In July 2014, the Lancet, one of the world’s best known medical journals, devoted a special issue to sex work and HIV. The publication was timed to coincide with the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. One of the articles, led by researcher Kate Shannon of the University of British Columbia, caught Senior Abt Associate Michael Shively’s eye.
The article, which Shively refers to as “the Shannon study,” used forecast modeling to test HIV prevention scenarios and estimate their impact on transmission rates among female sex workers and their clients in three very different cities: Vancouver, Canada; Mombasa, Kenya; and Bellary, India. The authors plugged independent variables like “safer work environment” and “elimination of inconsistent condom use due to any client violence” into their model and estimated their effect on averting HIV infections over ten years. They found that the decriminalization of sex work and its resulting benefits would have the potential to avert 33-46% of infections over a decade.
This finding made international headlines. “Decriminalization of sex work could reduce HIV infections,” declared the Washington Post. “The evidence is in: Decriminalizing sex work is critical to public health,” affirmed the Center for HIV Law & Policy. The authors circulated their findings to influence Amnesty International’s policy on the decriminalization of consensual sex work, which the organization released in May 2016.
“This is a very consequential study,” says Shively. “This is presented as the state-of-the-art, capstone event of decades of research and it was received that way and it was presented that way by the authors. They’re basically saying, the evidence is in. We’re done here. We figured this out.”
A self-proclaimed “certified nerd” and long-time criminal justice policy researcher working with Abt and the U.S. Department of Justice, Shively says he was excited that a policy measure like decriminalization could have such a positive impact on the health of sex workers. So he decided to “look under the hood” to see how Shannon and colleagues got to their influential conclusion. What he found, however, was significantly less conclusive than the study seemed to suggest and, perhaps more importantly, than reporters and activists made it out to be.
Shively scrutinized the (more than 300) citations used in the study and its adjoining appendices, and recruited statisticians at Abt to validate the modeling. Based on their critical analyses, Shively says there are several ways in which the study lacks credibility.
A major limitation he cites is the “assumption used to simulate [the] impact of decriminalization on HIV.” For one, the model assumes that decriminalization of sex work will immediately result in several overly optimistic outcomes, for instance, 0% violence toward sex workers, 0% police harassment, 100% access to prevention and treatment services, and maximum condom usage. It also assumes that decriminalization will result in all all of these changes overnight, regardless of context or details of the legislation.
Shively presented his findings and concerns at a Commercial Sex Symposium in November 2017, arguing, “there is no evidence that fully decriminalizing prostitution produces any of the outcomes assumed by Shannon.”
Of course, this type of modeling can be useful, but only if a variety of reasonable assumptions are used to determine a realistic range of outcomes following decriminalization. “What Shannon really found,” according to Shively, “was that HIV transmission would be reduced if violence, harassment, inconsistent condom use, and barriers to healthcare were eliminated.”
The authors do not qualify their findings, and, instead, present their work as unequivocal. Shively says he is not necessarily arguing that the study is wrong, but that the data is not sound enough to base international policy decisions on. When Shively attempted to confront the co-authors of the study, he was not well-received.
“When you say that you’ve got hard science that proves something, it needs to be challenged [and] scrutinized, and when it doesn’t hold up, they should be welcoming scrutiny,” Shively says. “I don’t expect people to just accept what I’ve said, I want—I should get challenged on it.”
Shively doesn’t know what will happen next. He has plans to publish his critique of the Shannon study and says, “I don’t think this is going to end well for me.” Point in fact, a reporter who attended the November symposium castigated him during the question and answer session and was more or less given the last word. Shively hasn’t heard from her since, but said he would have been glad to address her concerns.
For anyone writing about research, as we do every day at Public Health Post, Shively’s quest to “advance knowledge, build science, [and] get closer to the truth” is an important reminder. It is easy to gloss over the nuanced methods and results of academic papers and focus on the data that support our positions. Shively set out to understand the Shannon study and replicate it—a standard scientific practice. By asking unpopular questions and challenging overly optimistic conclusions, researchers can be sure they are producing the most thorough, transparent, and accurate evidence possible.
