Monthly Archives: March, 2021

QotD: “Male survivors of sexual abuse deserve better”

While developing a report on child sexual abuse and exploitation, I have been fortunate to benefit from the advice of a group of survivors who can speak to failings in our system with an expertise we all wish they did not have. Brave and brilliant men and women from all walks of life pulling together to try to drive up standards for the children of today. I have developed nearly 100 policy recommendations to improve our response to these awful crimes with their support and guidance.

We have discussed at length the public conversation on sexual violence that has taken place over the last few weeks: the outpourings of testimony from women and girls on violence and abuse they have endured, the desperate statistics on charging and conviction rates, the shared grief at the scores of female lives cut short by male violence. We were disappointed but unsurprised to see social media littered with the angry retort: what about men? On this we are clear: if you are only speaking up for male survivors of sexual violence when you are interrupting abused women, do not fool yourself into thinking that you are doing anything to help. The pain of these men is not a clever retort to shut down women and their suffering is cheapened when it is used this way.

Statistics for the year ending March 2019 indicated that 92 per cent of those who had been sexually abused in childhood were hurt by men — 700,000 of those victimised were little boys. If you care about these children, you care about male violence. This is not to say that we do not need to be concerned about female offenders or that those abused by women matter less. We all recall with horror the crimes of Vanessa George, the nursery worker in Plymouth who harmed countless infants and toddlers. The overwhelming majority of child sexual offenders are men however and we must tackle that head on. Confronting sexual violence and trying to cut it out at the root creates a safer society for everyone — men and women.

So, what can we do to better recognise the needs of male survivors of sexual abuse? First, call out homophobia wherever you hear it. Three separate male survivors on the group shared that boys were often frightened to disclose sexual abuse because they were worried this would lead to aspersions being cast about their sexuality. Let us make sure we are not adding to the shame and secrecy felt by many abuse survivors by allowing homophobia to thrive. When your friend makes a cruel joke about gay men — challenge them. In doing this you are helping to end a culture that silences abused boys. Eradicating stigmatising and mean-minded attitudes on homosexuality is the right thing to do in and of itself. It also will help break down a barrier to disclosing abuse facing little boys.

A crucial source of support for survivors of sexual abuse are independent sexual violence advisers. These professionals are there solely for the individual and help them through criminal justice processes with information and advocacy. Research from the University of Bedfordshire makes clear that having such an adviser can vastly improve outcomes for survivors, from the likelihood of seeing a perpetrator charged right the way through to getting a successful conviction.

Government has recognised the value of these advisers with a cash injection for expanding the service. This funding is hugely welcome but must be used for plugging gaps that exist in this workforce. These crimes are sensitive and complex so some male survivors would, of course, prefer to work with another man. But only 3 per cent of this workforce is male meaning that this very often is not an option. To redress this imbalance, the government should ring-fence a proportion of this money and ensure it is going towards training up male advisers for men and boys who have been abused. Perhaps some of those who have been so keen to impress their solidarity with male victims upon us in recent weeks could step away from Twitter and consider training up — check out The Survivors Trust for more information.

The male survivors I have worked with are funny, warm, erudite and empathetic. They have greatly enriched my work and become dear friends. They deserve support and recognition, not for their suffering to be used as a comeback designed to undermine women sharing their experiences of sexual violence. We should be looking to improve access to support and justice for all cohorts of survivors, not tearing down female victims because male victims also exist. Let us raise the bar for everyone.

Olivia Robey

“If a woman’s out on her own how am I meant to know if she belongs to someone or if she’s just a spare?”

Jacky Fleming

The Education Sector’s ‘MeToo’ Moment

One of the country’s most senior police officers has said he believes that schools have covered up sexual offences to protect their reputations as a task force took charge of the surge in abuse complaints.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey told The Times that the outpouring of allegations was the education sector’s “MeToo” moment and that he feared a “culture of misogyny and sexual harassment” had not been challenged in some schools.

Bailey is the lead officer for Operation Hydrant, the national task force for child sexual abuse investigations in institutions. It will assess allegations of abuse in schools before they are given to individual forces to investigate, with a national hotline for abuse reports to be set up within 72 hours.

His comments come after thousands of anonymous testimonies of abuse in schools from students and alumni were shared on the Everyone’s Invited website. Police are working with the Department for Education, Home Office and Department of Health, and are prepared to investigate historical complaints as well as reports from witnesses to abuse on others.

Detectives will model their approach on the national football child abuse scandal, where police received more than 2,000 referrals involving more than 330 clubs. It resulted in the conviction of the former youth football coach Barry Bennell. Bailey, the National Police Chiefs Council lead for child protection, said that he expected forces across the country to be involved.

“If somebody has been privy to rape or serious sexual assault then we want to hear from them,” he said. “What I fear is that there will be a number of sexual predators that will have moved from secondary school to university where they will continue to offend.”

Asked whether some schools had have covered up reports to protect their reputation, Bailey said he did not yet have evidence of that but added: “Am I naive enough to think that hasn’t happened? Of course I’m not. Do I think there will be circumstances where abuse will have been covered up to protect reputations? Yes I do.”

Magdalen, a leading private school for boys with a mixed sixth form, immediately contacted the Oxfordshire safeguarding team upon finding out about the allegations just over two weeks ago, Pike said.

“I was hoping that whoever it is [that had posted the testimonies] had spoken to us and was OK, it’s particularly challenging because they were anonymous and I was really worried that young people were taking to Instagram, when I would hope that they would seek professional support,” she told Today on BBC Radio 4 this morning.

“The influences of alcohol and pornography and expectations around what sex is are really challenging. Questions of consent for children are really challenging for us.”

Pike, the first female head of Magdalen, said she is “relieved” that Bailey does not have evidence that schools have covered up reports of abuse to protect their reputations.

