There is a misconception that ‘equality’ means pretending everyone is ‘the same’, that everyone has the same needs and the same abilities, and that, for the sake of ‘equality’, society should treat everyone the same. We do not, in reality, for the sake of equality, insist that everyone uses a wheelchair; we also do not, for the sake of equality, deny wheelchairs to the people who need them. ‘Equality’, a meaningful equality, means saying everyone has the same moral worth, and that everyone has the same right to participate fully in society.
The ‘Men’s Rights Movement’, better understood as a misogynistic, male supremacist, movement, started out as the ‘fathers’ rights’ movement, peddling the still-believed myth that family courts disproportionately favoured women (it doesn’t, see here, here and here). It then moved on to claim that violence against women was exaggerated, and that false rape allegations were common (they aren’t), now, the front line of MRA ‘activism’ is pretending that women are just as violent as men (this has not been proven, see below), and that women who do commit violence are treated leniently by the courts (they’re not, see here and here).
This matters. This matters because, as this 2015 US paper from the William & Mary Journal of Woman and the Law shows, MRAs are not powerless and marginalised, as they love to keep claiming, and their activism has real-world consequences:
In 2004, a fathers’ rights group formed in West Virginia to promote “Truth, Justice, and Equality in Family Law.” They created a media campaign including billboards and radio spots warning about the dangers of false allegations of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse, even offering a $10,000 award to anyone who could prove false allegations of abuse were used against a parent in a custody case. In 2007, they released a study concluding that seventy-six percent of protection order cases were unnecessary or based on false allegations, and warned that protection orders were often filed to gain leverage in divorce and custody cases. They used their research to propose a new law with language created by a national fathers’ rights group to sanction parents making false allegations of intimate partner violence during custody cases. The Governor signed their bill into law in 2011.
Within the broader context of the fathers’ rights movement, a closer examination of the West Virginia group’s work raises important questions. In spite of its dissemination within and beyond the fathers’ rights movement, their research conclusions bore little rational relationship to the findings. The research was at best misguided and confused, and at worst, a deliberate attempt to mislead the public in order to promote a political agenda. The new law was redundant, as both the domestic relations code and criminal code already provide sanctions for parents who make false allegations of abuse. The law was effectively a solution created to prove a problem by shifting the public policy focus from protecting victims to questioning their motives and potentially silencing them.
I have been in communication with several MRA’s recently (see here, here, and here), who claim that men are more oppressed than women, and that women commit just as much physical and sexual violence against men as men commit against women. Neither of these claims are true. The claims regarding physical violence rely on cherry-picking certain papers; some studies do show that women commit as much violence as men, but others don’t, and other academics criticise the methodology of the studies that show equal rates of violence. the only thing we can conclude, with any certainty, is that there is no definitive proof that women are just as violent as men.
I am educated to a graduate level in a STEM subject, I understand the basics of how research is conducted, but I can’t do a ‘deep dive’ into a social science paper and critique its methodology.
Type ‘intimate partner violence’ into Google Scholar and there are over a million results; no one, even if it was their full-time job, could read all of those, understand them beyond a superficial level, and integrate them into an active body of knowledge.
No single academic paper definitively ‘proves’ anything, and no legitimate academic would claim otherwise. The scientific method is sacrosanct, always, but it is carried out by flawed and fallible human beings; the solution is more and better research.
There is a reproducibility crisis across the sciences, particularly in psychological/behavioural studies, but also in the hard sciences. There is also the issue that only ‘exciting’ results get published; this is why we keep on seeing new Brain Sex! papers – a study showing no meaningful difference between the cognitive functions of men and women is not ‘interesting’ and unlikely to be published. Men’s violence against women is old hat, but women’s violence against men is new and exciting and offers more opportunities for an academic to make a name for themselves.
Academics do not reside on a higher plane of existence, they are flawed, fallible human beings just like the rest of us. Gaining a PhD shows that a person is capable of conducting and writing up research to a profession level, it doesn’t mean they have access to esoteric knowledge, and a PhD is the start of a research career, not its high-point. Academics can be lazy, incompetent, biased, partisan, even criminal. The po-mo gibberish coming out of queer/gender studies departments, shows that academics can also be (fully peer reviewed) charlatans.
There have been many, many academic papers published around the world on the subject of intimate partner violence, over decades, below is a small selection, I would recommend reading the papers in full where they are available:
From the 1999 summer edition of the DVIRC [Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria] Newsletter, Michael Flood’s article Claims about ‘Husband Battering’ says:
Men in fathers’ rights groups and men’s rights groups have been claiming very loudly for a while now that domestic violence is a gender-equal or gender-neutral phenomenon – that men and women assault each other at equal rates and with equal effects. They claim that an epidemic of husband-battering is being ignored if not silenced.
To substantiate their claims, men’s rights and father’s rights groups draw on a body of American studies which use a particular methodology for measuring violence. This is the [Conflict Tactics Scales] (CTS) […] There are four problems with the claims about ‘husband battering’ made by men’s rights advocates. Firstly, they only use these authors’ work selectively, as the authors themselves disagree that women and men are equally the victims of domestic violence. Secondly, they ignore the serious methodological flaws in the CTS. Thirdly, they ignore or dismiss a mountain of other evidence which conflicts with their claims. Finally, their strategies in fact are harmful to men themselves, including to male victims of violence.
The authors of the American CTS studies stress that no matter what the rate of violence, women are 7 to 10 times more likely to be injured in acts of intimate violence than are men (Orman, 1998). Husbands have higher rates of the most dangerous and injurious forms of violence, their violent acts are repeated more often, they are less likely to fear for their own safety, and women are financially and socially locked into marriage to a much greater extent than men. In fact, Straus expresses his concern that ‘the statistics are likely to be misused by misogynists and apologists for male violence’ (cited in Orman, 1998).
