QotD: “There is, I think, a link between the purity politics of the left and the misogyny of left-wing men”
The left never, ever has to tackle misogyny because it’s something that only ever happens to women and women are, as we all know, less pure than men (menstrual blood, original sin and all that).
There is, I think, a link between the purity politics of the left and the misogyny of left-wing men. The exploitation of women’s bodies and labour is not merely not a priority for them; on the contrary, it is a necessity. Women get their hands dirty – cooking, cleaning, nursing, birthing – in order to free men up to get on with the more serious business of “fighting for equality.” Misogyny may be deplored in theory, but when you look at actual women, they are never good enough to merit protection. Men are. Men always are. There’s not a man on earth who doesn’t benefit from the unpaid labour of women, but that is only natural. As Andrea Dworkin put it, “God is the right, nature is the left.” There’s always a moral reason for hating women. Ruth Smeeth worked for an evil corporation, as have I. Screw us. While men’s humanity is not in question, women only get one humanity token and we blew it.
Today’s left wing men have their own bastardised version of intersectionality to use as an excuse for continuing to dismiss women’s issues and needs. I don’t think for a minute any of them have read any Crenshaw, yet they consider themselves experts when it comes to lecturing their female peers on privilege. Crenshaw had an important point to make about the way in which intersecting oppressions require specific analyses and practical responses as opposed to one-size-fits-all solutions. As far as your average lefty male is concerned, intersectionality simply means calling a woman a bigot whenever she seeks to articulate the material nature of female oppression. Only a whorephobic bully objects to the sex trade. Only a transphobe considers abortion and surrogacy to be women’s issues. Only a middle-class bitch shirks the housework and pays another woman to do it. It’s funny, isn’t it, how the left-wing intersectional ideal ends up being not the liberation of all women, but ensuring all woman remain barefoot and pregnant, serving men. Because it just wouldn’t be fair for some women to get out of this and not others.
If you want to be one of the righteous, don’t pay other people a pittance to do things for you when you can get the women right on your doorstep to do it for free.
And I’m pissed off with this. I’m pissed off with the fact not only that purity costs money (very few of us can afford to quit a job in moral pique) but that it imposes a specific, unacknowledged tax on women. We’re meant to shut up about rape threats for the sake of party unity. We’re meant to carry on cooking, cleaning, caring, serving, because it would be “exploitative” to expect anyone else to do it. We’re meant to pretend that Hillary Clinton is the same as Donald Trump even though Trump clearly thinks all women are scum. We’re meant to perform the exact same role capitalist patriarchy has always expected us to perform only don’t worry, girls! Come the revolution you’ll be scrubbing floors and sucking cock in a socialist utopia!
I’m sick of it, men. But you don’t have to listen to me. My hands, unlike yours, are unclean.
Many former prostitutes do not support the full decriminalisation of the sex industry, as a model exemplified by New Zealand (NZ), which was indicated as a possible long term aim in the report. As such the model received comparatively little criticism compared to the Sex Buyer Law, in spite of the wealth of criticism available from many respectable organisations, as has been indicated, including survivor organisation SPACE International. As a former prostitute, not only was I dismayed by the predominate male panel, but by the cautious bias indicated in the report, saliently demonstrated in the insistence upon qualifying the positives for the Sex Buyer Law, whilst being remarkably uncritical of the purported positives of full decriminalisation.
I was also dismayed, hugely, by the paucity of attention noted to the element of the Sex Buyer Law which calls for government funded support services for women exiting, or have exited the sex industry, as in France where almost five million Euros per year is being offered; an amount which although insufficient, represents a starting point. Whichever legal system is in place, it is utterly irrelevant to the needs of prostitutes – who are often forced to return to the industry because of the lack of support in exiting – without adequate exiting services specific to their needs. As a former prostitute and as someone who has recently spent time interviewing women in prostitution and exited women, services that support women who suffer from trauma, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – and who wish to escape – should receive access to secular assistance, include temporary emergency housing, refuge, counselling and aid in obtaining social security.
Though I and other survivors would support the decriminalizing of those who sell sex, I would caution emphatically against the decriminalizing of brothel management and profiteering, especially if it enables the existence of large brothels and brothel chains. Unlike some of the women who gave evidence from the perspective of the industry who support the New Zealand model, I have actually worked in a New Zealand brothel. I discussed my experience in a recent article, however to summarize, the long term consequences of the ability of some to operate large brothels include increased competition and decreased charges as the brothels begin to run on a ‘low price/high volume’ basis, which can lead to prostitutes having to see more customers and needing to offer a higher range of, often, more dangerous or uncomfortable sexual activities, such as oral sex without a condom and anal sex.
In theory, the NZ model enables women to refuse customers however there is a very limited number of customers you can refuse before the brothel suggests you find other places to work, and often will insist on you having a ‘good reason’ to refuse any given customer. In practice, in all brothels, women will regularly have sex with customers that they simply do not want to. This has serious implications for laws relating to sexual harassment and coercion in the work place, unless of course, we are to make prostitution a special case.
