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…]

Update on the sentencing of male and female offenders

William Collins has published a response to my last blogpost, in which I criticised the conclusions he had drawn from analysis of sentencing statistics, and specifically his calculation that if men were sentenced to the same standards as women, there would be 68,000 fewer men in prison. I’ll make a few factual and statistical points below, but first let me express a regret, and issue an apology.

With hindsight, there was a scornful tone to my last blog. What I did not make clear enough was that my scorn is not for William Collins. I’m very pleased that any bloggers are addressing the issue of male incarceration, including gender discrimination in the system. While I maintain that William’s calculations are seriously shaky at best, at the risk of sounding patronising, I appreciate how complex such efforts are and we all get this stuff wrong from time to time, self very much included. Had this just been an exchange between William and I, my tone would have been much more like “Hi William, this is a great effort, but I think you’ve failed to account for . . .”

My scornful tone wasn’t aimed at William Collins, it was strictly aimed at Mike Buchanan, a man who spends most of his life ostentatiously issuing challenges and demanding corrections and apologies from other people whom he believes may have used statistics wrongly, but who then appears on national TV quoting “facts” which he believes for no other reason than he read it on a single amateur blogpost on the internet, so it must be true. Worse, he includes the same statistics in a general election manifesto, no less. [Read more…]

The astonishing secret success of campaigns around violence against women

In what is becoming an annual ritual here at HetPat, let me point out what the media is not telling us about the detailed analysis of statistics on intimate violence and homicide, released yesterday by the Office of National Statistics, because once again it contains some remarkable – and remarkably good – news.  [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…]

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.

The internet has drawn back the curtains on the human soul

In the news so far this week: In Australia, a man is convicted of attempting to commission the sexual abuse of a computer-generated virtual avatar called ‘Sweetie’ that was pretending to be a 10-year-old Filipino girl. In Westminster, the justice secretary declares that internet trolls are “poisoning our national life” and announces proposals that will quadruple maximum prison sentences for online abuse to two years. The National Crime Agency announces that many child sex offenders will escape punishment as the authorities flounder against the tide of 50,000 individuals regularly accessing child abuse images online in the UK alone. Meanwhile in Middlesbrough, a man is convicted of possessing illegal images of children – his collection of Japanese Manga-style hentai cartoons.

Just two decades after Sir Tim Berners-Lee unleashed his gift to the world, the web has brought us many wonders. It has also drawn back the curtains on the human soul in ways that might make even the most hardened cynic blanch. Oscar Wilde famously wrote that if you give a man a mask he shall tell you the truth. The internet has taught us that if you give a man (or indeed a woman) a mask, he or she may well threaten to rape and kill you.

Grayling’s proposals smack of kneejerk populism. It seems highly unlikely that someone prepared to risk a six month prison sentence for the sake of an abusive tweet would be deterred by the longer maximum term. Within that, the vagueness of the ministers attack on trolls should be considered deeply worrying. Threats of violence, harassment and stalking are criminal offences irrespective of the medium, and rightly so, but the law on malicious communications goes far wider.

A measure of the media hysteria around internet trolls can be taken in the tragic case of the so-called McCann troll. Brenda Leyland took her own life a few days after being “outed” by Sky News as a Twitter troll, an allegation that was repeated unthinkingly by virtually every journalist and commentator in the aftermath. And yet the archive of Leyland’s tweets revealed that she had never sent abuse directly to the McCann family, had never harassed anyone, had never threatened anyone. She was branded a troll for holding and expressing strong opinions about a prominent news story. It should worry us deeply that our government are hurling around unspecified threats to jail more trolls when the working definition of a troll includes people sharing unpopular opinions.

It used to be considered a cornerstone of justice that you can punish people for doing bad things, but not for being bad people. The internet is changing that. Throughout human history, our hate-filled or hateful thoughts, our strange and dangerous opinions, our sexual peccadilloes and perversions would remain safely locked in, shared perhaps with only a handful of close friends or intimate partners, if at all. Even professional writers and creative artists would have their output filtered through editors, publishers and agents.

Now our wildest fantasies can be projected to the world at the click of a button. Our erotic flights of fancy involving our favourite pop stars can find millions of readers (and lucrative book deals.) The most sick and sadistic urges, from incest to cannibalism, can find solace, justification, occasionally even realisation in like minds and accomplices.

Our political and legislative framework is playing a desperate game of catch-up, and losing. Two of this week’s stories may offer a guide to where the limits of criminality should lie. The paedophiles ensnared in the ‘Sweetie’ sting appear to have been trying to solicit the sexual abuse of real children. Had they not been caught, it is reasonable to presume they might have victimised real children instead. That makes them dangerous offenders and they deserve no pity or mercy.

In contrast, the man convicted in Middlesbrough appears to have had tastes and interests that were entirely restricted to line-drawn cartoons. While this should not necessarily be a defence, it is important to note also that the type of hentai anime he collected is freely available on virtually every mainstream pornography website and widely and openly shared on social networks like Tumblr. Whether or not we share the judge’s view that such images are “repulsive” it is difficult to imagine any scenario in which anyone, anywhere could be harmed by this man’s behaviour.

Of all this week’s news, perhaps the most disturbing is the revelation that the authorities are so overwhelmed by the extent of online offences involving the exploitation and abuse of children that they will not be able to prosecute all offenders. Perhaps one small first step might be to avoid wasting time and resources on protecting imaginary victims.

Chris Grayling can ignore prison rape. Hundreds of victims have no such luxury

 

Today the Howard League published their long-awaited briefing on coercive sex in prisons, despite the best efforts of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to block their work.

It’s an important document which covers well the difficulties of research in this area, noting the difficulties in gathering reliable data at the best of times, but especially under a political regime which is brutally uncooperative. It does not shy away from the difficulties in categorising and defining coercive and abusive sexual activities, noting that as well as violent assaults, prisons are rife with subtle coercion, including prisoners choosing or being obliged to perform sexual acts to pay off debts, for protection or in exchange for tobacco.

Another important (and sadly very topical) point noted is that MoJ statistics do not record any data on sexual assaults or abusive acts committed against prisoners by staff, despite evidence from the US to suggest that this can be relatively commonplace and despite gutwrenching testimony of appalling sexual abuse by staff at young offenders institutions in particular.  [Read more…]

Sket-list scaremongering and scepticism

I wrote recently about my concerns over the way the media handle the issue of girls, gangs and sexual violence. In a nutshell, it seems to me this coverage is generally needlessly titillating, exploitative and salacious, painfully simplistic about the social dynamics of gang violence and it often actively, if inadvertently, dances to the melodies of racist agendas.

On Sunday the Observer ran a news piece which could have been an object lesson in the above. Within 48 hours it had been picked up and republished, almost word for word, by sleazy tabloids like the Star and right wing rags like the Daily Mail. Among the people sharing and eagerly discussing the original on Sunday were the official Twitter account of the British National Party and countless other racists and fascists.

The article made a series of extravagant claims. It alleged that:

London gangs are drawing up and disseminating lists of teenage girls whom they consider to be legitimate rape targets, as sexual violence is increasingly used to spread fear and antagonise rival groups.

The so-called sket lists (sket is street slang for “sluts”) have, according to youth workers, prompted attacks so brazen that girls have been dragged from school buses and sexually assaulted. Police and charities say they have recorded an increase in the use of sexual violence by gangs, including incidents of revenge rape, where the sisters and girlfriends of rival gang members are targeted.

[Read more…]