Cynical skulduggery or lazy indifference? How the Director of Public Prosecutions continues to betray male victims

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. [Read more…]

In defence of angry people

British political culture is caught in a whirlwind; a tornado that has sucked up all our assumptions, all our conventions, everything we thought we knew about how politics works. They’re currently being spun around and thrown down and it is going to be quite some time before we see where and how everything has landed.

One of the many swirling gusts in the twister is a sprawling discourse around civility and hostility within political debate. This has been gathering steam for many years of course, most notably in the realms of gender politics; it was a prominent subtext to the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, but it really hit the foreground over the past six weeks or so with the Brexit referendum, the ructions within the Labour party and, most significantly, the horrifying murder of Jo Cox MP.

The Guardian’s ‘long read’ today allows Archie Bland to detail at length the supposed coarsening of political language while anchoring his points, both causally and consequentially, to the death of Jo Cox.

I have a couple of profound objections to Bland’s piece. The first is a crucial political point. From everything we know thus far about Cox’s death and her (alleged) killer, the murder appears to have had little to do with Twitter spats or malicious Facebook exchanges, and everything to do with a well-trodden path of Fascist extremism, with links to some of the planet’s nastiest white supremacists going back decades. Of course it is by no means unlikely that the febrile tone of the Brexit debate and the heightened levels of xenophobia and racism it fostered contributed to his decision to launch a murderous attack that particular day, but to conflate his bluntly overt and ideologically specific motivations with the general hubbub and crudity of everyone from Momentum activists to trashy tabloid headlines merely dissipates responsibility and lets Fascist ideology off the hook.

My other objection to Bland’s piece is more nuanced and difficult to express, but bear with me. At no point in his article does the author acknowledge that people have a right to be angry. In fact, I would go further – people have a duty to be angry.

At this point you can take as read a litany of the human costs of austerity, the misery heaped upon the poorest, the most disadvantaged, the disabled, the marginalised by Tory and coalition governments; the unfathomable scale of slaughter unleashed by decades of aggressive foreign policies, if you know my beliefs and know my politics then you know the script.

But left/right politics aside, I have always been deeply distrustful of people who can do politics without anger. There has always been a strain of the British establishment that has insisted that politics be played according to the rules of the Oxford Union or Eton College debating society with all the right honourable whatnots and jolly old chums at the member’s bar after the division bell. It is a tradition that has been passed down from the patrician Tories and Whigs of yore and has somehow survived the intrusion of universal suffrage and democracy. It strikes me as a badge of extreme luxury and privilege to be able to afford to call for mannered etiquette when arguing about issues that are, quite literally, life and death for many.

Anyone long enough in the tooth to recall politics in the 1980s or earlier will have smiled bitterly at the quote in Bland’s article from Labour advisor Ayesha Hazarika that “I’ve never known it as brutal as it is now.” We could tell you some stories, believe me. Even the Guardian itself sells [until this morning The Guardian sold] a T-shirt carrying Nye Bevan’s quote from 1948 that Tories are “lower than vermin.” Less well known is the speech from which it is drawn, delivered in Belle Vue, Manchester, the night before the official launch of the National Health Service. In his address, Bevan relayed tales of his early life of unemployment, how he had been told he would have to emigrate if he wanted to work, how his father had died in his arms from pneumoconiosis like so many other miners of his era. When criticised by the press for calling his opponents rude names, he retorted that “men of Celtic fire” were necessary to drive great reforms like the NHS. The anger which had driven his choice of words was the exact same anger which had driven his political career and it was that precise same anger which had inspired the creation of the NHS.

Another great hero of mine, Kurt Vonnegut, once wrote a brilliant essay about the nature of obscenity. In it, he mused on Queen Victoria’s infamous distaste for anything earthy or scatological.

“What would Queen Victoria really feel in the presence of what she had declared to be obscenities? That her power to intimidate was being attacked ever so slightly, far, far from its centre, was being attacked where it could not matter much as yet- was being attacked way out on the edge. She created arbitrary rules for that outermost edge to warn her of the approach of anyone so crude, so rash as to bring to her attention the suffering of the Irish or the cruelties of the factory system, or the privileges of the nobility, or the approach of a world war, and on and on? If she would not even acknowledge that human beings sometimes farted, how could she be expected to hear without swooning of these other things?”