Added to which, we are supposed to be able to negotiate the services that we are willing to offer, but from my own experience, this often doesn’t work in practice as the brothel managers can apply soft pressures. Indeed it is self policing, as customers simply won’t choose women who try to put up too many ‘boundaries’ as competition is so fierce, and as such women either capitulate to demands or struggle to earn enough money.
Punters feel vindicated in applying pressure and putting the prostitute at greater risk of danger, pain or discomfort, because the industry has been legitimised and they feel they have a right as consumers. The humanity of the women who are rented has always been shaky, but this is further cemented by the mega brothel culture.
I have spoken to Chelsea who currently works in a NZ brothel and has corroborated my story:
My experience at the brothel is that of terrorism. It is a constant battle to uphold even the most minimal personal boundaries such as safer sex practices, like condoms and dental dams and no saliva transference (kissing) and not doing the deed more than once for a guy without being paid more than once. I definitely find it extremely difficult to even get bookings because most of the time I attempt to assert these minimal of boundaries.
She and I are not alone as critics who have experience of the New Zealand model. Sabrinna Valisce, a former campaigner for it, has since changed her position:
I worked pre- and post-law reform. The Prostitution Reform Bill passed into law to become The Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) in 2003. The good part of it was that the threat of a criminal record was removed. This would happen under The Nordic Model also. I volunteered at the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC), so I was [able to compare our decriminalization] goal … to the results. I, and others who were agitating for decriminalization in New Zealand, we always wanted the power to be placed firmly in the hands of the prostituted person/sex worker. Decriminalization didn’t do that. The power went to the brothel owners, escort agency owners and johns. Immediately following the PRA, the pimps became legitimate businessmen. They introduced “All-Inclusive.” An “All-Inclusive” is a single fee paid by the john to the brothel/escort agency via the receptionist. This means that the prostituted person/ sex worker has no power of negotiation. It also means that the pimp decides her earnings. The pimps gained the power to decide what a “service” would be paid and how much of that belonged to them. They also gained the power to withhold the woman’s earnings or even deny any existence of those earnings. Prior to law reform we negotiated our own money and decided our own services.
I would urge the panel and the government to put more consideration into exit services, and to consider the opinions of those campaigners, who have direct experience of the New Zealand model, who feel extremely strongly that the decriminalisation of brothel keeping and profiteering will further harm women in prostitution, and take what powers of negotiation or assertion they have, away.
Nordic Model Now have released a thorough and comprehensive response to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s Interim Report on Prostitution, I will highlight some of it below, but please go and read the whole thing.
If you are a UK citizen, writing to your MP about this could be an effective form of activism (rather than lobbying the committee directly), if there are going to be any law changes, they will be voted on in the House of Commons.
On 1 July 2016, the UK Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) released an interim report on its inquiry into prostitution.
Nordic Model Now! welcomes the recommendation to decriminalise soliciting and to delete convictions and cautions for prostitution from criminal records, and the call for in-depth research. However, we have some serious concerns about other aspects of the report.
We are particularly concerned that it exhibits a significant bias. This is not surprising given that the committee is composed of eight men (Keith Vaz, James Berry, David Burrowes, Ranil Jayawardena, Tim Loughton, Stuart McDonald, Chuka Umunna, David Winnick) and only three women (Victoria Atkins, Nusrat Ghani, Naz Shah).
Prostitution is an extremely gendered institution, with the majority (80% or more) of those bought and sold in prostitution being female and 99% or more of the buyers (punters) being male. Prostitution therefore has a very different significance for women than for men. The committee has downplayed evidence of the harms that prostitution causes both to those who are in it, and to women and girls and gender equality more generally.
Moreover we find it troubling that many concerns about these serious and significant harms have been written off as “moral values” and “emotive” reactions, while the report fails to mention the thinly veiled entitlement that infuses many of the contributions from men and which inevitably clouds the judgement of the male members of the committee. Instead there is an unexamined and clearly incorrect assumption that they are acting dispassionately.
Conflicts of interest
It is notable that there is no mention of whether the members of the committee are or have been sex buyers. It is clear that this is a common male behaviour and the majority of the committee members are male, and so it is statistically likely that some of them are or have been sex buyers.
The inquiry had a brief to consider whether buying a person for sex should be criminalised. Being a sex buyer or having a history of sex buying is a therefore a clear conflict of interest. We believe there is a strong case that members should formally declare whether they are or have been sex buyers and if so, to step down from the inquiry.
On page 3, the report says:
“Terminology is also disputed, with some opposition to the description “sex workers”. Our use of the term in this report is a neutral one and refers to female, male or transgender adults who receive money in exchange for sexual services.”
The term “sex worker” was coined as part of a deliberate attempt to normalise and sanitise prostitution by implying that it is ordinary and wholesome work. It is a euphemism and many people reject this term and many survivors of prostitution ask that it not be used.
The report defines the term as the exchange of “sexual services” for money. This is yet more euphemism. The Oxford online dictionary defines service as “The action of helping or doing work for someone.” Being paid to be sodomised, to endure a man ejaculating in your face, and many of the other core components of prostitution are not helping or active work. Rather it is being used as an object for someone else’s gratification.
