School shootings and the brutalisation of boys

A few years ago I wrote here about how school shooters and spree killers are made.

Much has been written and said about the role of masculine conditioning and patriarchal beliefs in cases like Eliott Rodger and the role misogyny plays in charging and inspiring their crimes.

The standard feminist theory (most popularly expressed by Michael Kimmel in books like Angry White Men) is that these young men – and they are almost if not quite always young men – are the extreme fringes of toxic masculinity and ‘aggrieved entitlement.’ Basically they are overcome by anger at not getting access to all the rewards, such as sex, respect and status, that they feel they deserve for their role as white men at the top of the social hierarchy. They then take that frustration out on their peers, on the world in a murderous explosion of rage.   [Read more…]

#MeToo or #MenToo? How men can talk about abuse

Guys, gather round. I get it. I understand. You care about sexual abuse, sexual violence, sexual harassment.

In fact, you really, really care because unlike some we could mention, you care about all victims, not just the women, am I right?

You probably know the stats already. Wherever women and girls are victimised in sexual, intimate or gendered crimes, men and boys are victimised too. Pick a statistic – one in eight victims here, one in three there, one in four of this and one in ten of that.

Even on an issue like workplace sexual harassment, which is about as gender-tilted as these things get, you can still find plenty of men with their own stories of being bullied, harassed, coerced and victimised by male or female colleagues or bosses.

What’s more, the victimisation experienced by those men is not neatly isolated by gender. More often than not it will intersect with issues around sexuality or gender identity, racial stereotyping and racial fetishization, mental health and neurotypicality, social exclusion and vulnerability etc, etc.

Those issues are real. The pain and suffering of those involved must be acknowledged and we need to talk about those issues, develop solutions to help prevent it happening and to support those survivors who need help or access to justice.

If you agree with me, if you care about those men, if you want to help those men and prevent others suffering in the future, here is what we need to do right here, right now:

Support women. [Read more…]

Harvey Weinstein and the authoritarianism of violence

As the revelations about Harvey Weinstein grow ever more miserable and appalling, so too does the state of commentary on the case.

Whether firing off a 140-character tweet or 800 words of editorial, the main game in town seems to be finding someone to blame. A vast army of Twitter dullards seem determined to blame the women who are speaking out now for not speaking out sooner. Fleet Street Fox wants to blame the men. Piers Morgan, for reasons best known to himself, is determined to blame Meryl Streep. Almost no one seems to have noticed that this blizzard of finger-pointing and recrimination is doing a marvellous job of diverting responsibility and blame from where it belongs, four square on the head of Harvey Weinstein, holed up in some Alpine clinic and begging for “a second chance.”

[Read more…]

Young men’s minds: Looking beyond mood and feelings

Last week the latest UK suicide statistics reminded us of the grim reality of the depths of teenage despair. Out of every 100,000 boys aged 15 to 19, more than seven took their own lives last year. The equivalent figure for girls was less than half that, at 2.9.

With that in mind, perhaps there should be no surprise that a government-funded study into mental health in teenagers has concluded that

Policy makers should take into account the differences between boys and girls in their experiences of mental ill-health at different ages.

And so say all of us. The only issue is that the very same recommendation continues like this:

Policy makers should take into account the differences between boys and girls in their experiences of mental ill-health at different ages. The report shows that between the ages of 11 and 14 girls are significantly more likely than boys to experience poor mental health.    [Read more…]

Yes, child grooming scandals are a hate crime and here’s why

The past few weekends have seen Labour MPs engaged in a pretty unseemly ideological schism over child grooming scandals in (most recently) Newcastle, and before that Rotherham, Rochdale and elsewhere.

It was kicked off by Sarah Champion who wrote an irredeemably dreadful piece for the Sun that spoke in such clumsily broad-brush terms about ‘Pakistani men’ that it was perceived (rightly or wrongly) as outright racism and this cost her a frontbench role as shadow Equalities minister.  Any thoughts that she’d been misrepresented or misquoted by the sleazy tabloid were dispelled a week later when she gave an interview to the Times that saw her digging deeper into the same trench.

On Saturday, the constituency MP for Newcastle upon Tyne, Chi Onwurah, responded directly with a piece in the Guardian that was uncompromising in its assertion that race has nothing to do with the grooming gangs, whose members are motivated by misogyny, not racism, she wrote.