QotD: “If someone had told me 10 years ago that so-called feminists would be demonstrating outside a lap-dancing club, waving placards in support of stripping for a living, I would have laughed”
I am, according to those who seek to legitimise prostitution, a Swerf — meaning sex-worker-exclusionary radical feminist. This is a fairly new insult brought to you by the nice folks that introduced Terf (trans-exclusionary radical feminist).
Swerf means a feminist who considers prostitution to be harmful and abusive, which it most certainly is, and I have been labelled a Swerf since the acronym first emerged online in 2013 on a website called Everyday Whorephobia. Before that I was merely a “pearl-clutcher”, “prude” and “anti-sex puritan”.
In 2017, during the Sheffield launch of The Pimping of Prostitution, my book on the sex trade, a group of blue-fringed “feminists” (and a few bearded men) picketed the venue, shouting slogans such as “Blow jobs are real jobs!” and “Proud whores!”.
Swerf and Terf — which when used together sound like a bad meal at a tourist-trap steak house in Leicester Square — are misogynistic insults aimed at us uppity women who refuse to accept the erosion of women’s hard-won rights.
The former prostitute Rachel Moran, whose memoir, Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution, laid bare the reality of the sex trade, was compelled to embark upon a lengthy defamation case against a pro-prostitution lobbyist who repeatedly claimed, over a period of eight years, that Moran had made up her entire story of child abuse, homelessness, substance abuse and being bought and sold on the streets of Dublin. The “happy hooker” crew cannot easily deal with the abuse and exploitation inherent in the sex trade, and often attempt to shame and silence its victims. Every high-profile sex-trade survivor who exposes the truth of prostitution comes in for similar treatment.
Where did this valiant attempt to sanitise the sex trade emerge from? The Labour Party officially supports blanket decriminalisation of the sex trade, but I am not sure Jeremy Corbyn realises that this means the removal of all laws against pimping, brothel-keeping and paying for sex. Many assume decriminalisation means stopping the arrest of those selling sex, but don’t realise it also means exploiters go free.
The Liberal Democrats also take the view that prostitution is a job like any other, and have ignored survivors telling them otherwise. One of the party’s prominent female members, Wendy Chamberlain, argued against criminalising the punters by saying that “sex work has been going on for thousands of years and sadly no policy will end it”. So has murder, but I have yet to hear calls for its decriminalisation.
When Caroline Lucas was its leader, the Green Party supported an increasingly popular strategy of criminalising the demand while supporting those in prostitution to leave the sex trade, but a bit of haranguing on Twitter soon had her changing her mind.
If someone had told me 10 years ago that so-called feminists would be demonstrating outside a lap-dancing club, waving placards in support of stripping for a living, I would have laughed. But this is what happened in Sheffield recently when Sophie Wilson, a 23-year-old councillor and the Labour candidate for Rother Valley in South Yorkshire, decided that the feminists campaigning to have the licence of the city’s branch of Spearmint Rhino revoked on the grounds that stripping is exploitation were, as she eloquently put it, “trashy Swerfs”.
The pro-prostitution lobby almost always holds up the “rights” of “sex workers” to “choose” to sell sex. It is interesting how the terms “agency” and “empowerment” are only ever applied to degrading things imposed upon women, such as stripping, pole-dancing and prostitution. While jumping on to the #MeToo campaign about sexual harassment and consent, the anti-Swerf brigade seem to forget that prostitution is paid sexual harassment.
De Wallen, a well known red-light district in AmsterdamANDREA PUCCI
One picket line I had to walk through was on my way to speak at Leeds city council about the disgrace of its “managed zone”, where men can shop for sex with a vulnerable, drug-addled woman without fear of arrest. The protesters were shouting “Swerfs off our turf!” and “Hands off our clients!”
When a woman was murdered in the zone by a punter, the subsequent evaluation of the pilot scheme, conducted by academics so woke they need never set an alarm clock, concluded that the initiative had been a success and that it should become permanent.
The anti-Swerf crew were given another shot in the arm in 2016, when Amnesty International adopted a policy supporting the removal of all laws relating to prostitution — or, as Amnesty calls it, “adult consensual sex work”. An internal policy document, leaked to me in late 2013, made it clear that senior personnel had already reached the conclusion that men have the right to pay for sex and that women often “choose” prostitution as a career. There was even a suggestion that criminalising the punters, or even sending them on a “re-education” programme, could be a serious human-rights violation.