The committee’s choice of term and definition therefore reveals a position, a judgement, on the issues, and to describe that as “neutral” is disingenuous.
Migrant workers and trafficking
The report does not make it clear how the committee defines sex trafficking.
At least one written submission drew attention to the fact that the Modern Slavery Act uses a different definition of human trafficking from that internationally agreed and set out in the Palermo Protocol, and the urgent need to correct this anomaly.
The variations in how sex trafficking is defined and understood can explain some of the extreme variations in the numbers of trafficked persons in the studies quoted. For example, on page 13 the report quotes research by Professor Nicola Mai which “found that only around 6% of all female interviewees felt that they had been deceived and forced into selling sex in circumstances within which they felt they had no share of control or consent.”
The Palermo Protocol definition makes clear that consent is irrelevant when any of the following means have been used:
“threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
The notion of “abuse of power or a position of vulnerability” recognises that trafficking can take the form of taking advantage of people’s vulnerability within structures of inequality based on aspects like age, sex, race, caste, and poverty. This may not be apparent to the person being taken advantage of. Not recognising the true extent of one’s lack of options is a normal psychological mechanism to maintain the hope and sense of control without which life becomes intolerable or even impossible. The report from Nikki Holland on the following page of the report implicitly recognises this dynamic.
In the light of this, Professor Mai’s test of whether the women he interviewed had been trafficked is severely flawed. That the committee reports his findings uncritically suggests that they too are uninformed about both the internationally agreed legal definition of trafficking, and its awful realities. We believe that this lack of understanding is a thread that can be seen running through the entire report and contributes to the committee’s misguided conclusion that sex trafficking and prostitution are separate issues.
The Palermo Protocol definition makes it clear that third-party involvement in the exploitation of another’s prostitution is the essential feature of sex trafficking. As Catharine MacKinnon says, “trafficking is straight-up pimping”.
Most women and girls in prostitution worldwide have a pimp. So we should not be surprised that Sigma Huda, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking 2004–2008, said: “Prostitution as actually practised in the world usually does satisfy the elements of trafficking.”
We insist the committee (and the government) familiarise themselves with the Palermo Protocol definition and use that as the standard.
The Sex Buyer Law
The section of the report on the Sex Buyer Law is perhaps the most disappointing of all. The section starts by saying that a “large proportion of the evidence we received was from individuals and organisations arguing in favour of the introduction of a Sex Buyer Law in England and Wales.” The report then goes on to largely ignore that evidence and to extensively quote and refer to those who are clearly opposed to this approach.
For example, this section of the report quotes or refers to 17 people or organisations who are clearly ideologically opposed to the Nordic Model, three who support it and three who appear to be neutral, as shown in the following table.
Pro Nordic Model Neutral Ideologically opposed
- Nordic Model Information Network
- APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade
- Mika Malmö
- Swedish Government
- Norwegian Ministry of Justice
- ACC Nikki Holland
- Amnesty International
- Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford
- Professor Peter Shirlow of the University of Liverpool
- Support and Advice for Escorts (SAAFE)
- The Sussex Centre for Gender Studies
- Laura Lee
- Professor Philp Hubbard of the University of Kent
- The Sex Work Research Hub
- The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective
- Dr Jay Levy
- International Union of Sex Workers
- Action for Trans Health
- Bridie Sweetman
- Feminists for Solidarity Sweden
- The Sussex Centre for Gender Studies
- Miss E, a sex worker
- Sex Worker Open University
Moreover much of the “evidence” in this section from those who are opposed to the Nordic Model is biased, not strictly relevant, or is conjecture and argument.
For example, under the subheading, “Health,” the Sex Work Research Hub is quoted as stating that “data from multiple countries linked criminalisation of sex work with up to a five-fold increase in risk of HIV infection or other sexually transmitted infections.” However, the research referenced does not appear to have been conducted in a country that has implemented the Nordic Model approach. We therefore question the relevance of including this quotation here.
Another example is the report saying that Bridie Sweetman “argued that the Swedish model limited the ability of sex workers and their clients to access preventive health measures and health checks; was associated with a drop in willingness to carry and use condoms; and workers were more likely to engage in unprotected sex out of desperation for work and the inability to report a client for insisting on unprotected sex.”
However, her written evidence on these points is mostly pure conjecture, such as that a client would have to admit to committing a crime in order to seek a sexual health check-up and that a “sex worker” would be “further stigmatised and degraded if they seek assistance from sexual health providers.” Similarly she says: “There is also a drop in willingness to carry and use condoms for two reasons: condoms are often used as evidence of transactional sex.” However, this is backed up by a reference to page 88 of a World Health Organisation publication from 2013, Implementing Comprehensive HIV/STI Programmes with Sex Workers which does not mention the Nordic Model.
Arguments for and against the Nordic Model
The bias of the committee is further revealed in the way the arguments for and against the Nordic Model were presented.
The arguments for were put under the heading “Potential benefits of a Sex Buyer Law” and amounted to two brief paragraphs; whereas the arguments against it were put under the heading “Arguments against a Sex Buyer Law” with two entire pages separated under a number of subheadings, containing many quotations, most from those who are ideologically opposed to the Nordic Model or have vested interests in the sex trade.
