Is femicide a leading global cause of premature deaths for women?

There is much in Neil Lyndon’s latest missive that is ill-informed, ignorant or downright ugly.

Under ill-informed, file his claim that since 2.5% of women experienced some form of sexual assault in the past year, according to Crime Survey of England and Wales, it cannot be true that one in three women worldwide is subject to sexual violence. Not only does this fail to allow for the fact that women’s experiences in this country may be far, far from typical of the global picture, it is simply bad maths. If you doubt me, imagine a hundred women evenly spread in ages between 16 – 66. Ask them how many of them had a 16th birthday in the last year? Then ask them how many have ever had a 16th birthday? Only 2% will answer yes to the first question, but 100% to the second.  Since sexual violence happens vastly disproportionately to younger victims, you should easily see how that analogy works.

Under ignorant, file the anecdata about how he has asked all the women in his life and none of them have been sexually assaulted. I very much hope that is true, but Neil, purrlease. We know that a huge proportion of sexual assault survivors tell virtually (or literally) nobody about the attack, and from what I know of him through his writing, I’d suggest that Neil Lyndon might not be top of any woman’s list of potential confidantes. As if to demonstrate the point:

I am nearly 70 years old. In the whole of my life, I have only known two women who claimed to have been raped. Both of them were disbelieved by their own women friends who reckoned the soi-disant victims were making up stories that couldn’t be verified to dramatise their lives.

As I say, ugly. Downright ugly.

That said, there is a question he raises which deserves an answer.

Last month a report in The Independent claimed that “Femicide has been identified globally as a leading a cause of premature death for women” and called for “increasing awareness and understanding of male violence”.

In neither instance does the writer stop to ask, “Can these claims possibly be true? Are these figures backed-up by my own experience and the evidence of my own eyes? Do they tally with the society in which I have grown up and now live? Are they verified by objective research?”

In fact there is an answer available to that question, and in broad terms no, it is not true.

There is a degree of wriggle room in the original claim – what do we mean by “leading cause”? What do we mean by “premature death” etc. However there is something approaching objective research on this question. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research centre at the University of Washington, collates the best available global data on causes of mortality and morbidity worldwide. You can search the Global Burden of Disease data here. If we use an age cut off at 49 as a proxy for ‘premature death’ then the table for women’s cause of death looks like this: [click to enlarge]

IPMortality

Now a little bit of caution is needed here, because the categories are not discrete, some are compounds of others. Most notably there is one category for interpersonal violence, another for self-harm (ie suicide) and another for “self-harm and interpersonal violence” however the last of those is merely a tally of the other two. There are also a variety of overlapping causes (particularly several different HIV/Aids related categories). Even tidied up a bit though, it would be a stretch to claim that interpersonal violence was even in the top 25 causes of younger women’s deaths worldwide.

As we often hear phrases used like “ever-growing epidemic of violence against women” it is probably also worth pointing out that the data show a steady but consistent decline over the past twenty years, for both women and men.

IPMortalityGraph

If instead of asking for mortality figures one searches the data for ‘Disability-adjusted life years’ (the preferred measure of morbidity) interpersonal violence does not even figure in the top 50 for women aged 15- 49. I couldn’t even fit the table readably on a single screen to get an image grab.

There have been various bits of research conducted over the years which show much higher rates of death and morbidity caused by various forms of violence against women, even if when examined, they often show far less conclusive (and less arresting) findings than campaigners claim.  It is also important to understand that these are raw figures which could be riven with pollutants, inaccuracies and absent data. For example, there could be a huge number of suicides which arise as a direct consequence of gender-based violence but which do not present as such in the figures. In parts of the world where domestic violence and so-called honour crimes are commonplace there may be huge numbers of homicides being categorised as “accidental deaths” or whatever.

Nonetheless, the IHME data is considered the best available guide to causes of global mortality and morbidity, and even if we were to arbitrarily decide to double the known  figure for women’s deaths by interpersonal violence, it still wouldn’t be accurate to say that femicide is one of the leading causes of women’s premature deaths worldwide.

 

So why was anonymity for rape defendants scrapped in 1988?