She added that Magdalen tries to foster a culture of respect, boundaries and sensible decision-making in its pupils from the age of seven. In a virtual assembly this month she told pupils to ask their mothers and sisters about the sexual harassment they have suffered.

The Department for Education is prepared to close schools if they fail to meet safeguarding standards. A source in the department said: “If it becomes clear that there are current failings in any school’s safeguarding practice, we will immediately ask Ofsted or the Independent Schools Inspectorate to conduct an inspection. If a school is found to not be meeting the required safeguarding standard, we will make sure it either improves or closes.”

The focus has so far been on the private sector, but Bailey said that he expected to receive reports from state schools. “This goes right across the whole of the education section . . . and I think it is the next big national child sexual abuse scandal,” he said “It’s the ‘MeToo’ movement for schools. We are dealing with the tip of the iceberg.”

Speaking to Today on BBC Radio 4, Bailey expanded on this. He said: “What I am anticipating is that as there is greater focus on this issue we will start to see reports of abuse, of current abuse, of non-recent abuse in the university sector, in the state sector, in the private sector as well. This is not something that is exclusive only to the private schools.

“The website has already received . . . over 7,000 testimonies. And those numbers are growing exponentially on Everyone’s Invited. So I think it’s reasonable to predict that there is going to be a significant number of reports that are going to come into the system.”

He said that victims would be believed when they came forward but that the police would then investigate without fear or favour.

Nearly 100 private schools and 75 state schools have been named on the Everyone’s Invited website, analysis of 1,000 testimonies by The Times found. There are significantly more submissions relating to private schools.

Detective Superintendent Mel Laremore, the Met’s lead for rape and sexual offences, said on Saturday that the issue was not limited to private schools.

Scotland Yard said it had reviewed the website and had received reports of offences of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault.

Bailey warned that it was the responsibility of parents and guardians, as well as teachers, to ensure that young men and women understood what healthy relationships are.

“I think there is a culture that has to be challenged where young men are viewing pornography, are seeing the sexualisation of women and as a result of that healthy relationships are not truly understood,” he said.

“It has to be the responsibility of parents and guardians and teachers to ensure that young men and young women understand what healthy relationships are. We have got to start challenging this culture now.”

He said that schools were responsible for setting the right tone: “If sexual harassment and misogyny and sexual abuse are not tolerated, it can’t take root and it doesn’t then become part of the school’s culture. If the school does not challenge this behaviour then pupils know it is acceptable.”

QotD: “We always speak of women’s safety. Let’s talk about male violence instead”

Rapists are not a talkative lot. They don’t discuss the deed much, after they have been caught. And you might think this is because they feel remorseful, but often they don’t seem to know that they have done something wrong. Or they know that they have done something illegal, but the act itself is fine by them. They admit to nonconsensual sex “but not rape”. They admit to rape but not to blame: “I felt I was repaying her for sexually arousing me,” a man in one of the few studies says.

On a Reddit forum where, at the onset of the #MeToo revolution, my soul went to die, men wrote “from the other side” of sexual assault. Their accounts implied covert participation – “She just had this unusually sexual way of carrying herself” – or active reciproca­tion: “In my mind, at the time, she wanted it.” This man looked at the woman’s face and realised he had been mistaken.

A few things are striking about the comments: one is that desire – and I think this is true for women also – turns the sexual object into a fragmented object. When people are having sex, they can get a bit lost in it. We do not always look into our lover’s eyes, not all the time, so yes it is a good idea to check back with the entire person to see if your needs are still aligned. The sense of entitle­ment is, with the vengeful or narcissistic types, always breathtaking. This is something society does not encourage or allow in women, for which you might almost be grateful. Who wants to be like that? There is also the mechanism of blame, that magical pro­jec­tion machine. These men speak as though arousal comes from somewhere outside the self, and that it, even more strangely, contin­ues to happen outside the self. There is no reality check. She started this. She wants this. It comes from her.

The courts don’t laugh at these projections, they mag­nify them. We have all seen women destroyed by a justice system that puts them on trial for being attacked. The courtroom dis­cus­sion becomes all about the victim, her clothes, her “mistakes”, while the perpetrator remains a blank.

This gap in the argument is an odd absence that requires a lot of energy to maintain. This is why strange things happen in court: why a woman’s thong is waved by the defence, as in a case in Cork last year; or a woman’s silence during a gang rape is taken as a sign of her enthusiasm, as happened in a 2019 trial in Pam­p­lona, Spain. A good part of female outrage, the years of #MeToo, has been taken up by raw disbelief. These courtroom arguments are a bit mad. They are also a distrac­tion from the man in the dock. There is a kind of trick happening here.

Men do not just disappear in court, they disappear from the discussion, they disappear from the lang­uage we use. Rape is described as “a women’s issue”. We speak of “women’s safety concerns”, not “con­cerns about men’s violence”. We call it “an abusive relation­ship” as though the relationship were doing the abus­ing, or an “abusive home” as though the walls were insulting the occupants for fun. The notor­ious line “she was asking for it” is not so differ­ent to “a woman was raped”; both take the rapist out of the sentence.

Male agency is routinely removed from descriptions of male violence, and this helps men get away with it. I still can’t figure out the contradiction, though, that the violent assertion of male potency also involves a kind of vanishing act. It seems very self defeating.

The American theorist and activist Jackson Katz is one of the few men who states the obvious fact that men’s sexual violence is first of all an issue for men. He also says male silence about this so-called “women’s issue” is a form of consent. His remarks about the use of the passive voice hit Twitter in a week of renewed social unrest about sexual crime. “When you look at that term, ‘violence against women’, nobody is doing it to them. It just happens. Men aren’t even a part of it!”