For example, page 26 quotes the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW). In an interview with Julie Bindel and Cath Elliott, Douglas Fox, one of the leading figures in the IUSW, admitted that it is an activist and lobbying group rather than a trade union and that it includes pimps, who are redefined as managers and “sex workers”.
Another example is self-described “sex worker”, Laura Lee, who was quoted several times in the report, including in this section on page 25. She uses advertisements on social media both to accrue business and for political campaigning. She has raised funds for a legal battle against the Sex Buyer Law in Northern Ireland directly from men who pay for sex regularly. Thus there is a potential conflict of interest, as her public position and expressed views must take into account the wishes of those who fund her campaigning work.
So the committee chose to quote a lobby group run by and for the benefit of pimps and a campaigner funded by punters and possibly pimps rather than the European Women’s Lobby, UNISON, Welsh Women’s Aid, SPACE International, the Soroptimists, or the Women’s Support Project. None of these organisations were quoted a single time in the entire report, even though the former represents hundreds of women’s organisations throughout Europe, UNISON is a large trade union that represents millions of low paid women, SPACE is an international organisation of survivors of prostitution and the others are well-respected and established women’s charities.
Many other organisations, including those that work with prostituted women or conduct research on how policy affects women and girls, submitted written evidence that was ignored, including Community Safety Glasgow, Ruhama, JBS-R Associates, End Violence Against Women Coalition, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, Women @ the Well, Women Analysing Policy on Women, Wales Assembly of Women, Trust Women’s Project and the Judith Trust. All of these organisations recommended a Nordic Model approach.
It appears that the committee did not make a concerted effort to understand the thinking behind the Nordic Model and the conclusion of this section states, incorrectly, that it “is based on the premise that prostitution is morally wrong and should therefore be illegal”. We urge the committee to reconsider the Nordic Model afresh, taking on board the full written presented to the committee and the oral evidence from Kat Banyard, Mia Faoite and Alan Caton.
The interim report cannot be considered evidence-based because the selection of the evidence relied upon was biased and the evidence that didn’t match that bias was downplayed by undue emphasis on routine caveats or the dismissal of the motives of the person presenting it as “emotive” or deriving from “moral values”.
No one demolishes the attempt to dismiss the argument for the Nordic Model on the basis that it is a moral crusade better than Meagan Tyler:
“Perhaps this all depends on how you define “moral crusade.” If you view the movement for women’s equality as a “moral crusade”, then I suppose it is. If you are determined to dismiss all of the evidence in support of the Nordic Model and instead want to debate this on a “moral” level, then by all means do. Those who think violence against women is a bad thing are bound to win that argument.”
Prostitution causes great harm to those who are in it, it damages society, it leads to higher rates of harassment and sexual violence, it treats women as commodities that can be used to generate profits, it lowers the status of all women. Of course it is a moral and ethical issue.
We believe that the committee has failed in its responsibility to consider the issues surrounding prostitution dispassionately and we believe they need to start afresh. But first we urge the committee to take a step back and consider what type of society they want the prostitution legislation to contribute to. For example:
- What are the core principles that govern our society?
- Do we believe in equality between men and women, girls and boys?
- Do we believe in the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
- Or do we believe that might is right?
- That greed is good?
- That women and girls must acquiesce in the face of the ancient patriarchal male sex right?
- That women and girls are not in fact fully human and so their rights to dignity, safety and freedom don’t count?
We urge the committee to consider these, the ethical issues that underpin the system of prostitution and the ever expanding sex trade. We believe that only after considering such questions should they proceed with their inquiry.
We urge the committee to read again, with an open mind this time, the many written submissions from individual women and organisations who called for a Nordic Model approach. The committee has a very serious responsibility to get this right because the health and well-being of future generations of women and girls depend on it and many people will take their lead from the committee.
When the government considers its response to the interim report, we urge it to take into account all of the flaws and weaknesses that we have set out above.
We end with a short quotation from the written submission from Jill Thomas:
“The open sale of women as bodies for sexual pleasure undermines equality and messages of consent. The main cause of sexual violence and abuse is a man’s attitude and belief in the worth of women. The relegation of women to a commodity to be enjoyed without any care for her feelings or impact on her health is dehumanising to all women and girls and ultimately dangerous. It has no place in a modern egalitarian society.”
Sometimes it is hard to hear yourself described as a terf, a bigot, hysterical, a prude, actual human garbage. You know what you are fighting for is dignity and fairness for women, but you have a million men, in dresses and out, telling you that you’re literally, hitlerally the worst sort of oppressor of the most oppressed people on earth. A bona fide monster.
This has happened every time women stick up for themselves. It happened to the suffragists. They were knocked down in the street for just wanting to vote. It happened to the women’s libbers. Marc Lepine shot feminists down with bullets. But they don’t do it because we’re Hitler. Men act like this when they’re threatened, especially misogynistic men.