If my Twitter feed was anything to go by, her piece was not exactly well received, even by left-leaning liberals who might have been minded to agree with her general stance. Her opening sentence in particular was unfathomably crass and ill-advised, asking: “What’s worse, rape or racism?”

The arguments around it put me in mind of a rambling chat we had in the comments section of another post here, about the meaning and definition of hate crime, and I thought it might be worth unpicking how I see all of this.   [Read more…]

Male victims, the CPS and the latest chapter in the saga

[The first few hundred words here are something of a recap, feel free to jump ahead if you know the story!]

 

Just a little over two years ago, the Crown Prosecution Service published their annual review of their performance in prosecuting crimes of violence against women and girls for the year 2014/15.

According to the press release, dutifully reprinted by pretty much all mainstream media, there had been over 107,000 violent crimes against women and girls that year, including rape, domestic violence, child abuse and modern slavery.

Buried in the small print, however, was a curious detail. Around one in six of these victims were neither women nor girls. They were men and boys. Somewhere around 17,000 male survivors of sexual and intimate crimes were being officially designated by the UK authorities as “women and girls.”

To cut a long story short, I phoned a few friends and between us we corralled around 30 charity leaders, writers, academics and activists and we co-signed a letter to the Guardian calling on the director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders,

“…and all public bodies to affirm their commitment to addressing and eliminating intimate violence against human beings of any gender and to take care not to compromise the dignity and public understanding of any survivors.”

[Read more…]

Can men stop being violent? Uncoupling masculinity from the massacres.

On March 22nd 2017, Khalid Masood drove a car on to the pavement of Westminster Bridge, killing four people and injuring 50 more, then fatally stabbing a police officer outside the Palace of Westminster before being himself shot and killed.

Exactly two months later on May 22nd, Salman Abedi walked up to the entrance of Manchester Arena just as a pop concert ended and exploded the bomb in his backpack, killing himself and 22 others.

June 3rd, Khuram Butt and two accomplices drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge before randomly attacking members of the public with kitchen knives. By the time they were shot dead by police, they had killed eight people and wounded 48 more.

June 19th. Shortly after midnight, Darren Osborne drove a van into a crowd of Muslims outside Finsbury Park mosque before being restrained by worshippers. When emergency services arrived, one person lay dead, 11 injured.

On the morning after the Finsbury Park attack, the Twitter account @WomenDefyHate asked a question that always echoes in one form or another in the aftershock of such atrocities:

“Seriously, for fucks sake, can men stop being violent? I’m no prissy, no feminazi type. But men have to stop this violence. Men.” [Read more…]

Jeremy Corbyn and the Bonfire of the Cynics

While chaos unfolds in Westminster, on social media there has been merry carnival of mea culping, told-you-soing and book-eating in the wake of the sensational general election result last week. No, Labour did not win a majority or become largest party, but they did effectively bring down a government, leave an apparently unassailable Prime Minister utterly toothless and quite possibly revolutionised British politics for a generation to come.

Central to this there has been a lot of talk about who has been proven right or wrong. Someone kindly intervened in one of my own mini Twitter spats to describe me as “someone who was right all along.”

It’s never my style to wave away a compliment, so I let it ride, but it didn’t feel true. I’m not someone who was right all along, at least not in the most basic sense. Over recent months there were literally a few handfuls of furiously loyal Corbyn supporters who insisted that the polls were wrong, that Corbyn would storm an election campaign, and if the Tories called an election they would get stuffed. Those people were very few in number and I was not among them. Most of Corbyn’s people were not among them, truth be told. If I’m honest, when the election was called my best guess was that Labour would get trounced and the best foreseeable outcome would be if Jeremy Corbyn put up a good enough showing to survive and fight another day. So simply on cold hard numbers psephology, I was just as wrong as the most ardent Corbyn critic.

However, there is another reading of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ on which I am proud to have landed jammy-side up, while Corbyn’s critics have faceplanted into the proverbial from a grand height. It is about the very rules of the game that I’m describing – the psephology, the electoral calculation, the punditry, the prediction, the polls-chasing.

Here is a grand truth which lies at the heart of Corbyn’s success, which the mainstream political media class entirely failed to understand and – based on the comment pieces and social media mutterings of the weekend – still entirely fails to understand.  It comes down to a dictum which in my view could reasonably be called the central premise of Corbynism:

We do not say what we say because it plays well in the polls and we do not cynically advocate policies for electoral advantage. We do what do because we believe it is the right thing to do.