In his popular TED talk Katz describes men’s ability to go unexamined as “one of the key characteris­tics of power and privilege”. We do not talk about men, because that is the way they like it. For Katz, a ten­dency to blame the victim is not about sex or even gen­der, it is just what humans do. “Our whole cognitive structure is set up to blame vic­tims,” he says. Katz teaches a bystander pro­gramme, in which he urges men to interrupt other men who talk abusively about women. He wants us to know that this is not a call for greater sensitivity, how­ever – he seems to rea­l­ise how sensitive men can get when you ask them to be “sensitive” – no, this is a leadership thing, “because the typical perpetrator is not sick and twisted. He’s a normal guy in every other way, right?”

Well, how would I know? I can’t say if a perpetrator is a “normal guy” because I am not a guy, and the men who do know are saying nothing. I do think misogyn­ists are “twisted” because of the way they twist the truth of their own psychology and I think some men are aware of this and some men are not.

Is that why society main­tains a silence about rapists, because we secretly think that they are just “normal” guys, they are just “male”? It is possible that men worry this is the case and Katz wants to reassure them that their fanta­sies, their swagger do not auto­mati­cally turn them into monsters. He is, very cannily, working with and not against male bonding, which has a big role in the formation of male sexuality. But he is also accurate to the fact that most rapists do not com­mit other crimes. In social terms, they can be anybody.

Most rapists do not end up in jail. The rapists who do end up in jail, according to one American study, are also more likely to have committed non-sexual crimes. Work within this cohort shows that convicted rapists tend to start young, have female-hostile peer groups, like rape-pornography (which is more than 80% of pornography), often report feeling rejected in some way and suffer from a lack of empathy.

The vengeful sentence “I felt I was repaying her for arousing me,” feels very familiar to women, who are long tired of the weirdness it contains. But the man who said it also seems to consider arousal to be a kind of punishment. It is not pleasant. It is unfair. The man who says, “This is her fault, she did this,” feels as though he has been acted upon. He is passive, perhaps unbearably so. This man is taking himself out of his own desiring; you might say he is obliterating himself.

If I were a man, I might want to put my self back into the discussion, I might want to do a reality check. But if I were a man, I wouldn’t be writing this because writing about rape, talking about rape, protesting against rape and being raped are all women’s work. This despite the fact that the weekend of protests in London was also a weekend during which footage was circulated online of an RAF recruit being sexually threatened by a group of his peers brandishing a piece of military hardware. In America the figures show that one in six men has been the victim of sexual violence of some kind, as opposed to one in three women, and that 99% of the perpetrators are male. The difference between the victims, sadly, is that society has long been happy to blame the women.

Anne Enright

QotD: “Hyper masculinity, power and patriarchy: why some men abuse women”

In the days since the death of Sarah Everard, the sadness many felt has turned to anger, with women railing against the general atmosphere of danger and threat they encounter in their day-to-day lives.

But others are also looking for solutions – asking what leads to attacks, as well as how to stop them.

These are big questions, taking in everything from the psychology of perpetrators to the patriarchal system we live in that allows violence against women to continue often unremarked on and unpunished.

To begin with, psychologists say there is no simple checklist to identify the man – because it is almost always men – who might abuse a woman. But there are some warning signs.

Dr Ruth Scully, a consultant forensic psychologist from Nottingham working with sex offenders, uses the term “hyper masculinity” to describe the attitudes of men she works with. They often have very strong views on how men should act and feel, she says.

“They also have these views about women. For example, men must have the dominant and powerful role in relationships, with women taking guidance on what to do and how to behave,” she says.

Sexual offenders often display feelings of entitlement – either sexual entitlement or entitlement in general, believing they can have what they want regardless of the consequences.

“An extreme example would be ‘I bought her a drink, she owes me’,” she says.

“They may also have an adversarial attitude towards women: women are the enemy, they are mistrustful of them and feel that women are trying to get one over on them,” Dr Scully adds.

And sexual attacks are often not about sex.

“It can be about anger, emotional expression or mistrust of women. Or again it could be about sexual entitlement,” says Dr Scully.

And these attitudes are also likely to exist in men who harass women on the street.

“People behave in ways that are in line with their attitudes so it’s likely that sexist attitudes and attitudes of entitlement will underpin those beliefs. That doesn’t mean that people who engage in the harassing behaviours will go on to commit a sexual offence, but we tend to behave in ways that are in alignment with our views,” she says.

One of the problems with unpicking the roots of male violence is that research – like Dr Scully’s – is usually centred on men who have been found guilty of an offence. But these offences rarely come out of the blue.

“Nobody starts their journey of perpetration, of abuse, with murder or kidnap. They have had a long history of getting there,” says Dr Purna Sen, a leading expert on violence against women. “How have they got through that journey without being stopped?”

Dr Sen, an academic at London Metropolitan University and former director of policy at UN Women, isn’t saying that every cat caller is a potential murderer. But the problem for women is: they could be.

“The thing is, we just don’t know. And so we have to assume, for our own safety and well-being, that he is going to be worse,” adds Dr Sen, who is organising a conference on violence against women this summer in Reyjkavik.

Professor Aisha K Gill, a criminologist at the University of Roehampton, describes the abuse of women as a “continuum of violence” arising from structural inequalities.

“At the heart of all of this is gender discrimination and unequal power relations between men and women,” she says, stressing that these are compounded by other issues like race and class.

There are ways to identify women who may be at risk, for example through questioning during routine health appointments.

But identifying a potential attacker is harder. Several groups  have worked towards developing models that look for what makes someone become an abuser.

A recent US Department of Justice review of evidence suggests that a combination of factors – from adverse conditions in early childhood to impulse control problems or repeated exposure to violent pornography – “likely contribute” to sexual violence. 

The trait of anger is also associated with a higher risk of intimate partners violence, a major review of the literature showed in 2015.