The [Conflict Tactics Scales] (CTS) has three key flaws as a way of measuring violence. Firstly, it leaves out important forms of violence, such as sexual assault, choking, suffocating, scratching, stalking, and marital murder. Most importantly, CTS studies exclude incidents of violence that occur after separation and divorce. Yet Australian data, e.g. from the Women’s Safety Survey, shows that women are as likely to experience violence by previous partners as by current partners (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996: 8). And that it is the time around and after separation which is most dangerous for women. International data shows similar patterns. […]
Secondly, CTS studies such as Headley et al.’s treat violent acts out of context. They only count violent acts. They do not tell us whether the acts were in self-defence. They do not distinguish between offensive and defensive acts. They do not tell us whether they were a single incident, or part of a pattern of violence. They do not tell us whether the act was intended to hurt the other person; a joking kick or a slapped hand are counted the same as a violent kick or a blow to the face. Most CTS studies do not tell us whether the victim was injured, or how badly (Dobash et al, 1992). These studies only look at violence in one year, and they don’t consider the history of the violence in the relationship. And, obviously, the murder of partners and ex-partners cannot be measured by self-report surveys.
Headey et al.’s survey did ask about injuries, and they found that men are as likely as women to be victims of domestic assaults that lead to injury and pain (and the need for medical attention). They note that this runs counter to medical and police records, that this is the finding in which they have least confidence, and that these issues need further research (Headey et al. 1999: 60-61).
Most CTS studies also ignore the issue of fear and intimidation. Headey et al.’s survey did ask about threats and intimidation, and it was here that they found the only statistically significant gender difference in domestic violence in the survey. More women (7.6 per cent) than men (4 per cent) said they felt ‘frightened and intimidated’ (Headey et al. 1999: 59).
Rather than seeing domestic violence as referring only to physical acts such as hitting or pushing, we need to recognise that verbal, psychological and emotional abuse is an important aspect of domestic violence.
Thirdly, the CTS depends only on reports either by the husband or the wife despite poor interspousal reliability. Like other CTS studies, Headey et al.’s study only questioned one respondent from each household and did not include people married or partnered to each other (Headey et al. 1999: 57). Other studies show that wives and husbands disagree considerably both about what violence was used and how often it was used, and that wives are more likely than husbands to admit to their own violence (Szinovacz, 1983; Jouriles and O’Leary, 1985).
Take note of the Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS) here, it will keep appearing. What this 1999 newsletter tells us (besides the fact that MRA’s have been at it for a long time), is that in order to find parity in violence between men and women, researchers in the 1980’s and 1990’s (the CTS may have been updated since then) used a flawed research method that excluded much male violence against women, and exaggerated female violence against men.
From the December 2002 volume of the journal Violence Against Women, the paper ‘Are Physical Assaults by Wives and Girlfriends a Major Social Problem?: A Review of the Literature’, says in its abstract:
Research that shows approximately equal rates of dating and domestic violence by men and women has been used to challenge the priority given to services for abused women. This article reviews the scientific evidence for gender equality in rates of lethal and nonlethal intimate partner violence. Among the problems noted in studies showing gender equality are the ways in which questions about violence are framed, exclusion of items about sexual abuse and stalking, and exclusion of separated couples. Studies without these problems show much higher rates of violence by men. Furthermore, the physical and psychological consequences of victimization are consistently more severe for women.
This paper reports similar problems as the 1999 newsletter, including use of the CTS, “The critiques of the CTS are very important to consider, given that almost all of the studies in major reviews (e.g., Archer, 2000; Fiebert, 1998) use the scales or very similar scales. A possible effect of the sampling differences and screening biases noted above is that two distinct types of violence are being uncovered, what one team of researchers calls “intimate terrorism” and “common couple violence” (Johnson & Ferraro, 2000).” And again, sexual violence was often not included in studies, “Another problem with most studies is that they neglect to include sexual abuse. Rates of sexual abuse of women by an intimate partner were more than 5 times higher than rates of sexual abuse of men by an intimate partner in a large-scale study of college students (Makepeace, 1986), from 2 to 60 times higher in high-school samples (Molidor & Tolman, 1998; O’Keefe & Treister, 1998), and 20 times higher in a random survey of the U.S. population (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). Thus, inclusion of sexual abuse is likely to show clear gender differences. In response to criticism that the CTS did not include sexual coercion items, they were recently added to its latest version (CTS-2) (Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, 1996).”
From the November 2006 volume of Journal of Family Violence, the paper ‘Victim or Offender? Heterogeneity Among Women Arrested for Intimate Partner Violence’ says in its abstract:
Mandatory arrest laws for intimate partner violence (IPV) have increased both the number and proportion of arrests that involve female defendants. Whether these numbers should be as high as they are remains a source of controversy. Most practitioners argue that women are usually arrested for defensive actions used in the face of assaults perpetrated by their spouse/partner. Others believe that these higher arrest rates more accurately reflect the true prevalence of physical aggression perpetrated by women. One way to help clarify this debate is to take a closer look at the women charged with IPV. The present study used self-reported information and criminal justice records on prior aggression to classify 485 women convicted of IPV into four distinct subtypes (i.e., no prior violence, primary victim, primary aggressor, and primary aggressor not identified). Despite the fact that all of these women were arrested for and convicted of IPV, analyses consistently found that few of the women could be considered as the primary aggressor in their relationship. Nor, however, were all of the women classified as primary victims. Methodological issues are discussed as well as the policy, practice, and research implications of this study.
This is a smaller, detailed, study, compared to those referenced above, and does not rely on the CTS; it is a useful contribution towards establishing an overall picture of the nature of male and female interpersonal violence.
From the December 2009 volume of Journal of Interpersonal Violence, the paper ‘Sex Differences in Intimate Partner Violence and the Use of Coercive Control as a Motivational Factor for Intimate Partner Violence’ says it its abstract:
Research argues that coercive control (CC) is a special case of intimate partner violence (IPV). The present study hypothesized that instead CC is the motivator for other types of IPV, with control of the victim as the goal. When CC fails, physical types of IPV are used. This hypothesized relationship was tested using a large matched sample of 762 divorcing couples participating in divorce mediation. Structural equation modeling was used to analyze the data with CC predicting two latent common factors of the overall level of victimization separately for men and women. Significant causal relationships between CC and the latent construct of victimization for both members of the couples were found. In addition, CC, psychological abuse, sexual assault/intimidation/coercion, threats of and severe physical violence were disproportionately reported as perpetrated by men against women whereas reports of physical abuse (e.g., pushing, shoving, scratching) were not.