Putting women first in a world that hates women is not ever going to be an easy ride. But something that makes me feel better about all this is knowing that the more threatened they are, the angrier and nastier they get, the more I know that I’m on the right track. Any cause that gets men so frothingly supportive has to be bad news for women, has to be. And if I was wrong, if I was just ridiculous, if I was talking bullshit, they wouldn’t be so determined to shut me up.
Perhaps the term “sexlamism” best describes the dogma of these terror groups due to the presence of institutionalised sexism and/or sexual violence, along with the sexual motivation that plays a crucial role in their recruitment. The governance of Daesh is deeply sexualised. Men are given the provision of Daesh’s lustrous heaven upon joining, with wives and slaves in ample supply, sins legitimised. Supposed martyrdom is encouraged with the distant mirage of making love to seventy-two hoors in paradise. They believe, however, that being killed by a woman will deprive them of their imaginative sensuous paradise, and they will perish in hell. Thus, the hatred of women has proven to be largely beneficial for the Kurdish army, as the Women’s Protection Units, an all women faction of the YPG which is estimated to be 10,000 troops strong, is fighting ISIS to re-take territory in north-eastern Syria. It has therefore helped them win victories.
Their ideology of “sexlamism” encompasses abuse against homosexuals, transsexual people or people of other orientations and religions. Not only is it prevalent in terror groups, but it’s also legalised in some countries such as Saudi Arabia, where everyday sexism determines the political discourse. Some examples in Saudi Arabia include victims of rape being punished rather than the offenders. This notion also infers a racist doctrine that views the world in a binary – the Muslims vs. the Infidels. These “infidels” are perceived as being sexually immoral and looked down as being too liberal on women. The illusion of an Islamic Caliphate is also entwined in this seductive textual interpretation to unite the Muslim ummah into one nation.
Nonetheless, Sexlamists in their private lives are obsessed with pornography (in a February 17, 2015 article, New York Post reported that Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden found a fairly extensive stash of modern pornography in his possession), they communicate through it (media sources reported that terrorist cells embedded secret coded messages into shared pornography and onto pedophile websites) and justify their own salacious carnal practices on religious grounds. Al-Qaeda leaders, such as Osama Bin Laden and Anwar Al-waki, had also indulged in notorious promiscuity. Adultery and fornication are strictly prohibited in Islam, but in terror groups abhorrent sexual practices reign supreme. Daesh, for instance, has issued fatwas justifying rapes of Yazidi women to make them Muslims. Rape is the mechanism of Daesh to achieve their strategic objectives, since it humiliates and shames respective communities.
Daesh also sells Yazidi women held as captives in the slave market, where they are exhibited naked and priced according to their physique. Women are publicly gang raped and families and communities forced to comply with their code of conduct. Sexism dominates internal organisational structure of the Sexlamist groups where men occupy leadership positions; women on the contrary are placed in authority only over women to moralise their behaviour. The women in these groups serve patriarchal figures who protect the patriarchal misogynist structure within the organisation.
The issue of women’s rights, victimisation of women in terror groups gets sullied in terrorist debates. Pornography is rarely discussed in counter terrorism narrative, even though evidence suggests that increased consumption of pornography might cause radicalisation, it is a rare issue in the security discourse.
QotD: “It is not considered unnatural for men to pose a threat; it is considered unnatural for women to do nothing to counteract it”
On Tuesday Ben Butler was sentenced to a minimum of 23 years in prison for the murder of his six-year-old daughter Ellie. It’s a death that is particularly tragic because not only was it predictable, but it was predicted, again and again.
Ben Butler was a violent man, with prior convictions for assaulting an ex-girlfriend and two strangers. He was jailed for attacking Ellie when she was six weeks old, but this conviction was later quashed. He and Ellie’s mother, Jennie Gray, won back custody of Ellie in 2012, despite Gray’s grandfather protesting that this would lead to the little girl’s death. It took just eleven months for this prediction to come true.
Gray was not present when her daughter died, but she later helped Butler in his attempt to make the death appear to have been an accident. She has been sentenced to 42 months’ imprisonment for child cruelty. The Daily Mail describes her as “the twisted mother who sooner saw [Ellie] die than turn against the savage thug who beat her to death,” while according to the Mirror she is “evil” and “scheming”. But Gray was also a victim of Ben Butler. Despite her own protestations to the contrary, the physical suffering and mental torment endured by Gray – who wrote secret “letters of prayer” begging for Butler to “stop being angry, hateful and violent” – should not be in any doubt.
Gray was gaslighted by Butler, who told her to “please try harder with your mouth as it’s a trigger for me”. The judge who awarded custody of Ellie to her parents ignored the concerns of a junior doctor, who said he had seen Butler pushing and poking his partner. A police officer involved in the case described Butler’s treatment of Gray as “completely abnormal”: “And for her to tolerate it in the way that she does is not normal either.”
But Gray was an adult, Ellie a child. Gray is still alive, but Ellie is not. And I am aware that just by mentioning Butler’s abuse of Gray I may be accused of making excuses for her, of indulging in a kind of “victim feminism” which denies women agency and assumes they can do no wrong. Romantic love is, after all, a selfish indulgence compared to its mundane, frequently unrewarding maternal counterpart. Gray will be seen by some to have chosen the former over the latter, even if it happened to be with a man who treated her and their children appallingly.