Researchers have mainly focused on the likelihood of people re-offending, rather than finding them in the first place – the key tool used in the British prison service has just been updated and predicts this with reasonable accuracy.

And sexual offenders can also be treated. The UK’s Horizon programme is targeted at prisoners deemed at risk of re-offending and it looks at problem solving, self-regulation, relationships, sexual attitudes and behaviours.

Those in prison are at one end of the scale, whereas violence against women is much more pervasive although often less extreme, making it hard to predict where it might come from.

One in three women globally experience sexual or physical violence in their lives and harassment is even more common: recent figures from UN Women showed that 97 per cent of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed.

“One of the things we have to jettison very fast is this notion that it’s unusual for men to behave in ways that are abusive or enable abuse,” says Dr Sen, who says the idea there is a “type” is also reductive.

“It’s more about what maleness looks like across society and how we think about each other and how we behave,” she adds.

While there are no “types” of man there are defined patterns of behaviour for the worst offenders.

Professor Jane Monckton-Smith, a former police officer and forensic criminologist, is a specialist in domestic homicide. The narrative of “he just snapped” when discussing the murder of a – usually female – partner is wrong, she says in her book In Control: Dangerous Relationships and How They End in Murder. These attacks can be predicted and stopped, she argues.

She has plotted an eight-stage timeline in these relationships, with the risk increasing. Stage one is the man’s previous abusive relationship history and stage eight is murder.

“They are the most predictable homicides, which is why we can and should be preventing them,” Prof Monckton-Smith writes.

Prevention has a role to play across the board, the experts agree, and at a more fundamental societal level. That also applies to the work that needs to be done for victims, ensuring that they can get justice.

Dr Sen says that the Nordic countries, regularly voted as the safest places to be a woman, have at least in part achieved their success by tackling inequality at its root, from addressing the sex industry to childcare.

“There is an expectation inculcated in all men, whether they use it or not, that they have control over, or an entitlement to, women. So this has really changed things,” she says.

Dr Scully says that a complex interplay between a man’s environment and his upbringing influences his attitude towards women. She believes education is important but adds: “It’s much bigger than education – even if you think about what’s on TV, never mind what’s going on in someone’s home, there are so many things that influence our attitudes and behaviour. But we have to start somewhere,” she says.

Deniz Ugur, deputy director at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, is more blunt.

“Violence against women and girls is inextricably tied to inequality and until we talk about it in those terms, women will never be free,” she said.


QotD: “Fewer than one in six women sexually assaulted report it to police”

Fewer than one in six women sexually assaulted by rape or penetration reported it to the police, new figures have revealed.

Four in ten of them were too embarrassed to formally report the offence, while 38 per cent did not think the police could help and a third feared that the experience would be humiliating.

The annual crime survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that 1.6 million adults had experienced sexual assault by rape or penetration, including attempts, since the age of 16.

The survey of adults in England and Wales suggests that one in 40 women aged between 16 and 24 are raped or assaulted by penetration, including attempts, every year.

In the 12 months to March last year, 0.8 per cent of all women aged over 16 said that they were victims of these crimes, compared to 0.1 per cent of men.

Over the same period, 773,000 adults said they were victims of any type of sexual assault. There were almost four times as many female victims at 618,000, compared with 155,000 men.

A total of 162,936 sexual offences were recorded by police in England and Wales in the year, a drop of 0.7 per cent compared with the previous year, the ONS said.

An estimated 16 per cent of women aged 16 to 59 who had been victims of sexual assault by rape or penetration since the age of 16 had reported it to the police. This compares with an estimated 19 per cent of male victims.

Campaigners said that the figures laid bare the lack of confidence women had in the criminal justice system when it came to reporting male violence.

Earlier this week the government announced that all police forces would start recording offences that are motivated by misogyny as hate crimes after coming under mounting pressure to boost protections for women victims after the death of Sarah Everard.

Diana Fawcett, chief executive of the charity Victim Support, said that much more needed to be done to encourage victims to report incidents.

She said: “Sexual offences have a devastating and long-lasting impact on people’s lives and it is vital that victims who come forward are treated with respect and given high-quality support every step of the way through the criminal justice system, from speaking to the police to giving evidence in court, in order to help them rebuild their lives.

“Sadly, for many women, this is not often the experience they have. Last Saturday’s reaction by the police to women at Clapham Common is an instance of the wrong message being sent out when now, more than ever, we need to challenge male violence against women.

“Much more needs to be done to encourage victims, particularly female survivors of sexual violence, to report incidents and ensuring we shift from the ‘victim-blaming’ culture which is widespread in sexual offences cases.”


QotD: “Football sexual abuse report: FA ‘did not do enough to keep children safe'”

The Football Association, Premier League and leading clubs have issued formal apologies after a landmark inquiry said that generations of young footballers suffered horrific sexual abuse because of the wholesale absence of child protection policies, ignorance and naivety.

Led by Clive Sheldon QC, the inquiry found the FA culpable of “institutional failure” at its delay in introducing safeguarding after 1995, when Barry Bennell and some high-profile abusers in other sports had already been prosecuted and convicted.

“The FA acted far too slowly to introduce appropriate … child protection measures [from 1995]. These are significant institutional failings for which there is no excuse. During this period, the FA did not do enough to keep children safe.”

Bennell’s abuse of the footballer Andy Woodward was first reported by the Guardian in 2016, prompting hundreds more victims to come forward, police investigations and convictions, and the FA to set up the Sheldon inquiry.

The 700-page Sheldon report was acknowledged by the leading football institutions and the FA agreed to accept all its key recommendations, mainly around safeguarding. “Today is a dark day for the beautiful game,” said Mark Bullingham, the chief executive of the FA. “One in which we must acknowledge the mistakes of the past and ensure that we do everything possible to prevent them being repeated.”