This, again, appears to be different type of study, not relying on the CTS; its results are another useful contribution towards establishing an overall picture of the nature of male and female interpersonal violence.
From the May 2015 volume of Journal of Family Violence, the paper ‘Men’s and Women’s Experience of Intimate Partner Violence: A Review of Ten Years of Comparative Studies in Clinical Samples; Part I’ says it its abstract:
The present paper reviews literature published between 2002 and 2013 regarding gender differences in the perpetration, motivation, and impact of intimate partner violence (IPV) in clinical samples in order to update and extend a previous review by Hamberger (2005). Results showed that although both women and men are active participants in acts of physical IPV and emotional abuse, women’s physical violence appears to be more in response to violence initiated against them. Although both men and women participate in emotional abuse tactics, the type and quality appears to differ between the sexes. Men tend to use tactics that threaten life and inhibit partner autonomy; women use tactics that consist of yelling and shouting. Men are the predominant perpetrators of sexual abuse. Analysis of patterns of violence and abuse suggests that women are more highly victimized, injured, and fearful than men in clinical samples. Research and clinical implications are discussed.
Here we have another paper showing a disparity in intimate partner violence between men and women.
From the 2016 volume of Psychology of Violence, the paper ‘Self-report measures that do not produce gender parity in intimate partner violence: A multi-study investigation’ says it its abstract:
Objective: Gender patterns in intimate partner violence (IPV) remain a controversial topic. Some self-report measures produce gender “parity” in IPV rates. However, other self-report surveys do not produce gender parity, nor do arrests, reports to law enforcement, homicide data, helpseeking data, or witness reports. This methodological inconsistency is still poorly understood. The objective of these studies is to explore the effects of item wording on gender patterns for victimization reports in a range of samples. Method: In Study 1, 238 undergraduates were randomly assigned either the standard Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS) physical victimization items or a version which changed the partner-specific wording to generic wording (“Someone” instead of “My partner”), with perpetrator information collected in follow-up. Studies 2 and 3 compared the standard approach to items with stems intended to reduce false positives (either “Not including horseplay or joking around . . .” or “When my partner was angry . . .”), among 251 college students and 98 agency-involved women, respectively. Study 4 implemented the “not joking” alternative from Study 3 in a large rural community sample (n = 1,207). Results: In Studies 1 and 2, significant Wording × Gender analyses indicated that some item wordings yielded higher rates of female than male victimization. Study 3 showed similar patterns across forms for highly victimized women. Study 4 found higher female than male victimization for a new scale and every item. Conclusion: The CTS and similar behavioral checklists are unusual in their inattention to false positives. Self-report measures designed to minimize false positives produce results consistent with other IPV methodologies; that is, they do not demonstrate gender parity. The Partner Victimization Scale, described here, can be used when a scale that has multimethod convergence with other IPV methodologies is desired.
Here we have the reappearance of the Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS), still with the same criticisms against it. This study adjusted the wording of the CTS, and found that there was no longer parity in intimate partner violence between men and women.
My conclusion, from this admittedly small sample of papers, is that studies that show parity of violence between men and women, rely on a flawed methodology, the CTS, which has been criticised by academics for decades.
The specific type of sexual violence against men called ‘made to penetrate’ (which is sometimes referred to by more hysterical MRA types as ‘envelopment’, as if the vagina were some kind of Giger monster that can detach itself from the female body and go hunting for penises), is another MRA obsession. The claim that men are ‘made to penetrate’ as frequently as women are raped, comes from an amateur interpretation of a 2010 study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an interpretation rejected by the CDC.
MTP is a form of sexual violence that some in the practice field consider similar to rape. CDC measures rape and MTP as separate concepts and views the two as distinct types of violence with potentially different consequences. Given the burden of these forms of violence in the lives of Americans, it is important to understand the difference in order to raise awareness.
Sexual violence is common. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes. Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 38 men have experienced completed or attempted rape and 1 in 14 men was made to penetrate someone (completed or attempted) during his lifetime.
1 in 14 men have been ‘made to penetrate’ (completed or attempted) and nearly 1 in 5 women have been raped (completed or attempted), therefore almost 3x as many women have been raped as men have been ‘made to penetrate’, and of those men, 21%, over a 5th, reported male perpetrators, so it is not true to say that women are committing sexual violence against men at the same rate as men are committing sexual violence against women.
The only fields where men unequivocally outperform women are physical and sexual violence. There have been “almost 50 deaths […] linked to incels across North America in recent years” with the latest killing in Canada being treated as a terrorist attack.
There is not a single case in all of recorded human history of a woman going on a killing spree because she couldn’t get laid; the number of female serial killers and spree killers is tiny compared to the number of men, even tinier when you look at women who weren’t acting with/for a male partner.
I will conclude with the challenge I give to all MRA’s who insist women are just as violent as men: show me the bodies! Show me the two men a week in England and Wales murdered by a current or former partner; show me the three men a week in the USA murdered by a current or former partner; show me which country in the global south has an epidemic of ‘androcide’ (men being murdered by women).
The text accompanying this BBC report (which itself does not use the term ‘sex work’), refers to commercially sexually exploited children as ‘workers’.
You can complain to the BBC here, please feel free to copy or adapt the below text:
I am writing to complain about a report on missing/trafficked children in India using the term ‘sex work’ to describe the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Words and the meanings of words matter, a raped child is not a ‘worker’; ‘sex work’ is a partisan term, and using it in the context of child exploitation reduces a sexual exploitation issue to a mere labour issue.
The BBC has been celebrating pimps again with a link on the front page of their website yesterday inviting people to ‘pimp their video calls’.
I have written to the BBC to complain, you can make a complaint to the BBC here:
Please feel free to copy or adapt the wording below:
I am writing to complain about a link on the front page of the BBC’s website yesterday morning (13/05/20), inviting me to ‘pimp my video call’ (the link was to this webpage: https://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/empty_sets_collection/zfvy382). A pimp is someone who uses physical violence and/or psychological manipulation to control another human being in prostitution, if that person is moved around, the pimp is also a human trafficker. I know that ‘to pimp’ is slang for ‘to improve’ but that is not a good enough excuse; there is plenty of other slang that the BBC would never dream of putting in a headline, so why make an exception for sex traffickers? This use of ‘pimp’ was particularly egregious when at the same time, the main page of the BBC news website linked to the story ‘My pimp branded me with a ‘Love is Loyalty’ tattoo’. Words, and the meaning of words, matters; the BBC is setting the standards for the nation, particularly under the present circumstances, and it failed on this occasion.