When feminists support the sex trade, they are giving men permission to buy and sell the most disenfranchised women on the planet. To invent and use an insult against the women campaigning for an end to commercial sexual exploitation is grotesque and unforgivable.
To suggest that supporting prostitution is somehow woke and progressive is ridiculous. I recall the words of the late feminist author Andrea Dworkin: “Only when women’s bodies are being sold for profit do leftists claim to cherish the free market.”
Senior lawyers and women’s organisations have condemned the increasing use of “rough sex gone wrong” as a courtroom defence to the murder of women and called for a change to the law in the UK.
In the wake of the conviction of British backpacker Grace Millane’s killer in New Zealand, researchers have revealed a tenfold rise over the past two decades in the number of times similar claims have been made in UK courts.
According to the campaign group We Can’t Consent to This, in the past decade 30 women and girls have been killed in what was claimed to have been consensual violent sexual activity in the UK.
Of those, 17 resulted in men being convicted of murder, nine led to manslaughter convictions and two ended in acquittals. In one further case, there was a murder conviction but only after the victim’s husband confessed; police had initially treated the death as non-suspicious. The case of one woman’s death has yet to go to court.
In 1996 there were two cases in which deaths and injuries to women were blamed on “rough sex”; by 2016, that had climbed to 20 cases a year.
During the Auckland trial of Millane’s murderer, the accused’s lawyer, Ian Brookie, told the jury that the 21-year-old backpacker had died during “a perfectly ordinary, casual sexual encounter between a young couple … as a result of what they consensually engaged in.”
The jury, however, did not believe him and unanimously found the killer guilty of murder. “You can’t consent to your own murder,” the crown prosecutor Brian Dickey said.
Fiona Mackenzie, an actuary, set up We Can’t Consent to This after the outcry over the killing of Natalie Connolly, 26, by her partner John Broadhurst, 40. Despite having 40 separate injuries, including serious internal trauma, a fractured eye socket and bleach on her face, Broadhurst received a sentence of three years and eight months for manslaughter.
Mackenzie supports changes to the domestic abuse bill, put forward by the MPs Harriet Harman and Mark Garnier, to incorporate the principle of R v Brown into statute.
She told the Guardian: “As well as changing the law, we need to have an attitude change across the justice system. People need to stop buying into these ‘rough sex’ excuses.
“Everywhere you look in the world, there’s the same failure in countries’ criminal justice systems. It’s terrifying.”
Consent, which has increasingly entered popular consciousness as a key concept in rape cases, is no defence to injury, let alone death. The principle was established in a 1993 test case, R v Brown, in the House of Lords in which a group of men were convicted of assault and wounding even though their sadomasochistic victims had willingly participated in the violence.
The defence of “rough sex gone wrong” has no official status in law but can, campaigners claim, influence prosecutors to reduce a charge from murder to manslaughter or a judge to lower the eventual sentence.
Sarah Green, the director of the End Violence Against Women coalition, said: “Women monitoring femicides in the UK believe the so-called ‘rough sex defence’ is growing. It is deeply alarming and at worst reflects the fact that defence is, actually, a business where some are willing to ‘test’ approaches that might win in court. It sets women up to be harmed in life and grossly insulted after their deaths.
“We’re also appalled at the willingness of large parts of the media to uncritically reproduce this deeply misogynistic line. Editors need to get a hold of this now and stop the thoughtless and sensational communication of cases where women have died.”
Prof Susan Edwards, a barrister who teaches law at the University of Buckingham, believes strangulation should be made a stand-alone offence.
“Strangulation is the cause of death in around a third of all spousal homicides,” she said. “Now there’s a burgeoning use of [rough sex excuses] because there’s greater acceptance of BDSM [bondage and sadomasochism] in relationships.”
Thirty years ago, she said, the more common excuse from a violent partner would have been that they were provoked, that it was unintentional or they lost control.
Campaigners partly blame the cultural normalisation of rough sex on the growth of violent online pornography and books such as Fifty Shades of Grey with its themes of sadomasochism.
What is not so clear is whether there has been a significant rise in the number of sexual strangulation deaths or whether the excuse of “rough sex” is simply being deployed more often than in the past.