But Ian Ackley, a victim of Bennell’s abuse, and some other survivors criticised the strength of those recommendations, arguing that such measures should have been introduced immediately after the scandals emerged in 2016.

There was also widespread outrage at the report’s revelation that Dario Gradi, the veteran coach who worked alongside Bennell at Crewe, told Sheldon in an interview “that he did not consider a person putting their hands down another’s trousers to be an assault”. Gradi regarded it as “petty touching”. Sheldon stated that he told Gradi it was an assault, “and he then accepted that”.

The inquiry identified failures to act adequately on complaints or rumours of sexual abuse at eight professional clubs, including Chelsea, Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Southampton, Peterborough – and at Manchester City, Crewe Alexandra and Stoke City, where Bennell was a youth coach. Sheldon found that in general, football and the young people who played the sport were left vulnerable to abuse by an absence of a safeguarding culture, that victims were bullied, scared or manipulated into silence, and very few specific reports of abuse were made within clubs, or to the FA.

Before 1995, Sheldon said the FA did “nothing proactive to address safeguarding and protect children from child sexual abuse in the sport”. There was no guidance, training or general awareness of child protection issues from 1970 to the mid-1990s, and people working in football “did not pick up on the signs of potential abuse”.

However Sheldon absolved the FA from criticism for those decades in which the sport had no child protection in place for its young players, placing that in the context of general attitudes at the time. “I do not consider that the FA’s inaction during this period is blameworthy. For most of this period, child abuse was generally seen as something which occurred within the family setting or in residential environments, and not within the world of sport.”

Sheldon added, however, that where incidents of abuse were reported at clubs, “their responses were rarely competent or appropriate”, and where there were “warning signs”, such as rumours of inappropriate behaviour, staff often missed them or took no action.

“This was usually out of ignorance or naivety. There was often a feeling that without ‘concrete evidence’ or a specific allegation from a child, nothing could, or should, be done, and so there was a reluctance to investigate or monitor, let alone confront the perpetrator and interfere with his actions. As a result, in many cases, perpetrators were able to hide within football, and use their positions, to ruin the lives of many children.”

During two spells at Crewe, Bennell seriously sexually abused young players, including Woodward. Considering disputed accounts of what senior people at the club knew of Bennell, Sheldon concluded that they did not receive any specific reports of abuse, a conclusion also reached by Cheshire constabulary.

However, Sheldon said that he did believe that concerns about inappropriate behaviour, including boys staying at Bennell’s house, had been discussed by the then chairman Norman Rowlinson, director John Bowler who succeeded Rowlinson as chairman, and another director, Hamilton Smith.

“I am also satisfied that, during Bennell’s time at the Club, there were rumours circulating about [Bennell] and his sexual interest in children which were heard by some of the Club’s staff, including Dario Gradi.” Sheldon said the club “should have done more to check on the wellbeing of the boys”, and monitored Bennell’s activities.

Similar criticism was levelled at Manchester City, where Bennell was associated as a coach in the early 1980s, and Stoke City, where he went after he left Crewe in the early 1990s.

Chelsea were found to have given no protection to a young player who reported abuse by the youth coach Eddie Heath in 1975. Sheldon said he could not decide whether Gradi, who was then the assistant manager at Chelsea, informed the club’s acting manager, Ron Suart, of concerns raised at a meeting with the player’s father. Either way, Gradi’s or Suart’s response was inadequate, he found.

“Aston Villa FC should have reported disclosures about sexual abuse by [the youth coach] Ted Langford to the police when his role as a scout was terminated in July 1989,” the report said.

Newcastle delayed acting on reports of abuse by George Ormond, who was convicted in 2018 and sentenced to 20 years in prison; he remained at the club for “many months” after the reports were made.

Peterborough and Southampton were also aware of rumours about the behaviour of their youth coach Bob Higgins, Sheldon found, but failed to take steps to monitor him: “Had Higgins been properly monitored this might have prevented some of his abuse of young players.”

Sheldon also highlighted the lack of criminal background checks on adults working with young children. Frank Roper had criminal convictions in 1960, 1961 and 1965 but was still heavily involved in youth coaching, attached to Blackpool FC, and serially abused young players including Paul Stewart, one of the victims who has spoken out about the abuse.

While recognising the FA’s overhaul of child protection after 2000 and substantial improvements since, Sheldon made 13 recommendations for further improvements. These include: having full-time, qualified safeguarding officers at Premier League and Championship clubs and qualified officers in League One and League Two clubs spending a minimum 50% of their time on safeguarding; for a member of the FA board to be designated “children’s safeguarding champion”; for the FA to develop a five-year strategy “to support the voice of children”, widen spot checks of amateur clubs, have a “national day of safeguarding in football” and publish an annual safeguarding report.

The Offside Trust, which is run by survivors, said in a statement: “We are deeply disappointed that an opportunity to create a world-class standard of child protection and safeguarding in sport has been missed.

“The recommendations are ones which would have been blindingly obvious to anyone within a few weeks of the scandal breaking. The FA should have immediately made these most basic of changes around training, awareness, spot checks and transparency without waiting for a 700-page report.”

The FA, despite Sheldon’s conclusion that its inaction had not been “blameworthy”, issued a “heartfelt apology” to the survivors and appeared to accept some responsibility for the abuse not having been recognised and prevented.

The Premier League and EFL also issued apologies for the abuse, and said they would be implementing the report’s recommendations. Manchester City, Newcastle, Southampton and Peterborough issued statements apologising to the victims; Southampton said: “For a professional football club not to prevent this abuse or be able to provide support for anyone speaking up to report it, is inexcusable.”

City, who published an inquiry by Jane Mulcahy QC into the abuse perpetrated at the club by Bennell and two other historical abusers, John Broome and Bill Toner, said they had set up a scheme for survivors in 2019 which offers compensation, paid counselling and personal apologies from a senior board director.