Perhaps less easy to discount is the pornography consumed by Boy A, including material depicting violence against women. Gardaí found thousands of images on his various devices, as well as internet searches for “child porn” and “horse porn”. But the psychological assessments stated that he had a normal view of sexual matters, a fact scarcely believable given the nature of the attack. Ana was naked when found, her ripped clothes scattered around the room.
In the absence of external factors, it’s tempting to label one or both boys as budding psychopaths, devoid of empathy and preprogrammed to commit horrific crimes. But again the reports said neither showed signs of personality disorders or traits indicating psychopathy. Similarly, there was no evidence of mental illness in either teen.
This is what we mean when we say misogyny is ‘normal’ and ‘normalised’; hatred of women is so entrenched in ‘everyday’ culture and society that a ‘normal’ teenaged boy who looks at violent porn online can go on to commit a brutal sexual murder for ‘no reason’.
The top court in Maryland ruled this week that a teen who sent a sexually explicit cellphone video of herself to two friends violated state child pornography law.
The teen, referred to in court papers as SK, did not have to register as a sex offender but was ordered to undergo electronic monitoring and probation, which required drug tests and anger management classes as well as permission to leave the state.
The decision, which upheld a decision from a lower Maryland appeals court, means other minors who engage in sexting could face similar legal repercussions.
Amidst spreading criticism, one expert told the Guardian it was “a ridiculous reading of the statute” concerned.
The ruling, by a 6-1 majority among the judges on the Maryland court of appeals, said: “We refuse to read into the statute an exception for minors who distribute their own matter, and thus we believe SK’s adjudication as delinquent … must be upheld.”
This 35-page decision stemmed from an incident at a high school several years ago. The student identified as SK was 16 at the time and therefore “legally able to consent to engage in sexual conduct”.
According to the ruling, she and her two best friends swapped “silly photos and videos” in a cellphone-based group chat “in an effort to ‘one-up’ each other”.
“The trio hung out together and trusted one another to keep their group messages private,” the ruling said.
The other group members were identified as AT, a 16-year-old female, and KS, a 17-year-old male. During the 2016-17 school year, SK sent them a “one-minute video of herself performing [oral sex] on a male”.
After the trio fell out, the clip was shared with other students.
AT testified that KS “would always write on the board, like, saying she’s a slut or saying any type of thing” and also urged AT to accompany him to the school resource officer, a member of the sheriff’s department, to report the video. While KS claimed he “was worried about SK and wanted her to receive help”, the court papers said, AT thought his motives “were not so pure”.
“AT testified that KS was bragging around school about SK going to jail if he were to report the text message,” the papers said.
KS, who had a copy of the video in his email account, showed it to Officer Eugene Caballero. He was told to delete it.
Caballero then met SK, who was read her rights. According to Caballero’s police report, SK “cried during their meeting and was upset that the video was going around the school”. The student thought the meeting would stop the video circulating. Caballero did not tell her she was “considered a suspect for criminal activity”.
SK gave Caballero a written statement saying she was in the video and had shared it with her two friends.
Caballero’s report was sent to a state attorney. Prosecutors charged SK as a juvenile with filming a minor engaging in sexual conduct, distributing child pornography and displaying an obscene item to a minor. The juvenile court determined SK was involved in the last two counts.
She appealed, arguing that “the statute was intended to protect, not prosecute, minors victimized and exploited in the production of sexually explicit videos”.
The top court recognized that the issue was more complicated than in cases involving adults – but still ruled against SK.
“On the one hand, there is no question that the state has an overwhelming interest in preventing the spread of child pornography and has been given broad authority to eradicate the production and distribution of child pornography,” the opinion said.
“On the other hand, SK, albeit unwisely, engaged in the same behavior as many of her peers. Here, SK is prosecuted as a ‘child pornographer’ for sexting and, because she is a minor, her actions fell directly within the scope of the statute … As written, the statute in its plain meaning is all encompassing, making no distinction whether a minor or an adult is distributing the matter.”
The judges said they did “recognize that there may be compelling policy reasons for treating teenage sexting different from child pornography” and said legislation differentiating the two “ought to be considered by [Maryland’s] general assembly in the future”.
The dissenting judge said prosecuting SK conflicted with the intent of the state’s child pornography statute.
“She made a video depicting consensual sexual conduct,” Judge Michele D Hotten wrote. “The general assembly did not seek to subject minors who recorded themselves in non-exploitative sexual encounters to prosecution. Rather, the statute contemplates protecting children from the actions of others.”
The decision prompted criticism.
“If there is any victim here,” said Slate, “it is SK, who was allegedly the target of revenge porn by her erstwhile friend KS. Yet KS was never charged with distributing the video, nor were any of the students who passed it around.
“Only SK, humiliated and horrified, found herself charged as a child pornographer. The system failed her at every step, from the school resource officer who treated her like a criminal, to the prosecutor who inexplicably brought a criminal case against her, to the courts that affirmed the prosecutors’ ridiculous reading of the law.”
Rebecca Roiphe, a professor of law at New York Law School and former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, agreed.
“This is a ridiculous reading of the statute,” she said in an email. “The law uses two different terms, ‘person’ to describe the perpetrator and ‘minor’ to describe the victim. The legislature clearly did not intend to criminalize the victim.
“If there were a law prohibiting a person from bringing an animal into the park, it would be absurd to say a man walking alone in the park violated the law because he brought himself.”
Roiphe added: “I think the case illustrates how troubling the enforcement of sex crimes can be and how important it is that prosecutors use their discretion wisely.”
Obviously, I agree that it is completely wrong for minors to be prosecuted in this way, and that this is an incorrect interpretation of the law, which is meant to protect minors.