With the debate around anonymity for rape defendants resurfacing yet again, it is worth remembering that the UK had a long experiment with the policy not so long ago. When anonymity for alleged rape victims was introduced in 1976, it was accompanied by anonymity for defendants. The policy stayed in place until 1988 when the laws changed, strengthening anonymity for complainants and abolishing it for defendants. [Read more…]

The fifty boys who were abused, exploited and raped, and how nobody gives a damn

I’m sure this week you will have read the horrifying details drawn from the serious case review by Oxfordshire Council.

The Guardian reported it like this.

“Professionals blamed Oxfordshire girls for their sexual abuse, report finds”

The Mirror: “Oxfordshire child abuse: 373 girls may have been victims of ‘indescribably awful’ sex exploitation”

The Express: ‘Police force is ashamed’ Up to 373 girls may have been sex abuse victims in Oxfordshire

Daily Mail “Hundreds of girls may have been sexually exploited after authorities repeatedly failed to tackle grooming gangs”

I had BBC radio on for much of the day on Tuesday, and every news bulletins carried updates on the hundreds of girls who had been abused in Oxford.

The story was prominent and consistent across every newspaper, every broadcaster, every news website. Hundreds of girls had been horribly abused, and horribly let down by the authorities.

There was one exception. Someone at the BBC local news site in Oxfordshire was actually doing his or her job.
“Of the 373 cases, the council said about 50 victims were boys.”

The rest of the media (with the exception of the Mirror who carried the fact in a follow-up report) entirely ignored this detail. Almost one in seven of the child abuse victims in Oxford has been almost completely expunged from history, like inconvenient faces in Stalin’s photo album.

This is an appalling, shameful failure by the media. Imagine for one moment that you are one of those desperate young men who was victimised by grooming gangs, raped, abused, exploited, and who had the courage to recount your experiences to investigators, authorities or police. Then you open a newspaper or turn on the radio or television to be told that you do not exist. Your abuse did not happen. What message would you take from that except that nobody gives a damn about you?

Compounding that horror, there are countless thousands, even millions of male survivors of child sexual abuse who are now accustomed to being marginalised, sidelined and ignored by authorities and the media. Their invisibility becomes a vicious circle – when people think of victims of sexual abuse they do not think of boys, so when policies are designed to prevent abuse or help survivors they are not designed with boys in mind, which simply feeds the belief that such survivors do not exist.

This is not the first time I have blogged about abused boys being simply made to vanish, but I think it may be the most egregious, appalling instance I have ever encountered. My heart, my love and my utmost admiration goes out to the 320 girls who were so grievously exploited and horribly failed, and to the 50 boys who were treated likewise, but are now not even afforded the dignity of acknowledgement.

It is days like this which make me ashamed to be a journalist.

A media magic trick – making abused boys vanish

Though they made for grim reading, I was not especially surprised to see press reports this week about the European Commission-funded research into relationship violence among 13 to 17-year-olds. It is well-established that teenagers and young people are, by some distance, at greatest risk. A study in 2009 found that one in three teenage girls had experienced sexual abuse by a boyfriend and one in four had suffered physical violence. So the latest headlines that four in ten English girls had been coerced into sexual activity are depressing but far from revelatory.

Nor was I particularly surprised by the gender-focus of the news coverage. It is a plain fact that a lot of research into partner violence is under the auspices of a ‘violence against women and girls’ agenda. The only reference to boys in the Guardian’s report, to take only one example out of many, was this: “a high proportion of teenage boys regularly viewed pornography, and one in five harboured extremely negative attitudes towards women.” [Read more…]

Is it OK to give the Pope a smack?

As a distinguished commentator on matters of ethics and social science, I realise people often turn to me for guidance and advice on the pressing issues of the day. It is a burden I wear with forbearance and some small measure of pride. Today I turn to the pressing questions on everyone’s lips this bright February morning: Is it OK to give the Pope a smack?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about the wrong kind of violence here, the nasty kind that criminals and bad people dole out to those whom they think deserve it. After all, nobody wants to see God’s representative on Earth rolling around on the floor with blood spurting from a burst lip, his skull cap askew and his dignity round his ankles like a broken pair of longjohns. No, I’m talking about the nice kind of smack, one that isn’t in the face. You have to smack the Pope a bit, but never in the face, so as not to humiliate him.