[Read more…]

UKIP are not the only ones peddling dangerous myths about FGM

It would be tempting to dismiss UKIP’s newly-announced manifesto policy on female genital mutilation as simply the latest ravings of a delusional binbag of wingnuts. Unfortunately, this delusional binbag of wingnuts seem to attract a lot of media attention, earn disproportionate platforms and, as you might have noticed, more than occasionally see their ravings slide into the policy platforms of supposedly sensible parties.

So let’s see if we can cut the legs off this particular cockroach before it scuttles into anyone’s sandwich.

UKIP’s promise is to “implement school-based medical checks on girls from groups at high risk of suffering FGM. These should take place annually and whenever they return from trips overseas.”

The point which most on the liberal-left have been making (correctly) is that this would be a horrific violation of human rights, a discriminatory, racially-targeted policy that would impose something akin to strip-search and sexual assault of very young (and less young) children at least once a year. Lest there be any doubt, most FGM scarring is not immediately obvious and could only be detected by a full legs-akimbo, smear-test-stirrups style procedure. Let there be no euphemisms or sugar coating here.

If implemented, the policy would also surely result in all kinds of unintended consequences, including children being taken out of school to avoid the examinations (not necessarily because they have been mutilated, either.)  It would be phenomenally expensive and an administrative nightmare.

Beyond all that, however, there is a bigger point which UKIP need to understand, but so too does almost the entire political and media establishment. It is this:

There is no evidence that any girls in British schools are at ‘high risk of suffering FGM’ in the first place. There is only the most scant evidence that any girls in British schools are at any identifiable risk of suffering FGM at all.

As we have noted before on this blog, for the past couple of years the Department of Health has been building up a database of all British (or British-resident) women who have been identified as having suffered FGM. For the past year, they have also been trying to collect data on whether those women were born in Britain, and in which country the FGM was performed.

From the most recent figures, over 1,200 FGM survivors were newly identified by the NHS. (That quarterly figure has been fairly constant since they began recording.) Of those, precisely 14 were born in Britain, and in only 11 cases was the FGM procedure performed in Britain.

Now, it is still not possible to identify cases where a girl was born outside the UK, brought here to live, taken out of the country to be mutilated then brought back again. Such cases could exist. However the smart money would still be that virtually all of the identified FGM survivors in the UK were cut before they migrated here with their families or as adults.

But wait, there is some new information in the recent figures. Of those 14 cases they did find, 85 percent (I calculate that as all but two) were categorised as FGM survivors because they had genital piercings.

Now, this issue gets a little complicated because there are some cultures in parts of the world which do inflict genital piercings upon girls or women as a form of FGM. (This is categorised as Type IV FGM by the WHO). However, you may recall that when this statistical evaluation was first announced, there was widespread concern that the type of routine decorative (or recreational) genital piercings voluntarily undertaken by many women could be mistakenly categorised as FGM.

It is also worth noting that, with very few exceptions, genital piercings can be easily removed with little or no lasting damage, leading one to question just how relevant they are to the very real horrors of Type 1 or Type 2 FGM.

We don’t know how many of the 12 FGM piercing cases are ‘true’ FGM and how many are harmless piercings (or whether they overlap with the 11 cases where the procedure was performed in the UK.) We also don’t know how old those 12 patients were when they were pierced, which would be very useful data.

The bottom line, however, is that across the entire NHS, the numbers of women being found who were born in the UK to immigrant families and who were then subjected to FGM are tiny. Yes, such cases exist and they are appalling and must be stopped, but they can probably be counted on the fingers of a hand or two, across the entire country.

In turn, what this implies is that far from being a huge socio-medical problem within African or Arabic migrant communities in Britain, FGM (in this country) is a spectacularly rare offence. It is highly likely that if UKIP were to somehow get their policy implemented, the authorities could go for months or even years before identifying a single case of a schoolgirl who has been mutilated while under the protection of British law.

To put this in grim perspective, it is highly likely that if we introduced routine genital screening of all schoolchildren there would be vastly higher proportions of cases of bruised and damaged genitals from forced sexual child abuse uncovered than cases of FGM, even within communities which are nominally high risk. Now ask whether we would accept all our children being given genital examinations once a year and what UKIP would say if we suggested examining their daughters (and sons) just in case.