We need to be careful that this isn’t used to try to weaken laws that protect minors from sexual exploitation, especially by the porn industry (see my 2015 blog post here about an attempt in the UK to do just that).
I cannot believe the Observer/Guardian is still calling commercially raped women and girls ‘sex workers’
Dear Observer and Guardian Editors,
I am incredibly disappointed to have to contact you, yet again, to complain about the use of the term ‘sex work’ in an article about the commercial rape of women and girls (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/jul/06/living-hell-of-bangladesh-brothels-sex-trafficking).
It is entirely wrong to refer to commercial sexual abuse as ‘work’, especially the commercial rape of children. No child can legally consent to ‘sex work’ in any part of the world, including in countries that take a decriminalisation/legalisation approach to prostitution, and being sexually abused is not ‘work’ by any meaningful measure.
By the Guardian’s own guidelines (http://www.theguardian.com/guardian-observer-style-guide-c), ‘child pornography’ should be referred to as child abuse images, therefore a recording of a ‘child sex worker’ doing ‘sex work’ would be an image of abuse, but the creation of that abuse image would be only ‘work’.
Calling the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children ‘sex work’ stops it being seen as a sex abuse issue, and reduces it to a mere labour issue. It also helps to make invisible the men actually doing the abuse, and the demand for women and child victims.
It is particularly galling to see this in an article intended to highlight the criminal abuses occurring within Bangladesh’s legalised sex industry, an article that is otherwise very valuable. You need to decide, as an organisation, whether you are reporting on avoidable flaws within a legitimate industry, or on the globalised traffic in women and girls for commercial sexual abuse.
I look forward (in vain) to hearing back from you,
The article is published today (Saturday), but seems to be an Observer article, so I am emailing the editors of both. Humanity United, who ‘supported’ the article, does not seem to have a publicly available email address, but they are on twitter: @HumanityUnited
After five years in the brothel, Labonni stopped dreaming of being rescued. Ever since she had been sold to a madam at 13 years old, customers had promised to help her escape. None had followed through. Over time, their faces began to blur together, so she couldn’t remember exactly who had visited before, or how many men had come by that day. There’s usually one every hour, starting from 9am.
“Sometimes I wake up and I don’t understand why I’m not dead yet,” she says.
Now 19, Labonni says she’s resigned to life – and death – in Mymensingh, a brothel village in the centre of Bangladesh. Here, between 700 and 1,000 women and girls are working in the sex trade – many of them against their will.
Girls as young as 12 sleep five to a room; their beds only cordoned off by torn cotton curtains. Music blares from heavyset sound systems and homemade liquor is poured from plastic bottles to numb the pain. Men swagger shirtless down the alleys looking for girls. Ten minutes of sex will cost them TK400 (about £3.66) – but it’s money that mainly lands in the pockets of those running the brothel.
Like the majority of girls in Mymensingh, Labonni was trafficked into sex work. On the run at 13 years old, she left her six-month-old daughter behind to flee the abusive husband she had been made to marry the year before, in a ceremony that took place on the same day she started her period. “I didn’t know where I was going,” she remembers. “I thought maybe I could find work in a garment factory.”
A woman saw her looking tearful in Dhaka railway station, and offered her food and a place to sleep for the night. Two days later, Labonni was sold by her to the brothel for about £180 and forbidden to leave.
Overnight, she became a chukri, or bonded sex worker – imprisoned within the brothel until she repaid hundreds of pounds in fabricated debts. “The madam who bought me said that I had to pay her back,” Labonni says in a flat voice. “She’d bribed the police to say I was 18 [the legal age for a registered sex worker] and told me I owed her more than £914. Then she confiscated my phone and locked me in my bedroom. She said that she’d hurt me if I tried to run away.” After two or three months, Labonni gave up trying to escape. “They always find you,” she adds.
A quick breakdown of the figures involved shows how girls like Labonni are a vital part of a hugely profitable business model for brothel owners in Bangladesh. For the past six years, since being trapped in the brothel, she has worked continually to pay off her phantom debt. Yet over those six years she has earned upwards of £46,500 for madams who enjoy lives of considerable luxury.
Until last year everything Labonni earned went to her madam. All she was given back was a £37 as a monthly allowance for food, clothes and toiletries. Labonni has now paid her original £914 “debt” back 50 times over.
Last year she was finally told she had paid off her debt, but she has yet to move on. Her mental strength is worn down by years of abuse. “I feel worthless,” she says. “My daughter doesn’t even know I’m her mum.” Even with her “debt” gone, she’s still obliged to pay half of her weekly earnings – approximately £78 – to the madams in exchange for electricity and a place to stay.
One of her regular customers, Mohammed Muktal Ali, is 30 years old. A married bus driver from the nearby town, he has been visiting Labonni every day for four and a half years, since she was 14. “All the girls here are helpless,” he says. “You can’t sell a boy to a brothel, but you can sell a girl because she has monetary value.” He doesn’t feel guilty for paying for sex with a trafficked teenager. “I am in love with Labonni. I’m 70% sure that one day I will rescue her.” Labonni doesn’t look up. “I don’t believe anything the men say to me any more,” she says later. “They all lie.”
Four floors down from Labonni’s bedroom, Farada, 33, says the number of trafficked girls has increased since she arrived at the brothel in 1999. She knows, she says, because she buys them. After 12 years entrapped in sexual slavery herself, she was given a girl as a gift by a customer eight years ago, moving from exploited to exploiter overnight. When the girl escaped, she bought a second, called Moni, for £137. “I paid £27 on cigarettes for the police, and they sorted all the paperwork,” she says, referring to the government-mandated certificates that state every sex worker is at least 18 and consents to engaging in prostitution. “Now the police charge more. It’s at least £450, which is very expensive, so the girls have to pay me back.” The younger the girl, the higher the bribe required by law enforcement, she adds.
These days, she makes about £187 every week from two girls, but says a third of that goes to local gang members who control the brothel.
The money being made in this single brothel is an indicator of the vast profits generated by the global trade in women and girls. Sex trafficking is an enormously lucrative business.
Academic Siddharth Kara advises the United Nations and the US government on slavery and has shown through his own research that sex trafficking is disproportionately lucrative compared with other forms of slavery. He estimates that sex trafficking creates half of the total profits generated globally by modern slavery, despite only accounting for 5% of all trafficking victims worldwide.