I am suspicious of this urge to present the female partners of men who kill children as sharing in their guilt. While both Jennie Gray and Mareid Phillpot, sentenced to 17 years in prison for the deaths of her children in the fire orchestrated by her husband Mick, are more deserving of condemnation than Carr, I think something else is going on when we decide these women are morally no different to the men who abused them. It stops us having to consider the way in which male violence is not just tolerated, but seen as a necessary price to pay for order.
We may hate the harm male violence does but far from challenging it, our response is to look for ways of accommodating it. In particular, the responsibility of mitigating its worst effects– either by tending to the wounded or taking on the role of punch bag – falls on the women closest to violent men. Men create the shocks, women absorb them. Hence if male violence gets out of hand, it is not the fault of men alone. Some woman, somewhere, has not been doing her job.
We know that women are not held to the same standards as men. Our economies and social structures are absolutely reliant on the belief that women, as “natural” carers, will not only do the work of nurturing, but that of neutralising the most unwelcome aspects of male aggression, which is also “natural” and hence cannot be eradicated. There will, we tell ourselves, always be another Ben Butler out there, just as there will always be “some nutter” who’s intending to rape you, or “some bigot” who wants to beat you up for wearing the wrong clothes. It is the role of women to prevent this from happening: why don’t you leave him? why don’t you stay in? why don’t you provide a safe space for those more marginalised than you? It is not considered unnatural for men to pose a threat; it is considered unnatural for women to do nothing to counteract it.
Yet as most victims of abuse know, there is no safe way of responding to male violence. Women are most at risk from a violent partner when attempting to leave the relationship. In a 2014 report for Buzzfeed, Alex Campbell identified 28 mothers in the US who had been sentenced to more than 10 years’ imprisonment for failing to prevent their partners from harming their children: “In every one of these cases, there was evidence the mother herself had been battered by the man.” Moreover, as Campbell explains, what outsiders may see as tolerance or complicity is frequently a woman trying her hardest not to provoke further attacks. “Any time I interfered,” says Victoria, currently serving 20 years for “permitting” the abuse and murder of her daughter Aubriana, “it would just make the situation worse.”
One could argue that Gray was not attempting to protect Ellie by staying with Butler, and I would agree. However, she had bought into the narrative that it is down to women to limit male violence. She thought she could make him stop, not least because Butler himself was reading from the same script, suggesting that as long as Gray did not “trigger” him all would be well.
Both Ben Butler and Victoria’s husband, Daniel Pedraza, physically abused the women in their lives. It strange how often beating girlfriends and wives, so often the precursor to violence further afield, is not seen as a red flag. Perhaps it is assumed that as long as men stick to hitting the women they sleep with, male aggression has been managed and order maintained. Perhaps in some not-too-distant dystopian future, as well as being able to pay for women to penetrate and women to gestate their offspring, men will be able to pay for women to beat. Why don’t we make it all legal and see if we have offered men sufficient outlets for their natural male rage? If all else fails, we can blame the women for failing to be accommodating enough.
I know that at times like these one is expected to do the whole “as a mother” routine. And yes, as a mother I cannot tolerate the idea of anyone hurting my children. But when I say I wish to protect them from the big bad world, I do not mean from wolves or monsters, nor even from people. I mean men. The biggest threat to my children’s safety comes from the violence of men.
The world does not have to be like this. As Joan Smith once pointed out, it doesn’t even matter if one believes there is a natural, biological basis for male violence. The pertinent question is “are you happy with this state of affairs?” I am not and nor should you be. The best of all possible worlds is not a world in which Ellie Butler would have suffered and died the way she did. But to see Jennie Gray as just as guilty as Ben Butler is to treat abuse as a relationship to be managed, not something one person does to another. It is to accept the abuser’s own logic. For the sake of the women and children still out there, absorbing the blows we don’t see, we need to do better than this.
While women, having fought for their trouser-wearing rights, are now permitted (in most countries, at least) to emulate the dress sense of the dominant class, for most men, “women’s clothing” remains off-limits. Even the comedian Eddie Izzard, who once said of his wardrobe “they’re not women’s clothes, they’re my clothes, I bought them”, has since backtracked, now describing himself as “somewhat boyish and somewhat girlish” (despite being 54).
When it comes to children’s clothing, the differences are even more stark and ridiculous. Apart from the obvious, the bodies of pre-pubescent boys and girls are not significantly different, so it is not as though shape and size can even be said to be a factor. But enter any children’s clothing department, and you will find the flowery pink-for-girls, rough-and-tumble blue-for-boys stereotyping impossible to avoid.
As Cordelia Fine, drawing on the work of sociologist Jo Paoletti, has noted, this is a relatively recent development:
Until the end of the nineteenth century, even five-year-old children were being dressed in more-or-less unisex white dresses […] The introduction of coloured fabrics for young children’s clothing marked the beginning of the move towards our current pink-blue labelling of gender, but it took nearly half a century for the rules to settle into place.