Karen Ingala-Smith, the chief executive of the domestic violence charity Nia, said: “Women don’t die from rough sex. Women die because men are violent to them.”
She said violent and degrading online pornography was “socialising young men into different expectations of what they are supposed to do in bed. Women are pressured, whether they’re conscious of it or not, to accept violence during sex and do things that weren’t commonplace 10 or 20 years ago.”
A man who strangled a British backpacker and hid her body inside a suitcase has been found guilty of murder.
Grace Millane was found buried in bushland outside Auckland, New Zealand.
A jury at the city’s high court rejected claims by the 27-year-old man, who cannot be named, that she died accidentally during “rough sex”.
Ms Millane’s parents David and Gillian wept in the public gallery as jurors convicted their daughter’s killer.
He showed no emotion as the verdict – reached after about five hours of deliberations – was read out.
Justice Simon Moore said the defendant would be sentenced on 21 February next year.
Jurors heard the defendant and Ms Millane had met via the Tinder dating app on 1 December last year, the night before Ms Millane’s 22nd birthday.
They spent several hours drinking cocktails in bars around Auckland before going to the defendant’s hotel.
Ms Millane, from Wickford, Essex, was found in the mountainous Waitākere Ranges a week later.
Prosecutors said post-mortem examinations found bruises “consistent with restraint” on her body, and that she had been strangled.
On the night of her death, the court heard, the defendant “wasn’t distressed or concerned by her death”, and set about making plans to dispose of her remains.
He “sexualised” the killing by searching for pornography, stopping at one point to take lewd photos of her corpse, prosecutors said.
The following day, he went on a Tinder date with another woman while the body of Ms Millane remained in the hotel room.
He had bought a second suitcase in a bid to cover his tracks, as well as cleaning products and a shovel, jurors heard.
The defendant did not give evidence in his defence.
Following the verdict, the step-brother of the murderer spoke to television station TVNZ reporter Paul Hobbs.
The man, who also cannot be named for legal reasons, said he initially thought Miss Millane’s death could have been an accident but when he saw the timeline of events, his view changed.
His step-brother, he said, was “a pathological liar that lies over pointless things and continues to lie until the point where he’s got no out – absolutely no out – and then he just breaks down and cries and runs away.
“It’s just absolutely terrible that a life had to be lost because of it.”
He said he did not think his step-brother intended to kill Grace, but said: “In that moment he just kept going… and he took Grace’s life.”
In an interview with police, shown during the trial, the defendant was seen to break down in tears.
“His tears, to me, they’re more tears for himself.”
Apologising to the Millane family, he added: “I’m just so, so incredibly sorry for their loss.
“To know it’s one of our family members – even though it’s not our actions – it’s very difficult, and I can’t imagine the pain and hurt and what [the Millane family] had to go through for a court hearing… to me that’s all because he doesn’t have any shred of a decent human being inside him, and couldn’t just confess to the fact he murdered her.”
I really thought he was going to be found not guilty of murder, becuase of the evidence that Millane was into BDSM and ‘breath play’, so this is amazing.
A mother had nude pictures and her address posted on sex websites by her partner, leading to a dozen strangers arriving at her house on one night.
Builder Darren Rowe, 49, took secret images and spread intimate content without her knowledge using a phone connected to a customer’s wifi, a West Midlands Police probe found.
The victim said men arrived at her Birmingham home saying they had spoken to her online and been invited.
Rowe received a suspended sentence.
Mother-of-three Sharon, who wanted to protect her full identity, said she felt destroyed by a person she had worshipped.
“You don’t expect the man that you love, who says he loves you, to try and destroy you,” she said.
Rowe, from Rowley Regis, admitted two counts of disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress.
Last month he was given a 12-month jail term, which was suspended for two years, at Wolverhampton Crown Court.
Sharon said she was “disgusted” by what she feels is a lenient punishment.
She initially sobbed on the floor “like a baby” thinking it was all for nothing, but came to feel some sort of closure.
“His name is out there now. Now people know who he is and what he does,” she said.
Describing the moment she saw herself on various sex sites, Sharon said: “In that second everything changes. The life that you had has gone.
“You’ve got to get your head around the fact that potentially thousands of people have seen those pictures of you.