He told the Observer: “The return on investment for sex trafficking is around 1,000% compared with much lower returns in exploitation for construction, agriculture or mining. The immense profitability of sex trafficking is … driven by the minimal expense associated with acquiring victims and the fact that the victim can be sold up to 20 times a day, generating tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in profit per victim.”
Prostitution was legalised in Bangladesh in 2000, after the year-long detention of 100 sex workers by police sparked protests calling for the women’s freedom and equal rights. The women’s release heralded a new legal framework, but few protections.
Instead, the business of sexual exploitation has thrived in a country where women are oppressed in many ways. Across the country, one in five girls is married before her 15th birthday and only a quarter finish secondary education. Choice is a luxury few women here can afford.
While prostitution is legal, trafficking and forced labour are not. But poor enforcement of legislation in a country where women are easy prey means traffickers act with impunity. The Bangladesh government estimates that 100,000 women and girls are working in the country’s sex industry and one study reports that less than 10% of those had entered prostitution voluntarily. This investigation found hundreds of girls who spoke of being sold by strangers, family members or husbands without their consent.
In April the Dhaka Tribune reported that the conviction rate for people arrested in connection with trafficking is less than half a percent. While more than 6,000 people have been arrested in connection with human trafficking since 2013, only 25 were convicted. Last year only eight traffickers were convicted in Bangladesh.
While many girls sell sex from their homes or the street, more than 5,000 women and girls are split between 11 huge brothels countrywide. Some dating back hundreds of years, each brothel is registered with the government and monitored by the local police. Here, a triumvirate of powerful institutions – government, police and religion – watch over and approve the rape, enslavement and abuse of hundreds of thousands of prepubescent girls.
“The Bangladeshi police know everything that takes place in the brothels,” says Azharul Islam, programme manager of Rights Jessore, a local non-governmental organisation working to rehabilitate trafficked children working in the sex trade and return them to their families. “The brothel owners are involved in gangs, and our political leaders and law enforcement are involved in those gangs, too.” Corrupt government officials profit by accepting bribes and sexual favours in exchange for turning a blind eye to the abuse.
As part of this investigation, more than 20 underage girls in four of the brothels showed us their police-stamped certificates stating they were over 18. One girl admitted she was still 13. “Law enforcement here is a local mafia,” says Mahmudul Kabir, Bangladesh country director for the Netherlands-based NGO Terre des Hommes. “And it runs through the entire chain of power.”
The steady stream of women and children being trafficked into Bangladesh’s sex industry means that the girls are disposable to those making money out of them. The numbers killing themselves has reached a point where at least two brothels in central Bangladesh – Kandapara, on the on the outskirts of Tangail, and Daulatdia, on the banks of the Padma river – have had to built private graveyards to cope with the dead.
“There’s about one death a month,” says Shilpi, 57, who was sold to Daulatdia brothel in 1977. “It never used to be this many.” These days she conducts the funerals: washing each body before leading a team of 12 brothel guards through the thicket of weeds that shrouds the burial grounds; finally reciting a short prayer over the grave. She doesn’t know how many girls are buried there. She lost count after 100. “For a while, we tied a stone around their necks and threw the bodies in the pond,” Shilpi adds. “But sometimes they floated to the surface, so we had to find land.”
In Mymensingh, there’s no such graveyard – but not from lack of need. Instead, bodies are carried out to the countryside at nightfall; buried in unmarked graves by torchlight.
Public graveyards aren’t an option: the stigma that surrounds sex workers in Bangladesh forbids their burial in municipal ground. “Here we are shameful, bad women,” says Shilpi. “If a girl kills herself, people say it’s good riddance – it’s just a quicker way for them to get to hell.”.
Labonni has also tried to kill herself several times. “I’ll probably try again one day,” she says, sitting on the floor of the concrete cell that passes as a bedroom: her customers’ phone numbers are scratched into the wall. Meanwhile, she cuts herself daily.
Such deep-rooted mental health problems are endemic among Bangladesh’s bonded brothel workers, and make it harder for them to move on even when their “debts” are paid. Though there is little mental health support for the women, there is evidence that when it’s provided, it helps. One organisation working to rescue and rehabilitate underage trafficking victims is the Bangladesh National Women’s Lawyers’ Association. “When they first arrive at the home, they’re scared,” says BNWLA psychologist Sadia Sharmin Urmi. It takes consistent counselling to help them move forward, but within three months, she sees progress. “They know they are safe. That means a lot.”
For Labonni, the idea of ever getting help feels unlikely. “All my life, people tell me to have sex so that they can make money from it,” she says. “How much do I have to earn to be free of this life?”
For Labonni, escape now takes the form of daily video calls with her daughter, who is living with her elder sister in Dhaka. “I can’t raise her here and that hurts me, but I know she’s happy,” she says. “One day, when she’s old enough, I would like her to know I’m her real mum.”
Human rights workers at Amnesty International are braced for scores of redundancies after the management admitted to a hole in its budget of up to £17m to the end of 2020.
Up to 70 jobs will go in voluntary and compulsory layoffs amid a slump in donations and a multi-million pound increase in spending on fundraising, the Guardian has learned. Staff have been told the organisation will be reshaped in line with the vision of recently appointed secretary general, Kumi Naidoo, who wants to increase Amnesty’s work on climate change and economic rights. There are concerns that cuts will marginalise in depth research on totemic Amnesty causes such as the death penalty, torture and the arms trade.
Next week Naidoo is due to unveil a new strategic direction, which he has previously indicated requires treating issues like climate change as core components of the human rights struggle. Sources said it appears he wants to increase the focus on campaigning, rather than traditional research-led human rights investigations.
One insider said the 58-year old global organisation was in the grip of “an existential crisis”. The union resolution described it as “a perfect storm of challenges”.
The job losses follow a damning report into the charity’s culture in February, commissioned after the suicides last year of two staff members, Gaëtan Mootoo and Rosalind McGregor. It detailed a “toxic” working environment and widespread bullying.
