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.’
It goes on to state rather obliquely that ‘we recognise that these offences can be targeted at male and transgender victims as well as female victims’ but one has to delve deep into the raw data sections to uncover that of the victims under consideration, 70% were female, 13.4% were male and 16.6% gender unrecorded or unknown. In raw numbers, the offences described in yesterday’s report include at least 13,154 male victims, probably considerably more.
To be clear, it is not the case that many thousands of male victims of these offences have been excluded from the analysis. They have been included, but what happened to them has been categorised as crimes of violence against women and girls.
There are two reasons why this is extremely important. The first is simply a matter of accurate public record. The public is being furnished with information from a major public body which is so misleading as to be reasonably considered downright false. What makes this more disturbing is that the authors of the CPS report appear to have performed considerable verbal gymnastics to conceal the true nature of their data. Within the full report I counted at least six case studies which specified that offences had been committed against girls or women. In contrast, another recounts the conviction of former priest Francis Paul Cullen, who was sentenced to 15 years for multiple instances of abuse against at least seven boys. That case study describes the victims as “young people.” The only occasion on which the word ‘boy’ or ‘boys’ appears anywhere in the document is to specify the gender of an offender, never a victim.
What is much more important however, is that this presentation of the data has the effect of cruelly erasing the experiences of male victims, including many, many victims of child sexual abuse. When one talks to survivors of intimate abuse at every stage of recovery, one of the most common recurring themes is that above all they want to be listened to, believed, understood. Those who find the courage to report their abuse to the authorities will often say they are motivated not so much by the need for justice or revenge but some kind of public validation that what happened to them was real, and was wrong. For those same authorities to then erase the very existence of around one in six victims is a vicious betrayal of such bravery. Bundling their victimisation under the banner ‘violence against women and girls’ sends a message that the crimes committed against them are barely even worthy of mention or concern, while falsely obscuring the diverse nature of intimate violence and abuse.
This is not the only example, as regular readers here will know. Earlier this year the serious case review into the Oxfordshire grooming scandal talked about ‘victims’ and ‘girls’ interchangeably. Only later did it emerge that at least 50 of the 373 victims had been boys. Similarly the Jay report into the Rotherham abuse scandal revealed that more than 80 of the victims there had been boys, a fact almost entirely missing from media reports.
Male survivors of intimate violence and abuse have characteristics and needs that are specific to their gender. In the current climate, all services for domestic and sexual violence are being hammered by funding cuts but the (already tiny) sector providing gender-specific services to men and boys is being decimated. Survivors UK, the only specialised service for male rape victims in London, is currently facing a public funding cut to literally zero.
Just as there are good reasons to consider the specific needs for male victims, there are compelling reasons for considering violence against women and girls as a discrete category in public policy. It is perfectly reasonable to wish to quantify and track trends in such offences. If the CPS wishes to track their own performance in prosecuting crimes against women and girls they can do so, they have the data. If they wish to track their performance in prosecuting all intimate and sexual crimes, they can do that instead. There can be absolutely no justification for redesignating male victims as ‘women and girls’ thereby erasing their experiences and needs from public consciousness and political debate.