QotD: “End femicide: 278 dead – the hidden scandal of older women killed by men”

At the beginning of the first lockdown, a year ago, Ruth Williams, aged 67, was strangled by her 70-year-old husband, Anthony Williams, at her home in Brynglas, Cwmbran. Judge Paul Thomas called the killing, “an act of great violence”. A fortnight ago, Williams was sentenced to five years for manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He may be free within a year.

Williams said he had “snapped” and “choked the living daylights” out of his wife. Her neck was fractured in five places. He said he had found lockdown “really hard”, and he’d attacked his wife after she told him to “get over it”.

He had no documented history of depression. During the trial, one psychologist said Williams had an impaired ability to exercise self-control. A second psychologist said the defendant “knew what he was doing at the time”. The judge said Williams was suffering from depression, an obsession about coronavirus and “a largely irrational anxiety”. “There is no logical explanation why a placid, non-aggressive, inoffensive man… should, out of the blue, strangle his wife for such an innocuous comment as, ‘Get over it’.”

Ruth Williams was a victim of femicide, the killing of a woman by a man. Today, after a two-month investigation, the Observer launches a campaign to better identify femicide (Name it), to improve the knowledge of it (Know it) and to encourage improved methods to end it (Stop it). We are working with the groundbreaking Femicide Census, drawing on its unique database, created by Karen Ingala Smith, chief executive of Nia, a sexual and domestic abuse charity, and Clarrie O’Callaghan, a former solicitor, supported pro bono by law firm Freshfields and the consultant Deloitte.

Last November, the census published an overview of the years 2009-2018, during which 1,425 women were killed, aged 14 to 100, one every three days. In spite of better legislation, training and knowledge, the horrendous toll of fatal violence against women has remained unchanged for a decade. We have yet to learn the full impact of the pandemic.

“If domestic abuse isn’t believed, if rapes aren’t prosecuted, if killing means a man may receive a few years in prison or even walk free, if a woman’s death in suspicious circumstances is not properly investigated, then these are crimes hidden in plain sight – in the name of justice, that has to stop,” O’Callaghan says.

This, the first article in the campaign, focuses on women aged 60 and over, like Ruth Williams. While younger women are more likely to be killed by a partner or ex-partner, the census tells us, half of older female victims were killed by sons, grandsons and relatives; a smaller group of 78 were killed by friends, neighbours, strangers, burglars and tradespeople. Taxi driver Andrew Flood, 43, strangled Margaret Biddolph, 78, and Anne Leyland, 88, both his regular customers. The judge referred to Flood’s “unspeakably wicked crimes”. Unfortunately, they are more common than even the official statistics reveal.

Until three years ago, women of Ruth Williams’s age would not have been counted in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). Then, it had a cap of 59 years, now it is 74, and is due to be raised next year, excluding institutions such as care homes and refuges; a hidden death toll.

According to a study by Dr Hannah Bows, one in four domestic homicides involve people over 60, the vast majority female – 25% of the total, the fastest-rising domestic homicide rate. One in six older people experience abuse every year. Yet, in a 2020 poll of the public, conducted by the charity Hourglass (previously Action on Elder Abuse), shockingly, 30% didn’t view harmful behaviour towards older people, such as hitting, as abuse.

“If you are found at the bottom of the stairs at 40, the police are probably going to ask questions,” says Bows, one of the few researchers working in the area. “Deeply entrenched ageism means that if you are 80, it’s, ‘Well, she probably fell.’

“When you look at police data on abuse, rape and murder, older women aren’t there. If a crime is looked at, at all, it’s treated as a safeguarding issue, gender neutral, ‘elder abuse’ with no perpetrator.

“Family counselling is suggested or a woman is removed to residential care, losing her home. It’s too easy to cast doubt on an older victim’s veracity and mental capacity. What’s desperately concerning is the lack of proper scrutiny.”

“If you want to get away with murder,” says criminologist Jane Monckton Smith, “kill someone who is expected to die.”

So, what does the Femicide Census tell us about older women and their killers? And what needs to be done? Over the decade, out of the total of 1,425 dead women, 278 were aged 60-plus. In 127 cases, extreme violence was involved. Older women are more likely to have suffered five or more injuries than younger women, known as “overkill”. In one study, nine out of 13 victims aged over 80 were also victims of sexual assault. Murderers of older women were the least likely to express remorse or empathy.

“Invisibility, devaluation and derision towards the older woman is added to everyday misogyny,” Ingala Smith says. “Does this contribute to the increase in brutality and the higher likelihood of sexual assault, especially by younger men? We don’t know because there is so little research.”

Irene Lawless, 67, was killed and raped by her 26-year-old neighbour who searched the internet for “older woman rape porn”. Delia Hughes, 85, was beaten eight times with a lump hammer by Jamie Boult, 25, who stole her jewellery. After he was sentenced to 25 years, Hughes’s daughter, Beryl, said: “Seeing my mum… black and blue with bruises, sitting in a pool of blood, is a sight that will stay with me for the rest of my life… Gone, my lovely mum.”

The threat that some young men potentially present may be clear from childhood but early intervention in the areas of mental health, troubled relationships and addiction repeatedly fail to happen. Boult, in court, was described as a recluse, diagnosed with “social phobia” since he was 13. “Substance abuse is common in this society but most in that group don’t kill a family member,” says Bows. “It’s not cause and effect. Substance abuse might increase risk but, anyway, that risk is never captured correctly.”

Another group of killings of older women is parricide. The killing of one or both parents is overwhelmingly committed by sons. Bernadette Green, 88, died in May 2018. Her son, John Green, 65, a retired policeman, almost got away with murder. In 2013, Bernadette Green weighed 12 stone; at the time of her death, she weighed under six. Her son had refused all help. He had sent texts calling his mother “a stinking corpse”. “She’s at death’s door but nobody’s opening it.”