It warned: “As organisational rifts and evidence of nepotism and hypocrisy become public knowledge they will be used by government and other opponents of Amnesty’s work to undercut or dismiss Amnesty’s advocacy around the world, fundamentally jeopardising the organisation’s mission.”
According to a resolution from unionised staff in response to the threat of cuts “much of the anxiety experienced by staff in recent years has been generated precisely by the kind of mismanagement of finances and unfair treatment of staff that once again we see displayed in measures now proposed by the senior leadership team”.
The memo shows the charity was on course for a £7m shortfall on its spending of £20m and that travel budgets have already been cut and a hiring freeze extended. The shortfall includes £2.5m spent on fundraising that it could not afford. Income from Amnesty branches around the world was £4.5m less than forecast.
I would be very interested to know how much of Amnesty’s fall in income is a result of its move to support the complete decriminalisation of the sex industry (including pimps and brothel keepers). That move seems to fall under the category of ‘economic rights’ and signalled a fundamental change in direction for the organisation, away from clear human rights violations such as torture and illegal detention, into more complicated political/social areas that it had no expertise in. The shift in focus from research to campaigning risks turning it into a PETA-like organisation, existing purely to get attention/donations and to keep itself in existence. While it is very true that the environment is fundamentally tied in with human welfare, many charities already exist to champion that cause, it looks like opportunism.
‘Mums Make Porn’ is a Channel 4 documentary about a group of mothers who make a short porn film. Emma, the lead on this project, describes mainstream porn as “horrible. Gruesome” and her intention is to create a ‘new wave’ of porn.
The result is a 14-minute film that Emma’s 20-year-old daughter was happy to watch alongside her mum, dad, and grandmother, with her boyfriend and friends in attendance.
There is some acknowledgement of the realities of the porn industry:
“The darker realities of the sex industry are never mentioned – in the first episode of the series at least. Emma says that they met one actress who had performed so much that she was physically injured, and that some of the films she saw were so gruesome she could barely kiss her husband goodnight. There was a point when the group thought that instead of making a porn film they should be campaigning to have it banned. “But that’s a huge step,” Emma says. “We were just four middle-aged hormonal females. But absolutely it needs to be policed. Everyone needs to get involved, from the government to mums and even those working in the porn industry. […] Back home they started to interview potential cast members. The first question was: “What sort of porn do you like to watch?” Most of the actors, Emma says, didn’t like a lot of what they saw, or indeed a lot of what they were doing.”
What is the actual purpose of this 14-minute porno, apart from making a small group of middle-class women feel good about themselves?
Could it work as ‘sex education’? But education in what? If its purpose is to educate about consent, why do you then need to see real sex acts? Does it include stopping and starting again, or giving up for the night? (at 14 minutes, I doubt it.)
Is it supposed to be an education in technique? The mention of male performance anxiety suggests so, but then who gets to set the standard?
Is it commercially viable? Is it going to ‘disrupt’ the porn industry? Of course not. The fact that it is being put up online for free (on Erika Lust’s website – more on her later), suggests that making it commercially viable was not a part of the plan (making it even more a middle-class vanity project, working-class women don’t have the time or resources to make porn for free, instead, they get ‘sex work’ pushed on them as something they ‘need’).
There is no meaningful definition of ‘feminist’ when it comes to porn, only ‘a woman made it’ and/or ‘a woman gets off on it’; which means all porn is ‘feminist’, including the most extreme acts of violence, bestiality, and child sex abuse images, because somewhere there is a woman who will get off to that.
Pandora Blake, a self-styled ‘feminism pornographer’ produces only sado-masochistic porn centred around corporal punishment, and even Emma “is impressed by a couple of fetishists she watches making a naughty little video” while another mother is interested in “’beauty’, ‘tastefulness’ and large penises”, so there is no standard (sex products sold to women always claim higher production values, and always sport a bigger price tag).
The Guardian published an article last year titled ‘The Pleasure Revolution’, some of it was interesting, like the need to correctly describe, and normalise, female genitalia, and sex toys that aren’t objectifying and aimed at men; and some of it was ridiculous, like politics lecturer Reba Maybury, who has a side-gig as ‘political dominatrix’ ‘Mistress Rebecca’, who only dominates white, right-wing men, in order to ‘shift the power balance between the sexes’ (which is laughable, of course, she is being paid by these men for this ‘service’, she is still doing what they want, and outside that BDSM bubble, these men will carry on exactly as before). The article also links to a supposedly ‘feminist’ website, called ‘frolic me’, at the bottom of the website’s front page (click on image to enlarge) is a list of ‘erotic’ films and stories available on the site, including “voyeur catches a couple having a sexy rough fuck’, ‘BDSM erotic story of a submissive girl and her daddy’, and ‘forbidden seduction of a young horny stepson’. There is no meaningful definition of ‘feminist’ porn.
The idea of ‘ethical porn’ is equally meaningless. Mainstream porn uses ‘exit interviews’ (filmed statements where the female porn performers say that they consented to everything that just happened to them); as recent cases of abuse in the US porn industry show, these are faked in order for the woman to get paid, and there are plenty of other accounts of abuse and abusive conditions on porn sets. Any genuine policing of porn sets would make porn production impossible.
The pornographer Erika Lust is name-checked approvingly by the Mums, but this is Gail Dines’ description of one of her porn shoots (from ‘Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On’):
Lust’s rather bizarre idea of a compelling “erotic” movie for women was to portray a woman pianist living out her fantasy of playing the piano naked while being “pleasured.” So Lust finds Monica, a woman who is both a pianist and willing to play out this fantasy, concocted by Lust. The problem is that Monica is new to porn and lacks any experience, while Lust hires a mainstream male porn performer, resulting in the usual degrading porn sex – pounding penetration and hair pulling included. Monica finishes the scene in obvious pain and traumatized, looking like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. But remember, this is a “feminist” porn film, so Lust, acting all sisterly, gives Monica a big hug and a glass of water to make her feel better. And then asks her to fake an orgasm for the final scene. So much for authentic female sexuality!