“One night 12 men came to the door. I was with my three-month-old baby at the time. Another time someone tried to get in the house.”
She said as many as 35 men turned up at her doorstep over a four-month period during the summer of 2017.
The 39-year-old said her partner had initially convinced her the images had been posted by a friend pretending to be her.
“When police did their investigations I found out it was my partner at the time who had been uploading pictures from a customer’s house,” she added.
“I wasn’t aware he had the pictures or that he’d taken them. He was very, very devious. I didn’t have a clue any of these pictures were there.”
Sharon, who is no longer with Rowe, has never been given an explanation over his intentions or received an apology.
“The police think he wanted to play the hero, whereas I think he had certain fetishes, which I’m not interested in,” she said.
Sharon, a customer service assistant, said she had been unable to take down some of the nude images two years on.
“Only Darren can remove them. He knows what sites they have been uploaded to. The police don’t have the authority to do it,” she said.
PC Lee Newell, of West Bromwich CID, said it had been a “long and complex case”.
“Our investigations revealed that the only person linked to an email address used to transmit the material was in fact Rowe,” he said.
“His victim has suffered a distressing onslaught of online abuse.”
PayPal has stopped processing payments for the world’s biggest pornography website after it was found to be hosting illegal content, including videos depicting child sexual abuse.
The electronic money transfer service had enabled Pornhub to pay people who are part of a company scheme under which porn stars and amateur models can earn a cut of the advertising revenue generated by the videos they upload. Top earners, whose videos get millions of views, can rake in £30,000 a month.
The decision comes after an investigation by The Sunday Times, published a fortnight ago, found Pornhub to be hosting illegal content including child abuse videos.
PayPal said it “explicitly prohibits the use of our services for the sale of materials that depict criminal behaviour, or the sale of sexually oriented content to minors”.
It added: “We work with a payment service provider to ensure their merchants follow our policies and adhere to applicable laws. Following a review, we have discovered Pornhub has made certain business payments through PayPal without seeking our permission. We have taken action to stop these transactions from occurring.” It said it had not seen evidence the payments were directly linked to illegal activities.
The content on Pornhub, uploaded by users around the world, included clips of men performing sex acts in front of children on buses and an account devoted to posting “creepshots” of UK schoolgirls.
The material makes up a small proportion of the more than 9m videos on Pornhub. But the fact that it, along with upskirting, voyeurism and revenge porn, was easy to find has raised fears the website is not doing enough to police user uploads. One of the clips had been viewed more than 350,000 times and was on the site for three years.
Two big advertisers, Unilever and Heinz, distanced themselves from Pornhub after the revelations. Both have advertised on the site in the past year.
PayPal has a history of cutting ties with controversial figures, including the English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson. It does not allow its services to be used to “promote hate, violence or other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory”. It also prohibits some gambling activities and has strict rules on the sale of sexually oriented goods and services.
Kate Isaacs, from #NotYourPorn, described PayPal’s former relationship with Pornhub as “problematic” and said she feared payments were made to “women being advertised as porn stars without their consent”.
Pornhub, owned by MindGeek, said it was “devastated” by PayPal’s decision, which it said would affect more than 100,000 performers, who will now be paid by direct debit or cryptocurrency. Blake White, its vice-president, said: “Decisions like that of PayPal . . . do nothing but harm efforts to end stigma towards sex workers.” The site claims to have a “robust” policy on illegal content, and said its aim was to eradicate “disgusting” child sexual abuse material from its platform.
“As criminals have become more sophisticated in their methods to disseminate child sexual abuse material, we are constantly adjusting our own preventative tactics. We believe these tactics are working,” White said.
Last week, the trial of the man suspected of killing British backpacker Grace Millane finally began.
The 22-year-old from Wickford, Essex, had been on a round-the-world trip when she was strangled to death in the Auckland apartment of the 27-year-old man she had met for a Tinder date last December, the eve of her 22nd birthday.
Jurors have heard that after she died, the accused took “intimate” photos of her body, watched pornography, and went on to have on another Tinder date the following evening, while Grace’s body was kept in a suitcase in his room.
Prosecutors allege Grace was strangled to death in the man’s apartment – but the case for the defence? They claim that Grace died by accident during consensual sex, saying “acts designed to enhance sexual pleasure went wrong”.