I cannot help but suspect that something similar is going on here. If people are now longer allowed to use angry language, are they allowed to express their anger? If they are not allowed to express their anger, are they even allowed to be angry?

As I have written many a time before, I have zero sympathy or common cause with those who would abuse their presumed free speech to bully, harass, dogpile, intimidate and threaten others off shared platforms on the internet or anywhere else, typically using misogyny, racism, homophobia or whatever other weapons they can drag out of their arse(nal). I cannot stress enough that this is NOT what I am talking about or defending here. At the same time, I am not prepared to throw out the vituperative baby of justified anger with the filthiest bathwater of the internet.

The truth is that the internet has not created armies of angry people yelling insults, obscenities and abuse, but what it has done is make those outbursts audible to their targets (and others.) People used to hear politicians or pundits say things on the news and shout “SHUT UP YOU USELESS FUCKING CUNT, WHY DON’T YOU JUST DROP DEAD!” at the TV set. Now they shout the same thing on Twitter to rather different effect.  I see why this is a problem. I don’t see anyone offering a workable solution.

What we surely cannot allow is for the understandable urge to temper these consequences to become a broader call to excise anger from politics, which quickly transmutes into a call to excise angry people from politics. Again, this is not a left/right point, there is an evident disdain from the political establishment towards both UKIP-leaning right wingers and Momentum-leaning left wingers. Both are apparently considered beyond the pale, simply not how we do things in this country, old chap.

We have had 25 years or so in which mainstream political parties gravitated to a shiny-suited, indistinct, focus-group-approved consensus. It became a cliché that one could turn on BBC Question Time and it would be impossible to tell which interchangeable platitudinous suit nominally represented which party. The ultimate consequences of that have been Brexit, the Scottish Labour wipeout and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. [see HetPat passim]

We still don’t know how the 2016 whirlwind will deposit what is left of British political culture, but it seems likely that when it does, righteous anger will once again be part of the mix. I am by no means sure this is a bad thing.

The Children’s Commissioner & the BBC take on child sexual abuse

I am never slow to blog when mainstream political bodies and media let us down with sloppy reports or journalism. It seems only fair to pay credit when things are done well.

Late last night, BBC2 broadcast The Truth About Child Sex Abuse, hosted by Professor Tanya Byron. The programme incorporated a lot of the findings of the new report from the office of the Children’s Commissioner, Protecting Children From Harm [pdf].

[Read more…]

Why I am done arguing about International Men’s Day

There is a lot of confusion around International Men’s Day, starting with what it is. Nobody seems quite sure. Is it an event? A celebration? An awareness day? An occasion? I can clear that one up straight away. In practice it is none of those things. International Men’s Day is an argument. [Read more…]

Sex on Trial: Is This Rape? What BBC3 got wrong and got right.

Based purely on the advance advertising, I was full of trepidation about Sex On Trial: Is This Rape?  – the latest documentary in BBC3’s Breaking the Mould series on gender issues. In the end there were more than a few moments when I felt every fear was about to be confirmed. Anything that turns a realistic alleged rape scenario into drama-tainment-cum-phone-in game show is already walking a very high wire above a sea of sensationalism and exploitation. [Read more…]

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…]

The letters continue: Erasure, misrepresentation and Orwellian doublespeak

To the signatories of the letter Gender is all too relevant in violence statistics.

First let me thank you for the opportunity to continue this important conversation. It is clear your letter in the Guardian today is a reaction to the one signed by myself and 30 others last week, however it would be wrong to call it a response, as you do not appear to have addressed or even understood any of the issues our letter raised, preferring to criticise us on a variety of points which our letter simply did not make.

Allow me to be more specific.

Your correspondents call on the director of public prosecutions to “affirm [her] commitment to eliminating intimate violence against human beings of any gender” and criticise the Crown Prosecution Service’s presentation of statistics in its annual violence against women and girls report for being so explicitly gendered (Letters, 2 July).

We did not criticise the CPS report for being so explicitly gendered. We would expect a report entitled “Violence Against Women and Girls, crime report” to be explicitly gendered. Nor did we condemn the CPS for producing a report with that subject and title.

We criticised the CPS report for being dishonest and misleading in including crimes against at least 13,154 (known) boys and men in a report entitled ‘Violence Against Women and Girls’ while going to some lengths to entirely obscure the experiences of male victims.

