[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.”
This was apparently too much for some representatives of the women’s sector, who replied a few days later with their own multi-signatory letter condemning ours and (in effect) demanding that the CPS should continue to compromise the dignity and public understanding of male survivors.
So far, so depressingly predictable.
But the story – much to my surprise, I’ll confess– didn’t end there. A few weeks later Alison Saunders published a column in the Guardian acknowledging our issues and agreeing to recall the report and republish it with greater clarification that the statistics included male victims.
By the time the next annual report came around, there were additional words on the front page specifying “Inclusive of data on men and boys.” Those words were a significant step forward, but more useful was that the report itself finally, for the first time, reported the data they had on male and female victims, allowing us to know that one in six victims of domestic violence crimes had been men, almost a quarter of victims of so-called honour crimes and 40% of victims of crimes in the category of ‘trafficking and prostitution’ were male. But perhaps most significantly, this gender breakdown revealed that there were several other categories – including rape and child sexual abuse – where the data gathering was so scandalously inadequate they could not even tell us what proportion of victims were boys.
All of the saga above will be old news to regular readers of this blog. What you probably didn’t know is that over recent months, representatives of the Men and Boys Coalition (which I am proud to say was formed, in large part, out of the original signatories to the CPS letter) began a series of meetings and correspondence with the CPS. In particular, Mark Brooks from Mankind Initiative and Duncan Craig from Survivors Manchester spent considerable time and energy talking the CPS through the myriad ongoing problems with their approach to male victims.
The results were published this week, and undoubtedly represent the single greatest step forward for male victims in the justice system that this country has ever seen.
Before I go through the detail, just take a moment to ponder the very first sentence of the CPS press release that came out this week.
The Crown Prosecution Service has published its first ever public statement recognising the needs and experiences of male victims of offences including rape, domestic abuse, harassment, stalking and child sexual abuse.
Its first ever public statement recognising the needs and experiences of male victims.
Anyway, once the horror of that confession has subsided a little, let’s look at what it actually says. I will come on to the shortcomings before I’m done, but first appreciate what is there, much of which is excellent, essential and overdue. Please read the policy in full here.
The policy makes eight specific commitments to improve the service CPS delivers to male victims, along with a commitment to report back annually on progress in delivering them. These are:
- Provide information for our prosecutors to help challenge myths and stereotypes; understand the experience of male victims within the criminal justice system and provide details of support services for male victims;
- Explore issues that may arise because of multiple forms of discrimination such as that faced by BAME or LGBT victims;
- Ensure all relevant policies, guidance, training and case studies for prosecutors contain details on the experience of male victims and outline any unique barriers to reporting;
- Work with NGOs and Communications to consider ways to dispel societal myths, especially around masculinity, as well as respond to media issues;
- Involve more national men’s groups in the scrutiny of CPS policies, guidance and training and within the VAWG External Consultation Group;
- Establish a stakeholder forum on child sexual abuse to specifically ensure that work expressly includes boys as well as girls;
- Reflect the male experience of these crimes, in relevant media communications, by working closely with men’s groups, to increase confidence in reporting; and
- Provide data on male victims where possible and, with our partners, strive to improve the gender and relationship breakdown of CPS relevant data.
These are highly significant commitments which will have real practical impacts. My friends on the frontline of survivor support are delighted with them, and I think the commitment to educate prosecutors about myths and stereotypes around male victims is particularly important.
The campaign, however, remains unfinished.
In terms of what policies I would have liked to see spelled out in the document, there is one area that remains apparently off-limits, which is the issue of sexual abuse of men by women – including forced and coerced penetrative sex.
Over the summer two highly significant reports were published on this, either side of the Atlantic. Research by Lisa Dario pretty much blew away the old myth that for a male to be sexually abused by a female was no big deal or even some kind of blessing. She broke down the data & found that men who had experienced forced sexual activity (including but not exclusive to female perpetrators) were as likely to be psychologically traumatised as women who had been sexually assaulted.
A few weeks later, Siobhain Weare (one of our signatories to the original CPS letter) published the first ever British academic research study into the appalling experiences of men who had suffered forced sexual intercourse.
You will probably notice I’m not using the R-word in the paragraphs above. In UK law the crime described is not classified as rape. That is another battle for another day, but that one is with the statute books, not the CPS. What the CPS can and should do, is begin the process of educating prosecutors, police and ultimately the public that this crime is a serious form of sexual assault and victims/survivors need to be informed and assured that this crime will be prosecuted. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a single prosecution or conviction of a woman for forcing an adult-age man into sexual activity in the UK.
Above and beyond that, despite the immense progress that has been made over the past two years, our original complaint is still in place and still valid. All of these concessions, caveats, acknowledgements and policy changes we have wrung out of the CPS in the past two years, they still continue to categorise intimate and sexual crimes against men as “violence against women and girls.”
Why they are so wedded to this misleading construct remains something of a mystery. It appears to be some kind of bureaucratic manacle – at some point in the past, some bureaucrat has decided that all intimate crimes should be classified as VAWG but nobody knows who did it or when or why, so nobody can work out how to change it. We should note that the Home Office and (presumably) the rest of HM Government apparently operates to the same definitions, so we have even bigger battles ahead.
The good news is that the CPS’s commitment to continue to engage with the men’s sector means that we can continue to dig at this, to chip away at it and hopefully make progress on that final, huge obstacle to fair treatment and justice.
One final point I will make in closing. This ongoing dialogue with the CPS has been one of the first major initiatives of the Men and Boys Coalition and certainly our greatest success so far. Considering we are still in the process of establishing ourselves as a charity and have thus far been operating with literally zero budget and no staff, this should be considered quite a coup. It goes to demonstrate what can be achieved with good campaigns, good arguments, patience and a blend of noisy nuisance and quiet diplomacy. We have plenty other campaigns on our radar. Just think what we’ll be able to do when we’re able to splash out on a few stamps and a fax machine. Watch this space.