This defence will mean Grace’s family will have to endure a month-long trial during where her sexual behaviours and preferences are openly discussed. Her parents, David and Gill, are sitting just feet from the accused.
Grace’s story is a shocking one – but sadly not unique.
‘Consensual rough sex’ defences to the killing or injuring of women and girls are successfully being used to get lighter convictions and sentences.
In fact, the consensual violence defence has been used in the case of 59 deaths of women since records began. Only in the case of 36 pf those deaths was the defence not supported by the jury, and the accused were convicted of murder.
Of the remaining cases, 16 resulted in manslaughter convictions, two were found not guilty, and in three no charges were brought. Two cases – Grace’s included – are ongoing.
Currently, so-called ‘sex gone wrong’ defences are successful roughly 45 per cent of the time.
Around 60 per cent of women who are killed in alleged ‘rough sex’ die from being strangled, and a third of the dead women just met their killers on the same day as their murder.
What’s worse, the use of the ‘consensual rough sex’ defences to the killing or injuring of women and girls is on the rise in courts.
According to the most recent available statistics, there were 20 uses of the defence in 2017, compared to just two in 1997 – a tenfold increase in 20 years.
These statistics have been collated by We Can’t Consent To This (WCCTT), an initiative looking to change laws on domestic violence, with the consensual violence plea at the heart.
WCCTT are campaigning to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill in England and Wales to end the use of these defences in court.
The bill has sadly been temporarily halted due to the dissolution of parliament ahead of the general election in December. But two MPs – Harriet Harman and Mark Garnier – have announced they will take action over the use of ‘rough sex’ defences.
Its message is a simple one: women can’t consent to their own death. And it’s one that is brutally encapsulated in the dozens of true stories it has on its website – stories like Grace’s.
There’s Natalie Connolly, a 26-year-old mum who died at the bottom of her stairs in 2016 after suffering 40 separate injuries, including serious internal trauma, vaginal arterial bleeding, a fractured eye socket and facial wounds.
Her partner of only a few months, millionaire property developer John Broadhurst, claimed it was consensual, alcohol and drug-fuelled rough sex. He was convicted of manslaughter and got only three years and eight months.
Then there is Laura Huteson, a 21-year-old who was killed by a man she had met just that day. Her killer Jason Gaskell had held a knife to her neck while having sex and cut through her carotid artery.
Gaskell, the only surviving witness, claimed he didn’t intend to use the knife to kill Laura. He was ultimately charged with murder but admitted manslaughter and got just six years in prison. Courts heard how Gaskell had strangled a woman 11 days earlier.
Chloe Miazek was a 20-year-old student who had been out drinking in Aberdeen when she had been thrown out of a nightclub for being too drunk. She was approached by Mark Bruce, 32, while waiting at a bus stop and within two hours he had strangled her.
Bruce claimed it had been an accident and denied murder. He pleaded culpable homicide – the Scottish equivalent of manslaughter – and got just six years inside.
The examples make for tough reading – yet unbelievably, the subject of ‘consensual rough sex’ remains fraught with grey areas, legally speaking at least.
But for WCCTT founder Fiona Mackenzie, it reads starkly black and white.
“The law should be clear it shouldn’t matter if she consented to rough sex, that shouldn’t matter at all, it shouldn’t be part of a case,” she tells Tyla.
Fiona was inspired to create WCCTT when she heard MP Harriet Harman speak about Natalie Connelly’s death on BBC Woman’s Hour.
She – like a lot of other women she knew – were horrified by John Broadhurst’s short sentence and concerned by the frequency in which these kinds of cases were appearing in the news.
On Christmas Eve last year, Fiona decided to collate all of the cases she could immediately and launched the website.
Fiona explains how in some cases, even police officers investigating these cases, coroners, and crime scene officers are then “writing them off” because they look like sex accidents gone wrong.
“This defence allows people to switch their brains off,” she explains. “They think ‘other people must get up to this, who knows what goes on in the bedroom, maybe she asked for it.’
“That’s why it’s so successful. It’s the ultimate in victim blaming – blaming women for their own death.”
In all cases, jury’s have to go off the accused’s word alone. The victim can’t offer their side of the story, as is the sad situation with Grace.