How beautiful! To know that sense of dignity! You have to punish him, but you do it justly and move on. [Read more…]

Men and boys need positive consent policies too

My pals at InsideMan magazine asked me for my views on the recent guidelines sent to police investigators for rape trials. The piece I gave them is here, with some interesting comments and discussion underneath, but I thought I’d repost here for luck

 

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This week Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, announced that a new toolkit of rape investigation procedures is to be sent to police officers. The reaction from men around my digital neighbourhood on social media, comment threads and forums was pretty fierce – abusively angry at worst, concerned or worried at best.

The negative reactions were understandable, given the headlines. They were also misplaced. The proposals announced are I believe modest and necessary, they are also genuinely helpful not only to women and girls, but to men and boys.

First, the facts. Despite what you might have (reasonably) taken from some of the headlines, it is not true that those accused of rape must now produce proof that they had consent in order to defend themselves. Read through to the actual words of the DPP and what she said was:

“We want police and prosecutors to make sure they ask in every case where consent is the issue – how did the suspect know the complainant was saying yes and doing so freely and knowingly?”

If there is a scandal here, it is not that police investigators will be expected to ask such questions from now on – the scandal is that they might ever not have asked such a question in the past. [Read more…]

Domestic violence perpetrator programmes: A national scandal

Do domestic violence perpetrator programmes work in reducing violence and abuse?

No, says Julie Bindel.

Yes, says the University of Durham

Rehabilitation programmes for domestic violence perpetrators can work (12 January 2015)
The vast majority of men who abuse their partners stop their physical and sexual violence if they attend a domestic violence perpetrator programme, according to new research.

The research, led by Durham and London Metropolitan universities, suggests domestic violence perpetrator programmes (DVPPs) could play an important role in the quest to end domestic violence.

Steel yourself or take a seat – Julie Bindel is absolutely right. I agree with her. Cherish the moment, even if we have come to the same conclusion from very different directions. [Read more…]

Rolling Stone and UVA: How sensationalism has betrayed survivors of sexual violence

As things stand, we know virtually nothing about allegations of a gang rape at the University of Virginia. We know that there are now sufficient doubts about the accuracy of the original Rolling Stone cover story that the magazine editor has effectively retracted it. This does not mean, as some are now claiming, that the entire allegation was a hoax, a lie or a fiction. It is by no means certain that the woman known only as Jackie was not, in fact raped, either in the exact manner she described or with key divergences in detail. All we know is that there is an as yet unconfirmed report of a gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, and that the Rolling Stone editorial staff have made a quite egregious, unforgivable lapse in journalistic standards and ethics, one which is likely to leave lasting, perhaps permanent damage to their reputation as a magazine and, much more worryingly, serious damage to the credibility of survivors of sexual violence.

All of this is already being picked over and picked apart in forensic detail. Before that process gets too entrenched, I want to point out one key detail that should inform our understanding of this case and, more significantly, our understanding of how this case reflects every other allegation or report of rape and sexual assault. [Read more…]

Can we stomp on this rape myth now?

A news report in the Guardian today gives extensive airspace to Women Against Rape (WAR), a maverick feminist organisation which (despite its name) seems to devote vastly more time to campaigning on behalf of false accusers than against sexual assault, flavoured with the occasional bizarre foray into defending a fugitive alleged rapist.

Dramatically, the headline screams:

109 women prosecuted for false rape claims in five years

[Read more…]

Yes, we do need to talk about male violence

I was asked to contribute a piece to the series 100 Voices For Men which is being run by Inside Man in the run-up to International Men’s Day. You can read the original here, and there are loads and loads of interesting posts from right across the spectrum of the men’s sector.

But since this was firmly on HetPat territory, I thought I’d also repost here.

 

There is an exchange that plays out in the media on pretty much a daily basis. The moves have become so familiar we can see them performed almost as a ritual dance. In the aftermath of some tragic, violent incident – whether a mass shooting, a domestic homicide or a shocking sexual assault – a commentator with liberal or feminist leanings will describe the incident as an example of ‘male violence’ and, therefore, not just an isolated incident but part of a systematic pattern involving hundreds, thousands, millions of related incidents across the world each day.

There follows a storm of comments, social media updates and blogs as detractors – primarily but not exclusively male – throw up their digitised hands in horror and disgust. This is nothing to do with me! I’ve never killed anyone! Why are you blaming an entire gender for the crime of an individual?