Fine points out that the change appears to have been, “in response to concerns that masculinity and femininity might not, after all, inevitably unfurl from deep biological roots”. It was not that children needed clothing that reflected a gendered inner self; on the contrary, clothing distinctions existed to create and enforce gender distinctions considered socially useful (for instance, by limiting the freedom of movement of girls).
“Today,” writes Fine, “the original intention behind the objective has been forgotten.” Indeed, if anything, the narrative has been turned on its head. In a convenient turn for any patriarch looking to promote theories of complementarianism, we are now told that the gendered self – dress-wearing and feminine, or trouser-wearing and boyish – was in the child all along. The only trouble is, occasionally we get distracted by genitalia and put a girl in trousers when really she should be in a dress.
The stereotypes themselves might support a gross, worldwide power imbalance (violent/caring, strong/weak, active/passive), yet we’re only meant to be concerned about whether each individual is dressed to match their “true” location within a hierarchy that cannot itself be questioned.
Take, for instance, the news that 80 state schools in the UK have introduced gender-neutral uniform policies allowing girls to wear trousers and boys to wear skirts. At first glance, this makes me want to cheer. As a mother of sons, the closest I’ve ever come to allowing my sons to queer their school clothes is putting one of them in dresses for discos.
The thought that my youngest, still four years away from reception, could decide whether he wanted skirts or trousers for school – or even opt for a mix – is exciting. Children’s ideas of what girls or boys are “allowed” to like become more rigid the more they are exposed to dominant social norms. To give them a true sense of fluidity, you need to catch ‘em young (yes, I am preaching the indoctrination of non-indoctrination – but it sort of makes sense to me).
But then you read the small print and find that actually, the new policies do not appear to be as revolutionary as they at first appear. “It is,” reports The Times, “part of a little-publicised government-funded drive for schools to be more sensitive to trans children who are questioning their gender identity.”
Alas, it seems adults are incapable of letting a boy wear a skirt for the sole reason that it’s just a sodding skirt. In the back of our minds we must be telling ourselves, “this is only in case he’s not a boy after all”. Otherwise all hell would break loose.
Boys might start to realise that – gasp! – they’re not in fact another, superior species. Girls might start to question leniency extended to male people who do not in fact look or act any differently to them. We’d have to stop spouting bollocks such as “boys will be boys” in order to justify all manner of dickish behaviour. Sod that. Far easier to stick with the perfectly logical, straightforward idea that boys don’t wear skirts, but some non-skirt-wearers might in fact be hidden skirt-wearers so they must be granted the space to experiment with skirt-wearing and thereafter apply formally for re-classification if and when appropriate.
According to Elly Barnes of Educate and Celebrate, currently offering diversity training to the designated schools, “you don’t get boys coming in to schools suddenly wearing skirts. But it just gives that space for it not to be an issue if there are trans kids.” In other words, don’t worry about it becoming acceptable for boys to wear skirts just because they feel like it. We’re simply making it easier to allow them to become designated non-boys should they wish to ditch the trousers.
It is astonishing that, given our knowledge of the severity of sexism and sexual harassment in schools, gender-neutral clothing is not being considered in the context of challenging misogyny. As one head teacher tells the Guardian, it is about children having “the right to express their own identity in a way that is most comfortable for them”.
In response to which one might ask whether the increasing number of girls who wear shorts under their skirts in an effort to avoid sexual assault are “expressing their own identity in a way that is most comfortable to them”. Is “not wanting to be treated as an object available for abuse” an identity? If we call such a style “non-binary gender presentation”, is that the problem solved? I can’t help feeling there’s more to it than that.
A man carried out a “sustained and forceful” attack on a [prostituted woman] in Leeds before spending the money he stole from her on takeaways, drugs and cigarettes, a court has heard.
A jury at Leeds crown court heard how, wearing steel-capped boots, 24-year-old Lewis Pierre battered 21-year-old Daria Pionko to death shortly after 10.40pm on 22 December in the UK’s first managed red light district in the Holbeck area of Leeds.
The scheme introduced by Leeds city council in October 2015 allows [prostituted women] to operate in a designated area on the edge of the city centre between 7pm and 7am without fear of being arrested.
CCTV captured Pierre walking towards an area of wasteland with Pionko at around 10.40, before being spotted leaving the scene alone less than five minutes later. He has admitted robbery and manslaughter, but denies murder.
Pierre, who was working as an assistant to a heavy goods driver, then allegedly bought a meal of kebab meat and chips, four cans of drink, and cigarettes with money he robbed from Pionko. Colleagues say Pierre turned up to work the next day in possession of cannabis.
Pionko, who had moved to the UK from Łódź in Poland 10 months previously, was found lying face down and lifeless by her housemate Karolina Szajnda, who was also [a prostituted woman].
Pionko had suffered serious injuries to her face, head, neck and body. Szajnda described her friend’s face as having been “massacred”. The postmortem concluded that Pionko had died within 30 minutes of the attack.
