Calling bullshit on the safe spaces panic

A confession. When I read that a student at Brown University had responded to a debate about rape culture on campus by establishing a literal safe-space with “cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies”, I laughed, heartily, like the callous old monster I am. Even with my stern and serious head on, the idea that survivors of sexual assault should be patronised and treated like toddlers is profoundly wrong-headed and actively harmful.

The details emerged in a piece by Judith Shulevitz in the New York Times this weekend, which railed against the supposed creep of “safe-space” culture on campuses and the supposed chilling effect it is having on free speech.

I read a lot about this phenomenon. I read about it in the New York Times, in the Washington Post, in Reason, in the Guardian, in Spiked, in the New Statesman, in THES etc etc etc. Without exception, the pieces condemn student radicals for hiding from ideas, for curtailing free speech and for being anti-intellectual. The authors are almost invariably older journalists, authors and academics, at the tops of their professions. [Read more…]

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…]

Tim Lott and the myth of the poor, silenced literati

Like Tim Lott, I am a “transgressive lefty.” Indeed it would appear that we agree on a fair few transgressive points – I too question how religious beliefs are privileged and protected and how cultures associated with those beliefs can be afforded license to oppress and abuse the vulnerable. I have more than a few issues with aspects of feminist theory and I am more than happy to take an occasional swing at an ideological sacred cow. By and large I believe the best way to challenge ugly opinions is to give them air and shoot them down rather than suppress and repress them.

Believe me, I know what it is like to write something that offends or upsets a section of the left, to wake up to a hundred notifications on Twitter, 99 of which are people calling me rude names or to an email inbox peppered with invitations to die in a fire. Just last week someone (thanks mate, you know who you are!) sent me a link to a six-page long Mumsnet thread entirely consisting of radical feminists debating who was officially The Worst between me and Owen Jones (pretty sure I came out top – in your face, OJ.) [Read more…]

The zombie stat that sucks the brains from development programmes

Note: I wrote this back in 2012 on my old blog. I thought the stat had quietly died the death, but this year it reappeared more prominently than ever, circulating widely on memes on social media, and even used by Annie Lennox in her Guardian piece. There’s a good Washington Post take on it here, but here is my interpretation.  

I bang on about this, partly just because it really annoys me when people unashamedly share demonstrably false statistics in any context, but this particular one is outrageous due to the manner in which it shamelessly ignores and denies the staggering inequality between the world’s rich – including rich women – and the rest of the planet. 

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In 1984 a poultry farmer called Sun Guiying became the first Chinese peasant to buy her own car. I still recall the government-authorised photos of her, standing with her family in front of their shiny Toyota. Now we can look back on her beaming smile as a watershed in global economic history. Recently Forbes reported that Chinese women are queuing up to buy luxury sports cars. A third of China’s millionaires are women, and there are now three times as many Maseratis and twice as many Ferraris sold in that country as in the west. Hold that thought. [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.

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…]

What if we sentenced male offenders to the same standards as women?

Yesterday prison reform charity the Howard League revealed that three out of four prisons are currently overcrowded and some are packed to more than twice their intended capacity. Combined with savage cuts to prison service budgets and staffing, this is driving a humanitarian crisis in British jails.  Suicides rose by 64% last year. Serious assaults rose by 30%, assaults on staff by 15%. Sexual assaults are rising rapidly.

Meanwhile my old sparring partner Mike Buchanan of Justice for Men and Boys has been doing the rounds, including on national TV show The Big Question, with an intriguing statistic. He claims that if male offenders were sentenced with the same standards of severity / leniency as female offenders, around 68,000 male prisoners (five out of every six) would not be in prison at all. With this one egalitarian step, the male prison population would fall from 81,000 to just 13,000. [Read more…]

Racist is not something you are. Racism is something you do.

There’s a fallacy that commonly emerges when people talk about prejudiced, bigoted or oppressive language. It is the idea that racism is something only practised by racists; homophobia something only practised by homophobes, transphobia only something practised by transphobes etc etc.

There is an obvious and banal point attached to this, which is that pretty much every one of us harbours some stereotyped or prejudiced thinking of one sort or other, often unknowingly. We can all resort to a choice of word or turn of phrase, or hold an opinion or belief which we had thought entirely inoffensive until someone comes along and points out why it might be derogatory or degrading to others. The decent thing to do under those circumstances is apologise, learn and move on.

There is another consequence of the fallacy which is much more insidious, because its effect is to prevent people taking responsibility for their own words and actions. [Read more…]

Male suicide and the cynical, mendacious trickery of Conservative Woman

If this article about male suicide rates had merely been wrong, I would probably let it pass. If my only concerns were the critique-free mangling of Durkheim’s brilliant but profoundly flawed monograph, or if this were just a straightforward left-versus-right disagreement on policy, then I would wave it away. If the author were just another cheap hack churning out the usual propaganda for the Murdoch-Rothermere-Desmond axis of weasels I might have done something more uplifting with my morning than immerse myself in suicide statistics. [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…]