There’s a depressing political point to this. It has long been inevitable that a party like UKIP would put forward this policy sooner or later. (I’m just grateful it’s not their near-cousins in the Conservative party.) For years, if not decades, there has been a highly irresponsible narrative pushed by my own friends on the liberal left, including the charity sector and the broad feminist movement, insisting that hundreds of thousands of girls in Britain are “at risk” of FGM. It has always been almost entirely evidence-free, calculated using estimates of the size of ethnic / cultural communities in the UK combined with the estimated prevalence of FGM in those countries. There was never any allowance made for the fact that migrant peoples might change their behaviour at the first opportunity, that they might be tempted to observe the law, to learn from public health education efforts, or that FGM might be exactly the type of problem that they wanted to move to this country to avoid in the first place.

These ‘At risk…’ statistics have been a glittering gift to outright racists and petty bigots from UKIP or worse.  They basically portrayed African and Arabic (or more commonly and more inaccurately, Muslim) communities as brutally patriarchal savages who love nothing more than to butcher the genitals of little girls.

To be clear, FGM is and remains a huge public health problem in some parts of the world and is a horrible, traumatising experience for many or most of those who are subjected to it. There are undoubtedly many thousands of women living in Britain today who have been mutilated and who may need extensive physical and/or psychological interventions to heal. There is also still a desperate need for better research, better data, better understanding of the nature and scale of the problem here. However reducing and eliminating FGM is, overwhelmingly, a matter of public health and education in those countries where it is commonly practised. They do not include the United Kingdom.

UKIP’s policy proposal is ignorant, dangerous and ill-informed and we would expect little else from them. More importantly, it is high time the political mainstream stopped the nonsense and adopted language and approaches that are based upon evidence, not scaremongering.

How do the Scouts get past their paedophile problem?

At the latest count 51,000 British youngsters are sitting on a waiting list for a place in a Scout, Cub or Beaver group. The cause of this lengthy queue is a shortage of adult volunteers, to the tune of around 17,000. Now the Chief Scout, TV Adventurer Bear Grylls, has launched a campaign to fill the shortfall.

Martin Daubney at the Telegraph is clear why. The risk of being labelled a paedophile is the ‘one reason’ stopping men from putting their names forward. He suggests that it is not only the fear of malicious rumours, but the accompanying concerns around the intimidating bureaucracy involved in the vetting and debarring scheme and other child protection policies.

The statistics suggest it is a bit more complicated than that. Surprisingly, perhaps, more adults than ever before now are volunteering with the Scout Association, a total of 154,000. The problems are that those volunteers have less time to give than before and secondly that more children than ever are wanting to get involved. (It would be interesting to know the gender ratio of the volunteers – it is possible male numbers are falling while female volunteers rise, but we don’t know)

That said, I have no problem agreeing with his fundamental point. I’m sure there are many, many men who would be happy to give up an evening a week to help run a Scout or Cub group but fear that others will question their motivations.

At this point let me express my unequivocal admiration for the adult volunteers who run the Scouts. I will admit that as an adult, the ethos of the movement is really not for me. I’m not in a hurry to march my own boys off to an organisation that teaches submission to God, the Queen and the military (thankfully, neither son has ever asked.) Having said that, I recognise that the volunteers are, as the cliché would have it, the salt of the earth. Countless generations of young people have had childhoods enriched by their energy and generosity. My own earliest memories include my mum going out in her Akela uniform every Monday night to run a cub pack. To this day she is occasionally stopped in the street by burly men who recognise her and thank her for her efforts 50 or 60 years earlier. It should go without saying that the vast majority of Scout Association volunteers are wonderful people.

The issue is with the minority.

I remember that even back in the more innocent days of the 1970s, there was no shortage of rumours and jokes about Scout leaders. The book by Lord Baden-Powell which set the ball rolling was called “Scouting for Boys.” Aharrharrharr. ‘Join the Cubs,’ ran the famous graffito, “one child molester free in every pack.” Stitch my sides and then hand me my sewing badge. And when I had my own couple of years in a Scout troop it turned out that the jokes weren’t so funny. We had three volunteer scout leaders. One of them, regular readers may recall, was this guy.