Opening the case, Kama Melly QC, prosecuting, said: “On 22 December 2015, just three days before Christmas, Daria Pionko and her close friend Karolina went out to earn money in Leeds as [prostituted women]. They went off to have sex with [johns] before meeting to carry on working. Karolina went off with a [john] and when she returned Daria was nowhere to be seen. She eventually found her lying in a secluded spot. Daria had been subjected to a sustained attack.”
Melly said Pierre had set off from “a hard day’s shift” with no money. “It is the prosecution’s case he was determined to find some money that night,” she said.
Melly added: “[Pierre] denies he intended to cause [Pionko] death or cause her serious injury … The prosecution is confident that his intention to cause really serious harm to Daria will be proved against Lewis Pierre by the evidence you will hear in this trial.”
The court heard that Pionko’s family had not known she was a [prostituted woman] and thought she was working at a bar in Leeds. The trial continues.
I feel cold metal on my wrists. I hear the click of the handcuffs. I see my hysterical toddler son being put into a police car and I wish I could say that the rest is a blur. As the police search me I feel terrified and alone. I know that I have drugs in my pocket and that I am going to jail. What I do not know is where they are taking my little boy who has autism, cannot communicate and has not left my side since the day he was born.
As the Guardian found when it interviewed me for a video investigation on human trafficking in San Diego – leaving the life is by no stretch an easy task. Oftentimes victims never have the chance to make it as a survivor; they die trying.
The degree of failure that I felt on that day is indescribable. Up to that point, because of my exploitation and drug use, my life had been a barrage of failures. This time was different, though. This time I not only failed myself, I failed my son as well.
Not every sad story has a tragic ending. Looking at the statistics, you might think I should be dead. My sad story includes a beginning that was riddled with family dysfunction including domestic violence, neglect, sexual abuse and exploitation. This traumatic upbringing was followed by drug abuse and forced prostitution. And yet here I am today, a sober, emancipated, successful and happy woman.
Years of childhood sexual abuse were, for me, the impetus to a hypersexuality during my adolescence. That set the stage for my many years of human trafficking, defined as forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation and prostitution. Human trafficking is defined as the exchange of money for services that have been obtained by force, fraud or coercion. I firmly believe that one cannot separate human trafficking from prostitution, CSEC (the commercial sexual exploitation of children) and the equally important issue of labor trafficking.
A perfect example of this is the fact that my second husband was my first trafficker, forcing me to have sex with other females for money. He also used my addiction as a tool of manipulation to ensure complete control over me and make sure that I did not leave. This lasted eight years.
Once I escaped my second husband, I soon found that I was no farther from the life without him than I was when I was with him. Traffickers can sense when someone is vulnerable and I was no exception. I went back and forth, sometimes under the control of a pimp and many times engaging in prostitution just to survive. Although I did not know it, I never even had a choice. It would be impossible to count how many times I was raped, assaulted, held hostage and almost died. I have PTSD and major anxiety as a result. Fortunately, today I have a much different story. One that is full of hope and potential.
After the loss of my son and the consequences of my arrest, I had two choices: either let my son disappear into the system or fight like hell to get him back and give him the life that we both deserved. In fall of 2011 I enrolled in San Diego City College as a re-entry student. At this point in my life I was a 35-year-old single parent with absolutely no job skills and no work experience to speak of. It was a humbling process to say the least, and challenging as well.
Is there a solution? When you are talking about an illicit industry as large as human trafficking, one has to acknowledge that there is no one solution to solve this horrific phenomenon. From what I have learned in my many years as an activist fighting human trafficking, I believe that the Nordic Model is one of our best prospects.
The Nordic Model criminalizes demand (the buyer and the pimp) for commercial sex, while decriminalizing individuals in prostitution and providing them with support services. Today, these services are scarce and make it almost impossible to convince a victim that there is something after “the life”. We are working to achieve this level of care in San Diego, but have not yet succeeded.
According to a study from Point Loma Nazarene University and University of San Diego, we have 28 beds and an estimated three to 8,000 victims. This is not the picture that saves lives; it is one that takes away almost all of the hope of transitioning from victim to survivor.
On 11 January 2016 I attended my first course at Point Loma Nazarene University. In 2015 the university established the Beauty for Ashes Scholarship Fund, a scholarship for victims of human trafficking. I decided to take a chance and apply, and soon after I became the first recipient of the new scholarship. As far as I know, this is the only scholarship of its kind that is specifically for sex trafficking survivors.
I am grateful to say that after 14 months, I was granted custody of my son and he is a flourishing nine-year-old boy with the most amazing personality and he is resilient as well. I am not going to lie: raising a child with autism has been one of my biggest challenges. However, it has also been the biggest blessing of my life.
He and I are best friends and have a bond that was not altered by the year that we were separated. Instead, because of the intervention we received from child welfare we are so much stronger and I have a significantly enhanced awareness of the degree of change that the human spirit is capable of. Both gifts that cannot be bought.
I am the exception to the rule. I am one of a handful of victims that has survived to lead a different life. Now, I am determined to be part of solution: to raise awareness and to agitate for a changes in policy and the law. I hope you will lend me your encouragement.