It was stomach churning to watch Lust manipulate and cajole Monica into making this film, and lying through her teeth as she explained that she is doing something different from the boys. Despite all the talk about aesthetic value and women’s sexuality, HGWTO is just a clever piece of ideological propaganda. Lust, just like the boys, is making money from sexually exploiting women; unlike the boys, she wraps herself in a feminist flag as a way to differentiate her brand in a glutted market. In Lust’s world, sisterhood is powerful because it provides cover to pimp out women in the name of feminism.
What projects like ‘Mums Make Porn’ miss is that even ‘better’ porn still objectifies and commodifies sexuality, and also ignores the addictive nature of porn, requiring more, and more extreme, images. It also makes the common, mainstream, assumption that men are simply consuming ‘bad’ porn by mistake, because there isn’t any ‘good’ porn available (a similar apology is made for male sexual violence, that poor men simply don’t understand when they are raping someone). If ‘good’ porn were commercially viable, it would already exist, and higher production value porn already exists.
This porn film will do nothing to challenge the mainstream porn industry, and it is no substitute for compulsory, age-appropriate, sex and relationships education, including education on consent, and the porn industry.
Lunapads is a company I would like to be able to support, and to recommend to other women, but I am appalled by your recent behaviour on social media.
Calling women and girls ‘menstruators’ ‘bleeders’ and ‘womb-owners’ is dehumanising and degrading. Putting ‘content warnings’ for ‘gendered language’ (whatever that actually means) on articles about women and girls is turning femaleness into a taboo subject – the tweet (from November 2018) that upset me the most was about Girl Scouts on the International Day of the Girl Child, about “girls lifting up other girls”, apparently that article needed a ‘content warning’.
In a tweet (from September 2018) about ‘patriarchy-free periods’ you talked about ‘all bodies’ being ‘covered’. ‘All bodies’ do not menstruate, only female ones. Obfuscating female biology is not progressive, it’s reactionary, and you do women and girls no favours by making them feel like bigots for talking about their female anatomy.
It’s great that you make ‘gender neutral’ products (but does a woman have to identify as trans or ‘non-binary’ to be allowed to use them?), but if you want to be inclusive, why not just say ‘women and trans men’? It seems obvious to me that this has very little to do with including trans men, and everything to do with pandering to trans women by not using the word ‘woman’ in any context that naturally excludes them.
That this is pandering becomes even more obvious when looking at a photo you posted on Instagram (in December 2018) of a card with a picture of a toilet and the text “Feeling confused or maybe a little upset? Don’t worry! My gender has nothing to do with you and I am supposed to be here.”
Dismissing women’s reasonable concerns about safety in public toilets (and changing rooms, and locked hospital wards, and homeless shelters, and prisons, and overnight accommodation for school trips) as ‘confusion’ or ‘being upset’ is patronising, condescending, and arrogant; the card may as well have said ‘don’t worry your silly little head about it sweetie!’
Do you care about the safety of women and girls at all? You must be aware of the case in Canada of Jessica/Christopher Hambrook, a paedophile and serial sex offender, who assaulted two women while living at a women’s shelter in 2012. Do you think it’s a good idea to tell women and girls to ignore their instincts when they are in close proximity to a potentially dangerous male?
What exactly do you hope to achieve with this mindless virtue signalling? Are there really that many trans men to buy your products? Trans women have male bodies, they do not have uteruses, they will never menstruate, and your products will never have the same fetishistic attraction as scavenging for used tampons and towels from the bins in public toilets.
Have you noticed an improvement in sales? Is alienating your core demographic really a good business strategy?
How do you justify advocating body positivity and self-acceptance on the one hand, but on the other, promoting an ideology that says some women are born in the ‘wrong body’ and that those ‘wrong bodies’ need extreme medical intervention in the form of radical surgery and a life-long dependence on synthetic hormones? What message do you think you are giving to girls who are going through puberty, and all the natural difficulties that major life-change involves, when you put up aesthetic photos of mastectomy scars on your Instagram account?
But what really tipped me over the edge and got me writing this letter to you was a re-tweet (in December 2018) about ‘SWERFs’. ‘SWERF’, like ‘TERF’ is a thought-terminating cliché, designed to shut down debate and critical thinking. Are you aware that many of the women fighting the sex industry, like Rachel Moran and Fiona Broadfoot, have direct, personal experience of being commercially sexually exploited while minors? Are you aware that SPACE International (Survivors of Prostitution Abuse Calling for Enlightenment) have organised a conference in London for this February called Women of Colour Against the Sex Trade? Will you be listening to these women too?
I also found a 2016 post of yours on Instagram where you discuss a potential project with Buck Angel, a trans porn performer. Is collaborating with the sex industry part of your ongoing business strategy? What kind of message do you think you are giving to young women and girls by helping to normalise the sex industry?
Your Pads4Girls program (where you again refer to girls as ‘menstruators’) is designed specifically to help keep Global South girls in school and out of poverty. One of the undeniable purposes of keeping girls in school and out of poverty is to help keep them out of the sex trade, or situations where they need to get an older ‘boyfriend’ who can buy them basic essentials like sanitary towels. What impact do you think the normalisation of the sex industry as ‘just work’ has on the life chances of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women and girls?
I look forward to hearing back from you,
Lunapads can be contacted via email@example.com. Screen-caps, of everything described above, in the comments
Somebody calling themselves George Godwyn on social media wrote this (there does appear to be a ‘real’ George Godwyn out there, a very minor libertarian commentator, but there’s nothing I can find to prove they are the same person as the above). As star-of-wormwood puts it on tumblr, this is classic DARVO:
“DARVO refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrong doing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. DARVO stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.”
There is a distinct strain of paedophilia to queer/trans activism, from the sexualisation of trans identified boys, to the celebration of a ten-year-old ‘drag queen’ in a dog collar (I cannot bring myself to put the necessary words into a search engine to find out exactly where the first image comes from):
To child abusers running ‘trans youth programs’, to extortions from adult trans activists for children and adolescents to run away from home and join a ‘glitter family’, to obviously perverted shit like this:
All this is nothing new, paedophiles have been trying (with greater and lesser success), to infiltrate the gay rights movement for decades. Gay men and lesbians have always fought back, but the ‘queer/trans’ end of the alphabet soup doesn’t seem so concerned.
EDIT to add these tweets (previously posted here):
EDIT 09/12/18 to add these tweets: