Ministers are preparing to introduce laws to prevent children accessing online pornography.
Plans to bring in age verification for adult sites, which were shelved in 2017, are now being looked on with approval by Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, and Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary.
Their support follows work by Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner, who has sent a report to ministers recommending that age verification becomes compulsory on all porn sites.
Today she reveals that in meetings with porn providers she found them willing to introduce age verification measures as long as they were imposed industry-wide.
Studies show that half of 11 to 13-year-olds have seen pornography at some point. This rises to two-thirds of 14 to 15-year-olds and four in five 16 to 17-year-olds, according to De Souza. She is also pushing for the big tech firms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram to do much more to prevent children from seeing porn and other damaging material on their sites by accident, although ministers are not expected to back full age verification for these platforms.
The eight big tech companies have been summoned to a meeting on Wednesday hosted by the two ministers and De Souza to thrash out how they stop children stumbling across porn or harmful material on suicide and eating disorders.
De Souza, a former head teacher, said she had seen the hugely damaging effects of pornography on children, including a young girl who took her own life. “Kids are seeing things that warp what they think real sexual relationships are like,” she said. “I’ve had girls say to me that during their first kiss with their boyfriend he’s tried to strangle her because he’s seen it on a porn video. Girls are filming themselves in their bedroom and sending it to boys who are sharing it. These girls are being pestered ten or more times a night to send naked images of themselves. I’ve had boys traumatised because they are in big WhatsApp groups, seeing things they don’t want to see.”
The tougher rules are expected to be written into the forthcoming online harms bill, which had been due before Christmas but has been put on hold until the new year after Boris Johnson told the House of Commons liaison committee that he wanted to see it strengthened. Dorries has also told MPs that she wants it to go further.
Theresa May’s government passed the Digital Economy Act in 2017, requiring commercial providers of pornography “to have robust age verification controls in place to prevent children and young people under 18 from accessing pornographic material”. However, it was never enacted after privacy campaigners claimed that it would force users to hand over their identities to porn sites.
De Souza said that technology now existed that will allow users to prove their age online using a passport or other identification in a way that they secure an access code. “Technology is so much better now and the privacy issues are no longer a concern,” she said. “Third parties can do age verification and get rid of that information straight away.
“I met with some of the biggest porn companies and challenged them on age verification. As long as all adult sites have to have age verification put on them, they would be comfortable to go forward with that. They basically said, ‘Make us do it’. I was pleased with that.”
Ministers are examining how to introduce age verification using biometric data and “age assurance” measures, whereby sites can use artificial intelligence to identify children by the way they they behave online or interact with a device, including the language they use.
Senior government sources said officials were considering whether to write changes into the published draft of the bill or whether to amend the legislation when it goes before parliament in the spring. The bill is expected to become law by the end of next year.
Women woke to find a new item on our stay-safe list. Beneath “stick to well-lit streets” and “wear flat shoes you can run in”; after “text your taxi’s number plate to a friend” and “clutch keys in your fist like a claw” came new guidance: “Don’t trust a policeman working alone.”
Is this our duty too? To adjudge on dark nights whether men paid with our taxes to protect us may prefer to kill us? The North Yorkshire police commissioner Philip Allott said that Sarah Everard “should never have submitted to arrest”. But women are raised to comply. It’s drummed into us: be good, be kind. Sarah got into Wayne Couzens’s car because, in visiting her friend, she knew she’d broken lockdown rules. Sorry, officer, I’ll come to the station. Handcuffs? Are you sure? OK . . .
No more. If Naomi Alderman’s novel The Power, in which women’s rage converts into high-voltage electricity, were true, skies would crackle, buildings blaze. Not just for Sarah or Sabina Nessa, bludgeoned crossing a park, or Julia James, walking her dog, or Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, enjoying a summer night. Nor even for all 80 women killed by men since Sarah. But because we will no longer accept male violence, and the misogyny which underpins it, being shrugged away.
The police should have no doubt this is their Jimmy Savile moment. Cressida Dick chose the day Couzens pleaded guilty to kidnapping and rape to talk about the odd ‘bad ’un’ in the force. But what does that make colleagues who let him slide across the spectrum, from slapping a female cop’s backside to stopping only women motorists, using personal details to loiter outside their homes. Women now know that acquiring the nickname The Rapist is no impediment to a police career.
It’s all banter isn’t it, just a laugh? Couzens, spotted driving around naked from the waist-down? A kink, maybe. (Once flashers were comedy staples, now it’s argued that indecent exposure is an outdated offence in our sex-positive age.) Couzens using violent pornography or hiring prostitutes? Only a prude would judge. (Unembarrassed men browse PornHub right beside you on a train.) Every warning sign that Couzens saw women as disposable objects was glossed over, not even picked up in professional screening which granted him a gun.
Because we never riot and, alas, lack electric super-powers, police disregard our deaths. Even our grief at the Sarah Everard vigil, where officers stomped flowers and strong-armed speakers, wasn’t worthy of the respect protesters receive for lying on the M25. They are political: women are collateral.
If a man is freaked out by lockdown he might kill his wife of 44 years: Ruth Williams. If he’s drunk, horny and has watched choking porn he might strangle his mistress: Sophie Moss. (Both men got five years.) All these reported pillars of the community, decent dads, nice, quiet blokes who just “turned”. Nothing to see. Just an annual 150 or so one-offs.
Yet Sue Fish, the former chief constable of Nottinghamshire, has spoken of “institutional misogyny” so ingrained in the decision-making “they don’t realise they are doing it and why”. She reports police calling young women “whores” or “sugar tits”, older ones “Dorises”.
No surprise that Couzens and colleagues traded racist and misogynist WhatsApp messages or that other Met officers posed for selfies by Nicole and Bibaa’s dead bodies. Because we know northern police forces ignored gangs trafficking underage girls for sex for decades, since they were just “little slags”. We learnt this week that police chiefs disregarded undercover cops having sexual relationships with women by deception. The impunity of the penis rules the police, as elsewhere.
Now a third of officers are women, yet it is still hard to complain about men like Couzens. Parm Sandhu, a former chief superintendent, said female officers hesitate to report colleagues lest they be labelled as troublemakers so “when you press your emergency button on your radio for back up, no one comes and you get beaten up in the street”.
In a super-complaint lodged by the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), of which I am a trustee, 666 women reported abuse by police officer partners. Australian research has shown that since policemen tend to have more authoritarian personalities they are more likely to be controlling spouses, yet their conviction rate for domestic violence is 3.9 per cent compared with a 6.2 per cent average in the general population.
CWJ argues this is because the police service looks after its own. Abusive officers told their wives that since colleagues would investigate their claims, they would never be believed. Indeed, in case after case women report that witnesses aren’t contacted, statements and evidence lost, no further action taken. (CWJ wants a separate channel for police partners to report abuse away from boys’-club meddling.) No wonder that since 2009 at least 15 serving or ex-police officers have killed women.
This statistic is from the femicide census, the annual list read in parliament by Jess Phillips compiled by the campaigner Karen Ingala Smith from news reports. She does this because, astonishingly, the government doesn’t keep data on how many women are killed by men. The first of many acts police need to perform to win back women’s trust is create a femicide league table showing which forces have brought women’s deaths down. And spare us that sly obfuscation “gender-based violence”.
It is time for the demands of violence against women campaigners to be addressed. Cressida Dick should dedicate her remaining years to this most intractable crime. Male violence is a problem with the deepest, most tangled roots. And police are just men, but with handcuffs and warrant cards.
QotD: “Courts ‘scandal’ robbing domestic abuse victims of their children – sometimes to their abusers”
Victims of domestic abuse are being discriminated against in the family courts and regularly lose custody of their children, sometimes to their abusers, according to campaigners, social workers and lawyers who’ve spoken to Sky News.
Courts and councils are accused of helping abusers to land a huge psychological blow on the victim and their child, by separating them and severely damaging their lives.
The situation is so bad, the domestic abuse commissioner says lawyers often advise clients not to tell the court they have been victims of domestic violence in case it is used against them.
Nicole Jacobs told Sky News that solicitors tell them: “The judge doesn’t like it, it complicates things.”
Barrister and advisor to the government on domestic abuse, Usha Sood, has described the situation as “scandalous”, and is among many calling for greater transparency in the family courts.
One leading campaigner on child sexual exploitation (CSE), Sammy Woodhouse, says that victims of CSE who become mothers are facing similar problems with “hundreds of women” contacting her to say: “I wish I’d never come forward because now they’re going to take my kids.”
Sky News looked at the case of “Sally”, whose daughter was removed from her care four years ago and given to her ex-partner, who she claims she had broken up with to escape from an abusive relationship.
In disturbing footage of the moment her daughter is removed, the toddler reaches out and cries “mummy” as she is carried to a car to be taken away.
Campaigners say that for the abuser, child custody is often part of a malicious game to gain control of the victim, who has otherwise escaped the violent behaviour.
Sally told us when her ex-partner applied for custody, that’s how she viewed it.
She said: “I knew it was a game, I knew it was about control, I knew it was just going to be another abusive tactic to cause as much chaos and pain and drama as possible. And I just thought it was absolutely absurd.”
But the court ruled that her ex should have custody and Sally, who is DBS checked to work with other children, can now only have supervised contact with her own child once a fortnight.
We don’t have the partner’s side of the story, but the case was assessed by an independent social worker from another district.
She looked at the psychological assessment into the mother and in her report suggests it implies that “the domestic violence work being undertaken by [the mother] was having a negative effect upon her ability to progress” and the social worker believes this was used to remove the child and place it with the alleged abuser.
In her assessment, the social worker concluded the mother “should have been encouraged/supported to engage in domestic violence work, not criticised for it”.
The report author also found that while the child was observed to have “an excellent relationship” with her mother and was reaching developmental milestones, the toddler often reacted badly to contact with the partner, screaming “no, no, no, don’t go” and “clawing at her mother”.
The report author, who we can’t identify for legal reasons, told Sky News: “I was basically shocked when I read the documents that were provided to me as to why this child was taken.
“It was absolutely appalling and shocking and highly disturbing.”
Ms Jacobs said: “These are the times when the stakes are highest. Someone losing their child to a perpetrator, someone that they feel and know is unsafe for their child, and these are decisions being made.
“And this is what’s happening day in and day out in our family courts, which is why we need so much more oversight.
“Many of them will say their own solicitor advised them not to raise domestic abuse.
“They’ll say they were advised because the opinion of that solicitor was quote-on-quote ‘the judge doesn’t like it, that it complicates things’ and so they will advise people to avoid raising those issues.
“Then of course there are real consequences to that if decisions are being made without understanding this history of abuse or the context of abuse within a family.
“And so, there is a real oddity about this, that we have players in the system who are in and out of courts every day thinking that the system is not able to understand domestic abuse so much that it’s best not to even talk about it.”
Ms Jacobs added: “It seems extreme, and it doesn’t make sense, and yet it’s happening in huge volumes every single day.”
There seems to be a range of reasons why victims of domestic abuse fall foul of the courts.
Sometimes they are not believed and are considered too protective of their children, not wanting their partner to have unsupervised access.
In other cases, they are portrayed as damaged, passing on psychological scars to their children.
The family court’s first consideration is always to protect the child, but campaigners say this can bring suspicion on parents who reach out for support and not just in domestic violence cases.
Rotherham has hundreds of victims from its infamous child abuse scandal – who are now parents themselves.
An independent report found that as children they were let down by the authorities, who made assumptions about them being prostitutes or making poor lifestyle choices.
Survivor and campaigner Sammy Woodhouse told Sky News similar assumptions are being made about a child abuse victim’s parenting skills.
She said: “If you’ve been raped or exploited, you know, we know that that can affect you not just for many years but sometimes for a lifetime, and that’s what they’re trying to use, in removing children.
“Then what’s happening is when children are being removed and if those children are being conceived through that abuse or rape, they are then given to the perpetrator.”
Ms Woodhouse added: “The man who raped me, he was offered to apply to courts not just for contact but for full custody.
“He’s sat in prison for 35 years for being, you know, one of the worst sex offenders in the country.
“Unfortunately, lessons aren’t being learnt.
“I’ve been contacted by hundreds of women around the country – so this isn’t just a Rotherham problem – saying ‘Sammy, I wish I’d never come forward. You know, I wish I’d have just kept my mouth shut and not told anyone because now they’re going to take my kids.'”
Another alleged victim of child abuse, “Kelly”, was groomed by a man from the age of 15. By 16 she had a baby.
She says she was made to have a Muslim marriage ceremony and was virtually imprisoned in the house, suffering regular domestic violence.
She told Sky News: “He was pulling me around by my hair, slapping me, dragging me about, kicking me, punching me, ripped my clothes, you know I had bald patches in my head from where he’d dragged me about by my hair.”
The father was even convicted of abuse against Kelly, but won custody partly because the boy said he wanted to be with his father.
Kelly says the boy was coerced. “He’d say to my son, you know, ‘Your mum’s a dirty white w****. She’s a dirty prostitute. You know, when you get older, when you get to 16, beat her up, kick her in the head, spit on her, come and live with me, she’s just a tramp.'”
Kelly’s barrister Usha Sood says the court should have seen the signs in her son’s behaviour: “There were several indicators, like he’d call her names.
“He swore at his mother many times. He would order her to do things, and he’d call her s***.”
Mrs Sood, an advisor to the government on domestic abuse, says her client’s story is the symptom of a wider problem.
She said: “I don’t think there’s any other way to describe it other than it is a real scandal that there hasn’t been a multi-faceted attempt to cure this.
“We see reports damning the police, we see reports damning the CPS for low prosecutions.
“We also see reports saying social services aren’t doing their job.
“But at the end of the day, all these agencies have a responsibility to tackle domestic abuse.”
In Sally’s case, a spokesperson for the local authority concerned told Sky News: “All the of the evidence in this case has been considered by the family courts, on several occasions and in front of different judges.
“The court has made the final decisions about the child’s care.
“Throughout these proceedings, the child has been represented by a court appointed guardian, independent of the local authority, to ensure that their views and wishes are heard.
“At all times we have acted in the best interests of the child.”
A Ministry of Justice report last year also criticised the balance given to abusers in private law children cases.
It said: “Submissions highlighted a feeling that abuse is systematically minimised, ranging from children’s voices not being heard, allegations being ignored, dismissed or disbelieved, to inadequate assessment of risk, traumatic court processes, perceived unsafe child arrangements, and abusers exercising continued control through repeat litigation.”
It found: “The courts almost always ordered some form of contact, frequently unrestricted, and usually without requiring an alleged abuser to address their behaviour.”
Campaigners are calling for more transparency.
They want the government to provide figures on numbers of abuse victims who’ve lost their children in the courts – and if a parent seeks mental health support due to abuse, then for help to be given, rather than their children taken away and sometimes given to the abuser.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are determined to keep victims and children safe.
“Last year we announced an overhaul of how family courts deal with domestic abuse cases.
“This will provide extra protections for victims, and we are currently reviewing the presumption of parental involvement where there is a risk of harm to a child.”
Reports of sexual abuse between children in England and Wales more than doubled over two years, new figures show.
Police figures show that there were 16,102 reported cases of sexual abuse between people aged under 18 between April 2018 and March 2019.
This was up from the 7,866 cases between 2016 and 2017, and the 14,915 cases between 2019 and 2020, according to BBC Panorama.
In the latest full year of data between 2020 and 2021, 10,861 reports of abuse were made, despite months of lockdown and closed schools due to the Covid pandemic.
The broadcaster says 34 out of 43 police forces in England and Wales responded to a Freedom of Information request asking for the number of sexual offence reports, including rape and sexual assault, where both the alleged perpetrator and victim were under 18.
The online offence of non-consensual sharing of private sexual images or videos was not included in the figures.
The figures show that the alleged perpetrator was aged ten or under in ten per cent of the reported cases, with boys the alleged abusers around 90 per cent of the time.
Vicky Ford MP, minister for children and families in England, told Panorama: “We’ve strengthened [guidance] every year, specific advice on keeping children safe and education from sexual abuse.”
She added the government had also launched safeguarding partnerships between schools, the police and social services to help schools tackle the problem.
The Welsh government told the broadcaster that guidance had been issued to support schools in creating a safe learning environment for children.
The Labour MP and former teacher Emma Hardy said: “I still think that those figures might be an underestimation of the extent of the problem, because not all cases ended up going to the police. Not all things are reported.”
Rebekah Eglinton, chief psychologist for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, said unwanted touching, along with being pressured into sharing nude photos, had become a part of everyday life for children “to the point where they wouldn’t bother reporting it”.
“What children have said to us is that sexual violence is now completely normalised through social media platforms [and] through access to online pornography,” she told Panorama.
The disclosure of the figures follows The Times reporting rife abuse in unregistered schools, which continue to operate within a legal loophole which prevents them from being inspected like registered educational establishments.
In June, shocking analysis of the Everyone’s invited website, set up to allow women and girls to anonymously report sexual abuse, revealed numerous reports of sexual harassment in primary and secondary schools across Scotland. A few weeks earlier, English schools’ regulator Ofsted warned that sexual harassment has become “normalised” among school-aged children. Ask female pupils what they think the root of the problem is and many will say the same thing — porn.
A growing body of evidence links pornography consumption to harassment and abuse. It is said to propagate degrading ideas about women, inspire sexual violence, and desensitise viewers to shocking sexual practices. Commenting on the character of porn videos, Dr. Norman Doidge, an academic at the Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis, writes that videos are “increasingly dominated by sadomasochistic themes… all involving scripts fusing sex with hatred and humiliation”. Given all this, is it any wonder that attacks on girls are taking place?
The production of pornographic videos is also harmful to porn industry insiders. Women are leaving the industry in droves and lamenting the toxic culture that exists “on the inside”. A recent Reddit thread penned by a man who worked for several pornographic websites reveals a toxic and criminal industry, indifferent to human suffering and safeguarding concerns and always pursuing financial profit, regardless of the cost to people:
“New content would come in (filmed/shot) daily and it needed to be edited/published ASAP. It didn’t matter what the talent looked like. Hot, drugged out of their gords, crying, happy, questionable age, raped, didn’t matter. The company paid for it and it all had to be used. If I objected to questionable material, I was told to ignore it and do my job.”
“…companies are required to keep records of the ages of all the talent they use. In one company…It consisted of images of the model holding their IDs next to their faces. These photos were the first ones before any of the porn photos… Four times out of 10, the model has their thumb over their date of birth.”
“When the stuff is shot, it’s shipped off to the main office to be edited. Like I said, they shoot EVERYTHING. Nothing is tossed…I saw a lot of homemade rape, child porn, borderline stuff, guys injecting their genitals with stuff, drug use, etc. Oh, and actual incest.”
Mind Geek, the parent company behind the world’s largest porn site “Pornhub” and other major sites, is now under investigation by Canadian authorities for publishing videos of actual rape and child abuse. In May, a letter signed by 750 people including victims of sexual exploitation accused the site of: “corporate indifference regarding harm caused to women and children on its platform” and “facilitating and profiting from criminal acts” including sex trafficking, child abuse, and voyeurism.
Given the significant and growing evidence showing porn’s harms in wider society, and in the industry itself, it is staggering that so little is being done to curb it. In the UK, the Conservative Government, which has controls over internet regulation, has consistently refused to implement even the slightest measures to restrict access to commercial porn sites by children, and punish sites that post vile content.
Ministers scrapped legislation, Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act, to usher in age verification and regulation of “extreme” content in 2019 — despite these measures being backed by children’s charities and women’s groups as well as Parliament as a whole. And they are refusing to resurrect the measures despite growing pressure from Scottish parliamentarians, Peers, and the public. Why is the government so hesitant to enforce legislation that could counter sexual harassment, and deter sites from publishing vile content?
The Government might point to its online safety regime, expected in the coming months. However, if this regime ever does come into force, it is not set to cover all porn sites. Its focus will be user-generated content, of the type found on social media platforms. Commercial porn sites that do not host user-generated content (or quickly change their rules to avoid doing so) will be missed. A requirement for age verification is also missing from the government’s plans. Perhaps this is deliberate.
Cabinet politicians appear to have bowed to pressure from voices who see any restrictions on porn access as a violation of “freedoms”. One prominent think tank actively campaigned against age checks on the basis that providing ID to access porn violates privacy. Privacy is important. However, adults provide ID to access other adult products online. I recently had to provide ID to purchase cutlery from Amazon. It hardly seems right that we require proof of age for access to cutlery but allow children to access explicit sex videos on porn sites with no age checks whatsoever.
It is also hard to justify the publication of videos that favourably portray rape, violence, and humiliation — especially in a context where harassment is on the rise. Whether such videos are dramatised or not, do we really want to turn a blind eye to them? What message does this send to women? The duty of care politicians have means that they should protect young, impressionable minds from these odious videos, which teach boys that rape and harassment are satiating, rather than sinister. And protect women from attacks motivated by online pornography.
The porn industry profits from human misery. Why should we allow it to continue unchecked? Civilised societies don’t allow exploitative industries to exist, they tear them down. It is past time the government got tough on the porn industry and acted to protect women and girls. No more dither and delay, no more half measures. If Ministers won’t usher in age verification and regulation of porn sites, MPs across the political spectrum must stand up, join up and act.
I blogged in July last year about a BBC article that sounded like a recruitment drive for the sex industry. That article was in the business section of the BBC’s website, but recently the BBC has been publishing more pro-sex industry propaganda, but this time in the ‘Newsbeat’ section, which is aimed at teenagers and young adults.
The article, ‘OnlyFans porn ban a ‘kick in the teeth’ for creators’, makes the sex industry sound like a perfectly normal career choice for any young person. I have sent the below complaint (via the web page here), please feel free to copy or adapt:
I am writing to complain about the article ‘OnlyFans porn ban a ‘kick in the teeth’ for creators’ published online on 21/Aug/21, which reads in places like a recruitment drive for the sex industry.
The BBC is a national institution which helps set social norms in the UK. It is entirely inappropriate for the BBC to publish an article which normalises the sex industry, and makes being in the sex industry sound like a viable career choice. It is even more inappropriate and irresponsible when this article is published under the ‘Newsbeat’ section, which is aimed at teenagers and young adults.
We are told at the beginning of the article about a 22-year-old making £4,000 a month from OnlyFans, and also told by this young man that OnlyFans “could be getting people off drugs, off the streets.” This is portraying OnlyFans as a public good, based on no evidence whatsoever, beyond the say-so of one person with a vested interest in the continuation of OnyFans’ ‘adult content’. This is irresponsible and unbalanced reporting.
There is also a quote from the English Collective of Prostitutes, a lobby group for the sex industry, with no counterbalancing opinion from, say, someone who has exited the sex industry.
The idea that prostitution is exploitation rather than ‘work’ (a debate that is still open in the UK), and that people do have, or should have, alternatives to ‘sex work’ is ignored, again making a ‘career’ in the sex industry seem like a normal thing.
There is mention, at the end of the article, if the reader gets that far, of the possibility of exploitation and underage users at OnlyFans, but the article as a whole still suggests a ‘career’ in ‘sex work’ is a good thing, and that OnlyFans is good for ‘sex workers’.
The links at the bottom of the article led me to another, earlier, Newsbeat article, which I hadn’t spotted at the time, which is all about how healthy and fun porn use is! I have written another complaint, please feel free to copy or adapt:
I am writing to complain about the article ‘Porn: The ‘incredible’ number of UK adults watching content’ published online on 11/Jun/21, for its biased and one-sided reporting.
The BBC is a national institution that helps set social norms in the UK, the BBC should not be using its news service for teenagers and young adults to push the idea that porn use is normal and healthy.
On 23/Mar/20 the BBC published a report (‘I thought he was going to tear chunks out of my skin’) about the high numbers of young women who have been subjected to sexual violence by young men influenced by their porn consumption, and since then there have been numerous accounts from teenage girls (via the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website) of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, partly fuelled by porn.
I want to know how, in the current political climate, the BBC justifies publishing such a one-sided puff-piece, with no mention of sexual violence or revenge porn? There is no counter-balance in the piece to the claim that porn is good for the “exploration of new sexual fantasies and things you might be in to.” It is completely irresponsible to publish articles like this aimed at teenagers.
Nazir Afzal is a solicitor and the former chief crown prosecutor for north-west England. Among his notable cases, he brought the Rochdale sex grooming gangs to trial in 2012.
Nazir’s parents arrived in the UK from Pakistan in 1961 and he was born in Birmingham the following year. After completing his legal training he started his career as a defence lawyer but soon realised that he preferred prosecution to defence, joining the Crown Prosecution Service in 1991.
As director of prosecutions for London he turned his attention to so-called honour-based violence and brought successful prosecutions against the perpetrators of these crimes. In 2011 as chief crown prosecutor for north-west England he began investigating sex grooming gangs in Rochdale, overturning a previous CPS decision not to bring charges against the gangs. He brought prosecutions against nine men who were convicted and jailed in 2012 for the sexual exploitation of 47 young girls.
Nazir retired from the Crown Prosecution Service in 2015. He currently chairs the Catholic Church’s new safeguarding body and advises the Welsh government on issues of gender-based violence.
Courtney Wild was archetypal prey for Jeffrey Epstein. Petite, blonde and blue-eyed, she grew up with a struggling single mother on a Florida trailer park. At a party, aged 14, another girl asked her if she wanted to make $200 giving an older guy a massage.
Inside a stupendous Palm Beach mansion, the overawed Courtney massaged someone she believed was a wealthy brain surgeon. Then he told her to strip, fondled her while he ejaculated, and handed her a wad of notes. She hated every second, but the money was life-changing. She anaesthetised herself with alcohol and cannabis and returned. He raped her and paid her more.
Soon she learnt she could escape his attentions — and double her money — by recruiting new, younger girls. By 16, she was working regularly for him, able to afford her own apartment.
Thus, on an industrial scale, morning, noon and night, for years, Epstein was serviced with vulnerable children. They were transported on his private jet, some from abroad, in a sex trafficking pyramid scheme. Famous names flit in and out of this book — Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Prince Andrew, Bill Gates, plus several of America’s biggest business and legal names. It is not suggested that they knew what Epstein was doing but they are all tainted by his friendship.
Epstein, incidentally, kept 20 phone numbers for Trump in his so-called Black Book, including one marked “emergency contact”.
It’s hard to grasp quite how sordid Epstein was. Troubled girls from poor, broken homes believed he would make them famous models; some were infatuated with him. If they agreed to his demands, they thought they would escape their miserable lives, dreams would come true. Some did thrive, but the majority ended up damaged and drug-addicted, even dead. “He victimised people he thought nobody would ever listen to, and he was right,” Courtney said.
The person ultimately responsible for bringing Epstein down and finding justice for these children wasn’t a big name from one of America’s elite newspapers. It was a local woman who listened. Julie K Brown was a tough, award-winning investigative reporter on a provincial paper, the Miami Herald, who had her own troubles: she struggled to bring up two children as a single parent, relied on payday loans and lived in fear of redundancy.
Perversion of Justice is the story of how Brown, under-resourced, often unsupported and at considerable personal risk, exposed the way the American legal system let Epstein off the hook. There should have been a reckoning in 2005, when two dogged Florida police officers pursued him for abusing a 14-year-old girl. The FBI identified a further 36 children. But Epstein was a big donor to the Democrats with formidable connections and a bottomless bank account. He bribed, intimidated and paid off the victims, and in a stitch- up between state and federal lawmakers was treated with unheard-of leniency. In 2008 he got 13 months for two charges of soliciting minors and spent much of the sentence on extensive “work release” (of which more later). The US attorney for the Southern District of Florida who accepted his plea deal was Alexander Acosta, later appointed by Trump as labor secretary.
And so the scandal might have remained buried, had it not been for Brown. In 2018, after years of poring over court documents and crossing the country coaxing victims and police officers to speak, her explosive revelations were published by the Miami Herald in a series of videos and articles.
Epstein was arrested a few months later on federal charges for sex trafficking in Florida and New York, and found dead in jail soon after, in August 2019. Much more of his depravity is now known. Within days Acosta had resigned from his post at the White House. Epstein’s associate Ghislaine Maxwell is on remand awaiting trial and a raft of powerful men may not be sleeping easily.
Brown’s book bears testament to the extraordinarily porous relationship between American law and politics, and the endemic corruption. It’s also an age-old heartwarmer about the little person taking down the mighty. The divide in America, she says, is not between left and right, it’s between those with power and those without. Epstein’s philosophy, like that of other wealthy men, was if you had enough money and knew the right people, you could get away with anything.
Brown discovered media organisations who had filmed victims’ stories, but chosen not to broadcast them. Their words, she says, mattered less than the words of the man in the boardroom with dollars at stake. What happened with Harvey Weinstein repeated with Epstein.
The financier threw his money around like bait, bribing or extorting almost everyone involved, flouting the justice system in every possible way. In 2005 neither state nor federal prosecutors put a stop to his intimidation, thereby sabotaging their own cases. Lawyers for the girls were convinced the government and the defendant were working against the victims.
Brown found evidence that Epstein continued to access under-age girls while on “work release” during his brief 2008 sentence. Threesomes in fact, two girls at a time, while the sheriff’s deputies stood outside the door.
By 2011 he had reshaped himself as a maverick science philanthropist, flying geniuses around the world and hosting conferences to save the planet. He adapted a submarine so Stephen Hawking, a guest on his notorious Caribbean island, could go underwater for the first time. He sprayed money at causes to save the world, cure disease, fund AI and rescue humanity. Modestly, he planned a baby ranch at his New Mexico compound, seeding the human race with his own DNA. He was obsessed with cryonics — the freezing of humans to preserve life — and told people he wanted his head and penis frozen.
Ah, that penis. In a mysterious incident shortly before his death, he was found unconscious in his cell in New York, a windowless room, infested with insects and rats, with standing water on the floor. Had his fellow inmate, a corrupt cop, tried to kill him, or had the cop, as he claimed, prevented Epstein killing himself? “For reasons unexplained,” Brown writes scathingly, “the authorities had bunked a hulking accused killer with a 66-year-old nerd with an egg-shaped penis who happened to be the nation’s most famous child molester.”
Brown reveals evidence showing it is unlikely that Epstein, once in solitary, killed himself by hanging. What happened to the prison tapes? Why did both guards fall asleep? Why was the scene tidied up so quickly? And how would a man who employed staff to do everything for him, to the point of lacing his shoes, know how to hang himself so effectively he broke three bones in his neck? His death suited many people.
Others will write fuller, more polished accounts of the Epstein scandal. But Perversion of Justice is a gritty, honest and quietly magnificent statement about one woman’s bravery, the hard graft of investigative journalism and the vital ability of a free press to do what the legal authorities conspicuously wouldn’t: bring one of America’s most wicked men to justice. I see a movie in it.
By March 2021 at least 175 women had filed complaints about Epstein and more than $67 million had been paid to his victims. Meanwhile, in her book’s acknowledgments, Brown credits her landlady for not kicking her out when she couldn’t pay the rent. The one thing this book lacks is an index, but — little known fact — often authors have to fund these themselves. Under the circumstances, Julie K Brown is forgiven.
In court custody battles over the past few years, a new term, “parental alienation”, has taken root. The phrase – based on a “syndrome” that has been internationally discredited and is banned from use in family courts in some countries – is based on the idea that one parent brainwashes a child to distance it from the other parent, who is blameless. Children’s wishes and feelings are often seen as manipulated and therefore are often discounted by the family courts and professionals.
I have watched, horrified, as parental alienation has become the go-to litigation tactic, often used by domestic abusers to discredit allegations made against them by their ex-partner. Although parental alienation can be raised by either parent, overwhelmingly I see it being deployed as a counter-allegation by fathers when mothers try to prove they or their children have been subjected to abuse.
Parental alienation can happen, but it is extremely rare, as a Cardiff University review concluded. Yet time and time again I have watched the allegation being used by abusers to silence, threaten and blame victims of domestic abuse who are simply trying to protect their children from unsafe contact.
Even worse, there are cases where the courts have found domestic abuse to have been proved – and yet the victim is still told by the judge that she must not “alienate” the children from the perpetrator, and if she does not promote contact then the children could be moved away. So, on some occasions, children have been moved from their home with their protective parent, the victim of abuse, to the abuser’s home. Children in this situation could not be more vulnerable.
When domestic abuse has been proved, there are entirely justifiable reasons for a victim to have negative views of their abuser, and the term “parental alienation” should never form any part of subsequent proceedings. But for men who are abusers there is another reason to use it too: one woman going through proceedings said, “Women are often legally advised that if they mention abuse then they’ll lose custody of their children to their abuser.” I have seen this happen.
In last night’s Channel 4 Dispatches, mothers described their gruelling legal battles as they try to protect their children. Jane’s ex-husband dragged her through the family court after their two children refused to go to “contact” with him. The father accused Jane of alienating the children against him. Ultimately, the judge ordered the police to forcibly remove the children from their home. The police body cam of the removal is extremely distressing.
As a family law barrister, I have advised and represented teenagers who have been through the trauma of forced separation and many years later are still desperate to return to their mother’s care. The teenagers in the documentary describe being traumatised, angry at professionals for not listening to them, and desperate to live with their mother. Repeatedly, they ran away from their father’s home, to go back to her – at which point the family court issued a power of arrest on Jane if they absconded back to her again.
When the domestic abuse bill was before parliament, some mens’ rights groups fought for parental alienation to be defined as domestic abuse. Claire Waxman, the victims’ commissioner for London, experienced a backlash from this lobby after she opposed their plan, and said parental alienation campaigners were attempting to thwart her efforts to help victims of abuse. Unfortunately, parental alienation is still defined as controlling or coercive behaviour in the draft statutory guidance.
But where did it all start? Dr Richard Gardner, an American child psychiatrist, created the concept and produced a series of self-published books on parental alienation syndrome in the 1980s. He testified in more than 400 custody cases, discrediting allegations of domestic abuse or child sex abuse and recommending transfer of residence from one parent to another. He believed that 90% of mothers alleging child sexual abuse were liars who brainwashed their children, and that paedophilia “is a widespread and accepted practice among literally billions of people”. Gardner and the “syndrome” were discredited by the late 1990s.
A US judicial guide states that the supreme court ruled the syndrome was based on “soft sciences” and is thus inadmissible. It is not recognised as a legitimate clinical term by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. A UK government report last year highlighted concerns about the unscrupulous credentials of so-called “experts” on parental alienation. And yet, over the past decade, the concept has gained traction here and is now a regular fixture in our family courts. And the weight applied to so-called parental alienation experts by the family courts is often significant. The family court support service, Cafcass, has adopted a practice guidance on parental alienation giving junk science further weight. There is no empirical evidence that a transfer of residence can make a child love the alienated parent, but there is evidence that it can result in further harm to children.
Two years ago, 77 leading professionals signed a letter calling on the president of the family division to tighten the law to prevent unregulated experts from writing reports in family cases. Unfortunately, he refused to take this issue forward, leaving victims – primarily mothers – and children at risk.
The dangerous label of parental alienation is now the single biggest threat to the credibility of victims of domestic abuse, and to the voices of children. It gives validation, power and control to perpetrators. Any court that countenances unevidenced allegations of parental alienation is potentially sanctioning abuse. Sadly, it may take a tragedy before anyone will actually listen.
More than 500 people have called a helpline about school sex abuse in the three months since it was established.
The NSPCC phone line was launched on April 1 after the Everyone’s Invited campaign, which led to thousands of people sharing testimonies on a website about harassment and abuse suffered at school.
By June 30, the helpline had received 513 contacts and referred 97 to external agencies such as police and local officials. The charity said that some of the concerns mentioned included harmful sexual behaviour and historical abuse.
Information about the caller was known in 185 contacts, resulting in advice or a referral. Of these, 96 were from adult or child victims, of which 63 were female, 28 male and five unknown.
A further 50 were from concerned parents. Sandra Robinson, NSPCC helpline manager, said: “The prevalence of abuse including sexual violence in schools has been brought into the spotlight.
“As the summer holidays approach, it is vital this issue isn’t sidelined and we keep up the conversation to ensure children get access to the support they need and make sure it doesn’t happen to others in the future.”
The helpline is called Report Abuse in Education. The charity is working with the Department for Education to provide the bespoke helpline for children and young people who have experienced abuse at school, and for worried adults and professionals that need support and guidance.
Ofsted said in a report last month that sexual harassment in schools had become normalised. The investigation found that heads and teachers underestimated the scale of abuse in schools.
Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of education, said that she was shocked by the inquiry’s findings and that all heads should assume such incidents were happening in their schools.