another 24 hours on, could I consider it with enough of a calm head to try to figure out what the hell the author is talking about and to unpick her logic. When I did, I found that if anything her argument gets worse. [Read more…]

Making a Dent in the narrative

At the risk of labouring the point, I read the first sentence in Grace Dent’s Independent column today and almost gave myself a black eye, so hard was I facepalming. Here it is, in all its glory;

It seems doubtless to me that the staggering rise in reported sex assaults in primary and secondary schools – more than 5,500alleged sex assaults, on boys as well as girls, in three years – goes hand-in-hand with the unfettered availability of extremely hardcore pornography to minors.

I spelled out a lot of this last time, but let me bring it together with a bit more info, because it is really quite remarkable that one single sentence can be so wrong in so many ways.  [Read more…]

Sexual offending in schools: Looking beyond the Dramatic Big Number

Last month, Anthony Reuben came to the end of an experimental 18 month contract at the BBC. His job had been Head of Statistics, and included training and advising BBC reporters on how to understand and present numerical issues. The end of his tenure was commemorated with a nice little profile at the Online Journalism blog.

Many stories that reporters get, he notes, are ‘big number’ stories which appeared to be striking but require the journalist to scrutinise further to establish whether the numbers really were striking when placed in context.

It is rather a pity Reuben didn’t stay in post for just a few weeks longer, then we might have been spared the dog’s dinner of a story which featured prominently on most BBC news broadcasts yesterday.

The headline, duly replicated in most newspapers, is captured here. “School sex crime reports in UK top 5,500 in three years.” As the broadcasts filled out the details, it was described as “a national emergency.” [Read more…]

Open thread: Normal service shall resume shortly

Hello strangers!

Happy to confirm that I have not fallen off a cliff, and that with kids returning to school and some kind of long-forgotten routine casually sidling up to me on the sofa, normal HetPat service shall resume shortly.

I have a couple of issues just bubbling up to the surface for proper blog posts, but in the meantime, I thought I’d welcome in the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness with a quick open thread.

To get you started, here’s a comment that sonofrojblake just left under my previous post. [Read more…]

Sex in Class, boys, girls and consent

Last night Channel 4 showed a new documentary, Sex In Class. 

It followed Belgian sex educator Goedele Liekens as she brought her frank and explicit classroom methods, normally delivered in the Netherlands, to a group of 15/16 year-olds at a state secondary school in Accrington, Lancashire.

The programme was great in many ways, demonstrating not only the desperate need for full and proper sex and relationships education in British schools, but also the effectiveness and enormous benefits of the Dutch approach. Where the film fell short was not in what it portrayed, but what it didn’t.

Of course the documentary had been made from many weeks filming and edited down into 47 minutes, so this is not necessarily a criticism of Liekens, but there were a couple of troubling omissions from the final cut. [Read more…]

CPS and male victims, the UK Statistics Authority gets involved

[If you are new to this saga, you may wish to catch up here, here, here and here.]


At the time we sent our letter to the Guardian, I also sent on a copy and a few additional remarks to the UK Statistics Authority, as a formal report.

The UKSA is an independent body set up by legal statute to oversee official statistics and ensure that all public bodies adhere to a Code of Practice that demands accuracy, transparency, accessibility etc in all official reports. I suggested the UKSA might wish to have a look at the CPS report into Violence Against Women and Girls. [Read more…]