It is established fact that these crimes are massively disproportionately committed against women and girls (female genital mutilation exclusively so) and that they are related to women’s broader inequality with men. Your correspondents claim without citation that “one in six of all victims” are male. This is disputed, and certainly does not apply equally to all the forms of abuse in the CPS report.

The figure of 1 in 6 did not require citation as it comes from the CPS report itself and the accompanying data tables. Where gender was recorded, 16% of victims of the crimes described in the report were men and boys. This is most certainly not disputed, the statistics are in Table 8 of the performance information here.

Furthermore, it is also critical that we retain gender in our naming and analysis of these crimes because of the gender of the perpetrators, whom your correspondents do not mention at all.

We did not mention it because we had no dispute with how the CPS report covered the gender of the perpetrators. The report explained quite clearly that around 94% of offenders of these crimes within the criminal justice system were male and 6% female. We accept this, and had no reason to raise it in our letter.

In searching for recognition and then for justice and support for male survivors of abuse, it is a grave mistake to suggest taking gender out of the naming and analysis, and neutralising these crimes into Orwellian “intimate abuse”. A failure to name and call out the abuse of power in these crimes is what kept them invisible for so long.

At no point in our letter did we suggest taking gender out of the analysis. On the contrary, we clearly expressed that male victims have their own gender-specific issues, such as those relating to social expectations of a ‘real man.’ Nor are gender issues neutralised by the phrase ‘intimate abuse’ or ‘intimate violence’ – this term has always been used by many public bodies including the Office of National Statistics, to describe crimes such as domestic violence and abuse – for example, see here, the chapter “Intimate Personal Violence and Serious Sexual Assault.”

You describe this phrase as “Orwellian.” I would suggest what is truly Orwellian is for the experiences of many thousands of violated men and boys to be described with the phrase ‘violence against women and girls.’ War is peace; freedom is slavery; boys are girls. What is truly Orwellian is for the CPS to highlight the conviction of Fr Francis Paul Cullen as an example of their success in prosecuting crimes against women and girls, when the large majority of his victims were boys, and for the gender of those victims to be entirely “taken out of the analysis” by descriptions of his victims only in gender-neutral terms as “young people.”

I would add that it is this type of erasure of male victims – even when the statistics and facts are right before our eyes – which has done so much to keep those crimes invisible for so long, a tragedy which your letter appears to strive to continue.

I do not speak today on behalf of the other signatories to our letter, only for myself, but I for one do not believe in taking gender out of the analysis of sexual and intimate offences. I believe gender issues are crucial to understanding why so many such crimes occur, and what kind of support is needed by victims. What I cannot accept is a cruel and misleading approach which focusses entirely on the gender of victims when they are women and girls and entirely ignores and erases gender when the victims are men and boys, or worse, when the experiences of those men and boys are subsumed into descriptions of violence against women and girls.

I finish on a note of genuine sadness. In our own letter we were very careful to honestly declare our full commitment to supporting all efforts to end violence against women and girls. Many of the signatories to our letter work with female survivors alongside men and boys, and are only too aware of the issues. But even though your response begins by noting our call for the CPS and other bodies to affirm their commitment to recognising and supporting male victims of intimate violence and abuse, in your response you could not even bring yourselves to offer a single equivalent word of support or compassion for the countless thousands of men and boys who are raped, abused, beaten and molested every year. I would add that, despite contacting them directly, we have as yet had no contact from the CPS or any other body that so much as acknowledges the existence of male victims, far less affirming support for their needs.

The male victims I know and support, and those engaged professionally by many of my co-signatories, often report feeling worthless and ignored, as if no one cares about what happened to them in the past or what will happen to them now and in the future. How tragic that your letter may well serve to confirm their darkest suspicions.

Why is the CPS erasing the experience of thousands of abuse victims?

The report by the Crown Prosecution Service, published yesterday, has an unequivocal title: “Violence Against Women and Girls, crime report 2014-15.”

One might reasonably presume from this that the report details statistics for crimes of violence committed against women and girls. Indeed, that presumption appears to have been made by pretty much every journalist who covered the story. The Independent, for example, reported that “107,104 people were prosecuted for violence against women in 2014-15.”

This is quite simply not true. In the very first paragraph of the executive summary, the authors explain that the report is ‘an analysis of the key prosecution issues in each Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) strand – domestic abuse, rape, sexual offences, stalking, harassment, forced marriage, honour based violence, female genital mutilation, child abuse, human trafficking, prostitution and pornography.’ [Read more…]