Initially, Bernadette Green’s death was not thought to be suspicious but mortuary staff noticed pressure sores on her body. A postmortem revealed she had been smothered. John Green was sentenced to 14 years.

Rebecca Zerk, project manager of the Dewis Choice Project, says: “Deaths are going under the radar. Windows are left open in winter, the wrong medication is given, food and fluids are withheld, and some families make excuses – ‘she’s frail; he’s had a lot to cope with’.

“Once a woman reaches 60, the response from agencies and families to abuse is completely different. That’s a violation of older women’s human rights. It denies them justice.”

The Dewis Choice Project is based at the Centre for Age, Gender and Social Justice in Aberystwyth. Its aim is to drive much-needed change for all older “victim-survivors”, including LGBTQ people and those dealing with domestic abuse and dementia. The initiative has conducted a five-year longitudinal study of 120 later-life domestic abuse cases, trained over 8,000 frontline professionals and, together with “victim-survivors”, it has designed the only one-stop holistic service in the UK for people aged 60 and over who have experienced abuse.

“We had one woman of 80 whom we supported, and she decided she wanted a divorce after decades of marriage,” says Sarah Wydall, the centre’s director. “The response from her family was, ‘Is that really necessary at your age?’ Ageism in itself is a huge barrier.”

Older women stay in abusive relationships twice as long as younger women, increasing the chances of fatal violence. They may “normalise” a husband’s controlling behaviour over the years. “I met him when I was 16,” explains Lindsay, 67. “He let me have a dog so I could have a friend.”

Some experience shame about their situation, and they rightly feel they don’t “fit in” to domestic abuse services designed for younger women. If her abuser is a son, a grandmother might fear losing her grandchildren. In addition, if a victim has health problems or a disability and/or mobility issues, that adds to the challenge of finding somewhere safe. In 2017, Women’s Aid assessed that only one out of 276 refuges offered specialist services for women aged 45 and over.

“The reality that abuse and violence are common in later life is unpalatable to many people,” says Wydall. “In 120 cases, we saw only one instance of carer stress; the rest have involved coercive control.”

Coercive control, a crime since 2015, means a perpetrator strips a victim of the freedom to think, speak and act for themselves, losing all confidence. When a victim, after decades of constant servitude, becomes dependent on the perpetrator as carer, the key in the prison lock is fully turned. Yet carers’ behaviours are rarely assessed and viewed as a risk.

Dewis Choice provides support for a year or more. “Sometimes it takes six months to build trust before a woman even begins to disclose severe sexual abuse,” says Elize Freeman, service development lead. “Contrary to what many believe, given the right help, older women can and do leave a perpetrator and start life afresh.” The support Dewis Choice offers is hugely over-subscribed. It costs £18,000 a month to run and, in June, the majority of its funding ends.

A third group of older women highlighted by the Femicide Census is those who have their lives taken in so-called “mercy killings”. Over the decade, there were 27 known mercy killings. Only one resulted in a conviction for murder and a full-life tariff. In 10 cases, the killer pleaded guilty to manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility, and eight received a suspended sentence. They walked free.

“My own research has shown that sentencing for partners who claim they killed out of love is much lower,” says Monckton Smith.

In 2016, Philip Williamson, 89, a retired vet with terminal cancer, killed his wife of 62 years, Josephine, 83, who had dementia, before stabbing himself. Pushed down the stairs, she had multiple lacerations and bruises. “I did not want her to become a decrepit old hag,” Williamson told police. “I loved her too much for that.”

Angus and Margaret Mayer married in 1952 and had six children. “We had such a fun childhood,” says their daughter, Catherine Ignarski. “Mum loved all sport and played bridge at an international level. Like many women, she was the lubricant of family life. They’d go to concerts and entertain friends. He said every day was a blessing.”

Margaret Mayer was diagnosed with dementia in 2012. For four exhausting years, her husband was her carer. “Out of the best intentions, my father was very regimental in my mother’s care. She’d been such an independent person. She had all her choice taken away by the person she loved. They both needed help.”

In 2016, Angus Mayer, 86, killed his wife, 85, and threw himself under a train, dying seven weeks later. In nine of the 27 mercy killings, the perpetrator committed suicide. Ignarski says: “My husband suggested that they come and live with us. We both work but we could have managed. I believe we failed my mother and father.”

She says that agencies also need to find a way to offer older men support and respite that they feel they can accept. “I speak about it now so other families don’t go through this. Something has to be done.”

The Mayers’ deaths were a tragedy. In other mercy killings, however, decline may have a final toxic impact on a relationship in which coercive control, little understood by GPs, social workers, police and the courts, has always been present. Mercy killing trials are studded with comments about “the utterly devoted” accused. Robert Knight, 53, “a devoted son”, in 2019 pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of June Knight, 79. Knight threw his mother from her care home’s first-floor balcony. He told the police he did not want to see his mother in pain. He walked free.

Coercive control may or may not have been present in the Knight family. However, what’s repeatedly missing in investigations is a forensic examination of a relationship, unfolding over years. Freeman, of Dewis Choice, says one man left his wife, in her 80s, for eight hours on the floor when she fell. “He told her that if she fell again, he would leave her there. That probably would have been seen as an accident, not domestic homicide.”

The tools to assess risk by the police and others are modelled on younger women. Physical violence is wrongly deemed a greater threat than bruise-free coercive control. When a woman is considered at high risk, she may be referred to a Marac – a multi-agency risk assessment conference – in which a safety plan is created and an independent domestic violence adviser (IDVA) allocated. One study showed that only 3% of women with Maracs and IDVAs are over 60. Older lives merit protection too.