“We need a change in attitude in the criminal justice system so people know that women do not consent to this violence,” Fiona adds.
Aside from changing the law, Fiona hopes WCCTT can help to raise awareness about the dangers of violent sex more generally.
“There’s a huge issue with young women being choked, punched, slapped or just horrendously assaulted as part of consensual sex by men that they are dating,” Fiona explains.
“We know this, we know its really dangerous to strangle someone, but for some reason young men are able to override this knowledge and are choking their partners.”
Recent figures from the ONS showed an estimated 4.3 million women have experienced some form of domestic abuse, and one in five have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16 in England and Wales.
Police receive a domestic abuse call every 30 seconds, while two women are killed by an ex or current partner every single week in England and Wales alone.
It’s clear the increase in cases of violent sex and the use of the consensual rough sex defence goes hand-in-hand with the normalisation of violence against women, and it needs to be stopped.
When the sex trade survivor Rachel Moran published her memoir, Paid For: My Journey through Prostitution, she knew not everybody would be happy that she’d laid bare the realities of sexual exploitation. Pimps, brothel owners and punters would hardly be pleased that she’d lifted the lid on the world’s oldest oppression. What she could never have imagined was having to sue another woman for defamation, for repeatedly claiming that Moran had based her book on a pack of lies.
Gaye Dalton, who was also a prostitute in Dublin’s southside red-light district, one of the spots where Moran was bought and sold, has repeatedly alleged that Moran fabricated her entire life history, and had never even been in prostitution. These extraordinary claims were ruled as, ‘Untrue, offensive and defamatory’ by a judge in Dublin’s Circuit Court today, and Dalton was legally restricted from repeating them.
In 1989, when Moran was 13-years-old, her father took his own life. Her mother, who also suffered serious mental health problems, then became even more difficult to live with. Moran left home shortly afterwards, moved in and out of hostels, state-funded B&B accommodation and domestic violence refuges, before becoming street homeless. Soon after Moran was groomed into prostitution. Her life was dogged by men’s violence and abuse, drug addiction and transient accommodation. After seven years, in 1998, Moran found the strength to kick narcotics and exit prostitution. She returned to education, undertook a journalism degree at Dublin City University and began to write her memoir Paid For, which took her a decade to complete.
The book, published in 2013, became an instant bestseller. Feminists all over the world picked up Paid For, which world-renowned legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon described as, ‘The best work by anyone on prostitution ever.’
Moran soon became a much-loved icon within the international feminist movement, and her book has since been published in the United States, Australia, Germany, Italy, Korea and various other countries. Moran had set up an organisation made up of sex trade survivors, SPACE International, the year before her book’s release. SPACE grew as an organisation, and Moran became its Executive Director. The organisation, which operated without funding for the first four years of its eight year existence, was held together by an ingenious strategy of connecting sex trade survivors with feminist organisations who wanted to hear their voices, with much interest generated by Paid For. Moran and her colleagues slept in feminists’ spare rooms, on sofas and in cut-price B&Bs, as they spread their message about the abuse inherent to the sex trade to as broad an audience as possible, on zero budget.
The reality of this history – an absolute grassroots feminist struggle – is probably what makes the allegations against Moran so unjust and insulting. Far from fictionalising her history, Moran laid out the painful truth so other women wouldn’t have to live it. Far from profiting from it, the first time I met Moran at a feminist conference in Malmo, she didn’t even have the price of a meal. I ask Moran about those early days and what was involved in building an organisation from the ground up. She said ‘I began travelling internationally in 2012 on the back of a blog I’d begun writing a year before my book came out, and I met all these fantastic women from across Europe and North America and the thing that struck me so forcibly was that, regardless whether we were white women from Europe or black women from the US or Indigenous women from Canada, we were all saying the same thing. You couldn’t fail to see what a powerful force these voices would be if they were united. The first thing we faced were lies and slurs, and we face them to this day.’ One such slur would be that delivered by Ms Dalton, who allegedly said the women of SPACE International were ‘A pack of greedy, spiteful little frauds who sold sex workers lives out along with their souls.’