The defensive reactions may be understandable, but are largely based on a misunderstanding. Saying that men have a problem with violence does not mean that all men are violent, any more than saying Britain has a problem with obesity means that all Britons are fat. In both examples, it means the phenomenon causes immense social harm and individual suffering, and occurs at levels far above those we should be willing to tolerate in a civilised society.

What about female perpetrators?  

Yes, women can also be violent, especially towards intimate partners and family members. However in recent years the men’s sector as a whole (and I include myself in that) has often become so fixated on demonstrating and documenting the extent of male victimisation at the hands of women that we may have lost sight of the bigger picture.

According to the UN’s estimates, there were more than 450,000 homicides globally last year. Not only were 95% of the killers male, so too were 80% of the victims. In England and Wales, 800,000 adult men were injured in a violent attack in 2013 and around three quarters of perpetrators were not their female partners, but other men. On the other side of the coin, around 37,000 men are in prison today as a consequence of their own violent behaviour. To deny or turn our eyes from the extent of men’s violence is to turn our backs on one of the most pressing and severe social and health issues facing men and boys across the world today.

Only once we acknowledge the scale of men’s violence can we begin to ask why it occurs. I suspect many people are uncomfortable with the suggestion that there is something inherently violent to masculinity. What we might instead call ‘male culture’ colours our attitudes to work and to leisure, to lifestyles and relationships, even to how we communicate and interact. That culture has too often included attitudes towards violence that are directly implicated in too much death and injury.

Are men conditioned to be violent? 

How many of us grew up believing that to be a man demanded that we be ‘tough’ and ‘hard,’ or in other words to be willing to endure and inflict violence? Such traits don’t always come easy, and too many boys still have them literally beaten into us by peers or, tragically, parents and other adults. Research has consistently shown that where formal or informal physical punishment is used, boys are beaten more regularly and more forcefully than girls.

At the same time, psychologists have long known the rough recipe for a violent adult. According to one study by MurrayStraus, a child who grows up in a family where the adults are violent to each other is almost three times as likely to display violent behaviour as others. Another study found that a child subjected to physical abuse who also witnesses violent behaviour at first hand is between five and nine times as likely to become an abusive adult. It is true that not all violent adults lived through an especially violent childhood, and absolutely vital to understand that many, many people who experienced violence and abuse in childhood will never harm anyone in turn. Neither fact, however, should obscure the truth that violent adults – by which we most commonly mean violent men – are not born, they are made.

Nor does male violence exist in isolation from other male-specific issues. Only once we acknowledge and face up to the reality of male violence can we begin to unpick the complex relationship between men’s emotional isolation and unaddressed mental health needs, our tendency to self-medicate or escape into excessive alcohol and drug use and from there, the intimate link between intoxication and violent behaviour.

No I am not being anti-male 

It is not anti-man or misandrist to acknowledge that our society brutalises men and boys to a sufficient degree that some will become brutes. On the contrary, I would argue the misandrist position is to claim that men’s violence is an inescapable law of nature, some relic of evolution or neurobiology. Testosterone does not breed violence, violence breeds violence, and the evidence, I am happy to say, is all around us. Current levels of violent crime remain distressing, but are a fraction of what they were 20 years ago. The vast majority of men are not violent and the numbers who are get smaller all the time.

As mentioned above, 800,000 men were wounded in violent attacks last year, but the same statistic in 1994/5 was 2.4 million. Domestic violence, as estimated by the Crime Survey of England and Wales, has dropped 78% over the same time frame. The same story is playing out across the developed world. Nor is it just the effect of increased prison populations keeping violent offenders out of harm’s way. The number of children and young people entering the criminal justice system (ie being caught for the first time) is at its lowest since records began. Meanwhile the fastest growing section of the prison population over the past few years has been the over 65s.

The explanations for this phenomenal social change are hotly debated by criminologists but one thing is for sure, male biology has not evolved in a couple of decades. It is likely there are a variety of social and even environmental factors involved, I would suggest that it is no coincidence that the least violent generation of young men in living memory is the first to have been raised in the era of the rights of the child, in schools and homes that have increasingly eschewed violent punishments, with anti-bullying policies and where the social acceptability of violence of all sorts has been challenged and rejected as never before.

There is little doubt that men today are less violent, less aggressive, less militaristic than we have been at any time in living memory but there is still a long way to go. The journey will be driven not just by policy and politics but by the desire of all women, children and men to live in a safer, more peaceful world and the principal beneficiaries will be men ourselves.