And so here’s the first problem with the Scout movement, as I see it. If some evil genius wanted to design a mass movement for the specific purpose of providing children to be sexually abused by predatory adults, they would probably design something that looked very much like the Scouts. All of the elements are there: the strictly enforced oaths of obedience to authority, under the stern command of God; the removal of children from their parents or carers into the hands of much-admired, trusted pillars of the community; overnight trips to remote locations; the list goes on.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying for a moment that this was ever the intended purpose of the movement. But I am saying that once such a movement exists, it would have to be a powerful magnet for those twisted individuals driven to target, exploit and abuse children. I am saying that, knowing what we now know about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, knowing what we now know about the dynamics of institutionally-based abuse, knowing what we know about the typical modus operandi of predatory child abusers it would be flat-out astonishing if the Scout Movement had not been regularly and extensively infiltrated by paedophile child abusers.

I realise this is a hard truth to accept for those who admire the Scouts, especially those who have had their own, entirely positive experiences whether as children or as adult volunteers. It is tantamount to a mass defamation of hundreds of thousands of people, the vast majority of whom are entirely innocent. The same was true when concerns were first raised about the priesthood, the clergy, social care home staff, music teachers and sports coaches where, in most cases, identical dynamics were in play.

And this leads me to my second huge concern. As far as I can tell, the Scout Association itself remains almost entirely in denial about the risks it has been sheltering for over a hundred years. A couple of years ago the BBC ran one short news item about allegations of abuse in the Scouts. Within weeks, 150 individuals contacted the solicitors mentioned in the report to add their own victimisation. At the same time, the Scout Association claimed that in its entire history, they had received 48 allegations of sexual abuse.

Some might look at that figure, 48 cases, and conclude that the Scouts have never had a problem with child abuse. I look at that figure and conclude that throughout their history the Scouts have failed dismally to identify, record and act upon suspicions of abuse. To underline the point, many of those who called the solicitors after the news item described institutional failings that are painfully familiar from the other scandals.

One caller spoke of his difficulty in finding resolution after the Scout Association failed to apologise even after his abuser was convicted. Another told of how his parents’ reports were dealt with by the Scout Association internally and the abuse was never reported to the police. Unfortunately, there appear to have been numerous cases where the Scout Association failed to act appropriately after allegations of abuse were made.

Of course, it remains possible that my worst suspicions are ill-founded, that the reason there has never been a major institutional sex abuse scandal with the Scouts because there has never been a major institutional sex abuse problem within the Scouts. It’s possible. It just strikes me as vastly more credible that the reason the scandal has never broken is because, as yet, that particular stone have yet to be turned over to see what crawls out.  And yet for some reason, day by day, reports drip out. Another one today. Every one an isolated incident. Sure.

It seems to me that the Scout Association will never get past its problems with paedophile stigma and suspicion until it makes every full and transparent effort to establish what problems it has had in the past, what problems it might still have in the future, and then develops policies that get as close as they can to making it impossible that a predatory child abuser could ever operate within the movement. That means firstly opening themselves up to examination. No one could have imagined the scale of child sexual abuse within professional football until the FA were forced to open a helpline to which victims could call and report. In the first two months of the helpline being set up, they received 1,700 calls. For perspective, the number of boys training with professional football clubs is a minuscule fraction of the numbers involved in Scouting over the decades.

Secondly, Scouts (like all organisations serving children and young people) need to be far more proactive in equipping their charges with the tools to protect themselves from abuse. I’ve just been reading the leaflets that the movement hands out to different age groups on how to ‘Stay Safe.’ They are full of advice about online grooming, giving your phone number to strangers and much else. They all suggest that if you are worried you could talk to your scoutleader. Nowhere in the leaflets does it tell children what they should do if the person they are worried about IS their scoutleader.  Nowhere does it spell out anything like the Underwear rule.  Nowhere does it say that a cub or scout should never, ever be asked to keep a secret by an adult. These (and many others) are easy, zero-cost, effective steps that could be taken instantly. Going further the Scouts could set up their own helpline, akin to the FA/ NSPCC abuse helpline, to which victims of past, recent or current abuse could call.

All of this and much more could, in the long term, go towards reassuring parents and potential volunteers that children are safe in the care of scout leaders, and reassure the public that there is no reason to be suspicious of any adult who volunteers. But it also requires them to grasp the nettle, acknowledge the possibility that the movement has been providing haven to widespread child abuse. I would propose that the alternative for the organisation is to wait until the scandals burst out in their own time and on their own terms and then cope with the vastly greater resulting damage to their reputation and function.

All of this would be a painful process for the institution of Scouting. It is also absolutely essential if they are to operate as a trustworthy, responsible 21st century youth movement, and consign the sick jokes, the smears and the suspicions to history, once and for all.