Next week, Solace Women’s Aid is publishing a tool kit aimed at helping professionals, including GPs, to support older women better. The College of Policing says it is improving training on coercive control. Only 6% of coercive control offences led to a charge in 2018/19. Older women are not counted in statistics, overlooked by the police, marginalised by services and many are left dangerously at risk in a relationship because the few exits available to them are barred by ageism, stereotyping, underfunding and ignorance.

In a study of 30 domestic homicides involving older women, it was judged in 14 cases that the death was preventable. Eleven required an intervention in mental health; one needed help with an aggressive husband with dementia; one disclosure of abuse hadn’t been acted upon; one victim’s request to go into a care home, rather than return to her son, was ignored. A concise and deadly microcosm of how little is being done.


“They keep your women safe and your men happy”

FiLiA_women safe, men happy 01FiLiA_women safe, men happy 02

QotD: “How can women get equality? Strike!”

On 24 October 1975, 75,000 women in Iceland left their jobs, children and homes and took to the streets for a general strike that was billed “Women’s Day Off”. In Reykjavik, 30,000 women marched up the Laugavegur (wash road), as a women’s brass band played the marching tune from Shoulder to Shoulder, a British TV series about the suffragettes which had recently aired in this small Nordic nation. Flyers fluttered against clear autumn skies: “We march because it is commonly said about a housewife: ‘She is not working, she is just keeping house’,” they read. “We march because the work experience of a housewife is not considered of any value in the labour market.”

For Icelandic men, this day became known as the “Long Friday”. With no women to staff desks and tills, banks, factories and many shops were forced to close, as were schools and nurseries – leaving many fathers with no choice but to take their children to work. There were reports of men arming themselves with sweets and colouring crayons to entertain the swarms of children in their workplaces, or bribing older children to look after their siblings. Sausages (easy to cook, of course, and a hit with children the world over) were in such demand that shops sold out; children could be heard giggling in the background while male newsreaders reported the day’s events on the radio.

Many of the greatest successes of feminism have come in moments when boots were on the ground; and our bodies elsewhere to the posts ascribed to women by patriarchal capitalism. In the UK, public reaction to the sexual violence meted out against the 300 women who marched to parliament demanding women’s suffrage on 18 November 1910, Black Friday, was instrumental in gaining the vote for women. The 1968 strike by Ford’s women sewing machinists at Dagenham, which was followed by 1970 strikes by women clothing workers in Leeds, were landmark labour-relations dispute that triggered the passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970.

Yet domestic labour has always been a tricky injustice to protest against. It takes place in the privacy of the home, making it difficult for women to see each other doing this work and to collectively acknowledge that men do not share equally in its burden (and they don’t: the average British woman still contributes 60% more washing, wiping and childcare a week than the average British man, even as the pandemic has increased this work to around nine hours per day). And there can also be dire consequences if we withdraw this labour: children uncared for and vulnerable relatives unfed.

“A women’s strike is impossible; that is why it is necessary,” claims Women’s Strike Assembly (WSA), an activist alliance that, to mark last week’s International Women’s Day, called for a series of banner memorials to be erected around the UK to declare why #westrike as women (or, just as importantly, why we can’t). In a manifesto published in November, WSA wrote: “We strike because we are tired of our labour being taken for granted. We strike because we now have to do a triple shift: our paid work, our unpaid domestic labour and educating our children during the pandemic.”

In Liverpool, Bristol and Edinburgh women gathered, last Monday, in socially distanced clusters toting their banner memorials. “#westrike because we are tired. Very, very tired,” a banner in Liverpool read and a memorial painted by Bristol Sisterhood stated, simply: “Fuck macho bullshit, women on fire.” Many of the social media protests, however, indicated why last Monday saw no wholesale abandonment of women’s posts. “I am a freelancer and I would not get paid (or lose my client!). But I’m striking with my compañeras in mind and spirit,” one IWD banner read, and another: “I cannot strike but I lit a candle in solidarity.”

Recent years have seen a flowering of strikes against gendered labour in Spain and South America. In 2018, six million women joined Spain’s 2018 “Dia Sin Mujeres’ (day without women), including Madrid’s Manuela Carmena and actress Penelope Cruz, as “feminist men in solidarity” staffed a network of collective nurseries. Old-fashioned mother’s aprons, the symbol of the strikes, were stitched in solidarity workshops and strung from balconies. But, in Britain, women’s general labour strikes have been conspicuously absent.

Selma James, the cofounder of 70s marxist activist project Wages for Housework, has a theory to account for this lack. She points out that as the power of unions dwindles, the climate in Anglo-Saxon countries is less hospitable to gestures of withdrawn labour, even as feminist identity marches gain broader support. Without union protection, British and north American women who strike from paid work risk losing their jobs; to the single mum on the breadline in a pandemic, strikes, in this context, seem the preserve of privileged white feminists.

For all this, calling political attention to the pandemic’s third shift is an urgent project. Only 36% of British women have been able to continue working full time alongside their caring responsibilities during the pandemic, compared to 66% of men, and mothers are more likely to have quit or lost their job. As the pandemic recedes over a nation of shattered women, there will be opportunities for direct action. Women’s March, Pregnant Then Screwed and Women’s Strike Assembly, among others, are calling for protests and marches to highlight the structural sexism that’s left women bearing the brunt of reproductive labour during this year of crisis.

James, in the meantime, advocates a daily constellation of “small resistances”: banging pots and pans at your window; stringing up a banner and apron; radically lowering domestic standards.

Forty-five years after the Women’s Day Off, Iceland has ranked top in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report – an index that examines educational opportunities, life expectancy, pay equity and the average time spent on housework – in 13 of the past 16 years. Yes, it’s impossible for many women to strike; but can we afford not to?

Sally Howard