‘It’s just disgusting to see our women spoken about in that way’ says Moran. ‘Every woman representing SPACE International has lived the sex trade, many of us delivering frontline services to women currently in prostitution. We know what we’re talking about because we’ve lived it and we’ve witnessed other women live it. Whitewashing the sex trade won’t work with us. That’s why our voices must be rubbished as fraudulent. They are a dangerously powerful opposition to the counter political narrative.’
Asked how she feels about finally being vindicated, Moran says, ‘Well I always knew I could be vindicated because I always knew I was telling the truth. What I didn’t know was whether I’d be able to see Ms Dalton inside a courtroom. Thankfully that day has come and the media is now reporting what I’ve always known.’
Moran’s court submissions included two affidavits, one from a former foster mother who took Moran into care under court order after she had been arrested from a brothel as a minor in 1992, and the other from the Vice Squad Officer who’d arrested her.
It’s not just about Dalton though, is it? I ask Moran. ‘No, it isn’t’ she says. ‘This is not nearly as straightforward as one women spreading malicious rumours about another. It’s much further reaching and more sinister than that. This was a concentrated campaign of harassment that ran for years involving hundreds of people, thousands of tweets, scores of videos and blog posts, false allegations, defamation and the deliberately threatening public release of my home address.’
Some of that mud stuck. I remind Moran that I myself was prevented from publishing a profile piece on her in a major British newspaper on the grounds that there were ‘murmurings about her authenticity’. ‘There’ve been murmurings about the authenticity of every woman who’s ever spoken out against male violence in the history of the world’ says Moran. ‘Those murmurings don’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that some women who’d call themselves feminists believe them and repeat them. I’d suggest they look up the word “feminist” in their dictionaries, or take a look in the mirror, or maybe do both at the same time.’
In a letter submitted to Dublin’s Circuit Court Ms Dalton’s psychiatrist described her as ‘ill’ and asked the Court for leniency on her behalf. I ask Moran how she feels about Dalton now? ‘I have some sympathy for her’ says Moran. ‘I feel she’s been used. The piece that’s been revealed here is a long-term psychiatric patient’s bullying and vilification of a total stranger with allegations that have just been deemed defamatory in an Irish Court. The piece that’s gone under the radar is how a whole global cabal of pro-sex trade voices took advantage for years of her mental frailty and of my inability to defend myself against it. They used one woman to hurt another, and they knew exactly what they were doing.’
Seventeen people have been arrested in early morning raids across east London in an international human trafficking investigation.
A total of 29 women aged 20 to 40 were rescued in the operation by the Met, supported by officers from Romania.
The potential victims were taken to a “place of safety”, and the suspects, 14 men and three women, remain in custody.
Sixteen warrants were executed at properties in Redbridge, Havering, Barking and Dagenham and Tower Hamlets.
The suspects, who were aged between 17 and 50, were held on suspicion of modern slavery, controlling prostitution, Class A drug offences and firearm offences relating to a stun gun.
They remain in custody in a central London police station.
Four warrants were carried out in Romania at the same time, leading to the arrest of a man in Constanta.
Det Ch Insp Richard McDonagh, said: “The Met recognises the seriousness of modern slavery and the devastation it brings to people’s lives.
“Today’s synchronised operational activity [had] the aim of, in one fell swoop, dismantling an organised crime network and providing support to the victims.”
A spokesman for Romanian police in the UK said: “Romanian police officers working shoulder to shoulder with our British partners is a great achievement, a proof of our mutual permanent support and a great professional reward.”
Perhaps less easy to discount is the pornography consumed by Boy A, including material depicting violence against women. Gardaí found thousands of images on his various devices, as well as internet searches for “child porn” and “horse porn”. But the psychological assessments stated that he had a normal view of sexual matters, a fact scarcely believable given the nature of the attack. Ana was naked when found, her ripped clothes scattered around the room.
In the absence of external factors, it’s tempting to label one or both boys as budding psychopaths, devoid of empathy and preprogrammed to commit horrific crimes. But again the reports said neither showed signs of personality disorders or traits indicating psychopathy. Similarly, there was no evidence of mental illness in either teen.
This is what we mean when we say misogyny is ‘normal’ and ‘normalised’; hatred of women is so entrenched in ‘everyday’ culture and society that a ‘normal’ teenaged boy who looks at violent porn online can go on to commit a brutal sexual murder for ‘no reason’.